An ideological split on the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners over the role of the county manager could be settled by voters in November.
One camp believes the county manager should hold the reins on day-to-day operations, while the other insists commissioners should have a more active voice in decision-making.
A rare runoff between Pamela Wev and Peter Roscoe in District 3 could tip the balance.
Wev, a land use planner, mirrors the views of Commissioners Lianne Thompson and Kathleen Sullivan, who have been critical of County Manager Cameron Moore and want the board to exert more oversight.
Roscoe, a former Astoria city councilor and restaurateur, is closer to Commissioner Sarah Nebeker and Mark Kujala — an incoming commissioner — who view the county charter as giving the county manager clear authority over daily operations.
The schism has spurred public and private clashes — behavioral investigations, heated exchanges and even threats of resignation — between commissioners and Moore, who skipped a commission meeting in April over what he called “rude” and “unprofessional” behavior by Thompson and Sullivan.
In a December email exchange that illustrated the ideological divide, Sullivan expressed disappointment that she was not invited to hiring interviews for a new community development director. Moore countered that it was rare for commissioners to be involved in the hiring process of county employees except for the county manager.
Roscoe said he wants to work well with the county manager and department directors if elected. But would he want to sit in on a hiring interview?
“Absolutely not,” he said. “I think that commissioners hire the county manager, and the county manager’s job is to lead the staff. That’s my focus is to be the kind of commissioner that allows these professionals to do their jobs. I don’t want to hold a magnifying glass over them and burn them down.”
Wev said she would like to have the option of accompanying the county manager in hiring interviews for department heads.
“It’s important to give them their space, but for someone who directly reports to the county manager, it’s not uncommon for a commissioner to sit in on an interview,” Wev said.
Moore and other commissioners have also taken issue with Sullivan’s and Thompson’s interactions with county staff at board meetings. Wev, however, said the two commissioners are simply filling their roles.
“I think that asking questions in a commission meeting should not be seen as a hostile act,” Wev said.
Roscoe said he would save many of his critiques of county staff’s performance for the commission’s annual evaluation of the county manager.
“When evaluating the job performance and there’s some sort of tweak we can make, we’ll look at doing that,” he said. “To me, that’s what transparency is all about.”
Wev took 43 percent of the vote in this month’s election, short of a majority, prompting a runoff in November with Roscoe, who had 37 percent. The third candidate, Doug Thompson, received 20 percent of the vote and was eliminated.
The runoff is the first for a county commission seat in a decade.
District 3 covers parts of Astoria, Miles Crossing, Jeffers Garden, Lewis and Clark, Youngs River, Olney, Green Mountain and parts of Walluski.
Throughout their campaigns, Wev and Roscoe have offered similar viewpoints on most county issues, particularly their desire for mental health services to be incorporated into a potential new county jail.
“I think a lot of the issues we’ve had are very similar,” Roscoe said. “The most obvious difference between us is how long I’ve lived here and how long I’ve been directly involved in the community.”
Wev, who moved to the North Coast four years ago, has a different view of their experiences.
“I think the contrast between Roscoe and me is pretty clear. My emphasis is on the future. It’s not about what I’ve done in the past,” she said. “My resume speaks for itself.”
Roscoe said he wants to host community forums on topics such as forestry and workforce housing ahead of the election. Despite finishing in second, he hopes the typically higher voter turnout in November will propel him to a win. Turnout this month was 36 percent.
Wev said she will continue to rely on canvassing and will expand her efforts to the southern part of the district.
“Obviously I did something right in my messaging,” she said. “I think I’ve done a good job of connecting with people on Commercial Street. But I’m really excited about connecting with the farm community.”
For those who voted for Thompson, their decision in November could decide the election.
Wev and Thompson each served on the Clatsop County Democratic Central Committee.
“When Doug Thompson threw his hat in the ring the last minute, I was pretty sure it would split the progressive vote, and it did,” Wev said. “I think the people who voted for Doug Thompson are certainly more likely to vote for me in a runoff.”
Thompson, a property manager, resigned as the central committee’s president and filed for the seat hours before the deadline. He said he made the decision to run after Commissioner Lisa Clement chose not to seek re-election.
Thompson said he isn’t so sure he and Wev were chasing the same voters, pointing to the fact that Wev filed before Clement announced her decision. He has, for now, declined to make an endorsement in the runoff.
“I think it’s entirely possible that the two old guys split the old guy vote,” Thompson said.
Roscoe said he is not sure why Thompson ran or what led people to vote for him over Thompson and Wev.
“It seemed to me as if it was one of those squabbles within the Democratic Party itself I wasn’t privy to,” he said.