Gelder, Henden face off for County Commission District 1 seat

Two candidates are vying to represent District 1 on the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners: incumbent Robert Gelder (D) is facing newcomer Scott Henden (R) in the general election Nov. 3.

The board is the governing body of Kitsap County. It consists of three members who serve four-year terms, each representing one of three geographical districts. District 2 represents North Kitsap and Bainbridge Island. Commissioners work to ensure the delivery of services and programs essential to the county and its citizens.

Below is a brief outline of the candidate’s background info along with their statements to questions asked by Kitsap Daily News.

Robert Gelder (Democrat)

Gelder is the incumbent and has served since 2011, completing his second full term. His other professional experience includes working at Martha & Mary from 2004-11, more than 20 years in the health and human services field with over a decade in senior management and leadership, and previously serving on the Kitsap Citizen’s Budget Advisory Committee.

His community service experience includes having been a member of the Poulsbo Rotary Club for 16 years, earning a Community Builder Award from the Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce in 2005, and being part of the first class of 40 Under Forty for Kitsap. Gelder earned his BA in political science from the University of Rochester and also attended the NACo County Leadership Institute.

In his statement in the Kitsap County voters pamphlet, Gelder said he has added over 4,000 acres through the Kitsap Forest & Bay Campaign into open space, secured more than $2.1 million to develop a long-term solution to ferry gridlock throughout Kingston, passed the 1/10 of 1 percent sales and use tax for mental health and substance abuse and removed barriers to development and stormwater capacity in downtown Kingston.

KDN: What are the three biggest issues you face if reelected and how would you approach each one?

Gelder: The budget, COVID-19 recovery and affordable housing.

We have a budget shortfall of $10 million anticipated for 2021. Unfortunately, there is no way to address that without cutting some amount of service. Each department and elected official is determining what approach is least impactful for their operation. The impacts are felt through the freezing of vacant positions, furloughs, layoffs and reductions in discretionary spending. Without knowing the duration or depth of revenue losses due to COVID-19, we will have to be vigilant in our tracking and projection of revenues in order to bring back services/positions in a sustainable manner. We are working on a prioritizing process that will assist us in determining what services/positions we’ll be able to “buy back” and when.

COVID-19 recovery will require long-term assistance. The county has been able to distribute CARES Act funding to local businesses, nonprofits, chambers, schools and to first responders. That funding is only available through the end of November. We know the impacts will be much longer-lasting than that. To that end, we are focused on being prepared with a certain amount of surge capacity in order to address future hot-spots or outbreaks. Without federal or state assistance, we do not have the local funding sources to meet the need before a vaccine is widely available. I’m currently working with our federal delegation, along with our state and national associations, to advocate for additional time and/or resources to help make a difference.

As for affordable housing, it’s a complex issue. “Affordable” is in the eye of the beholder. Affordability is best addressed by having a hearty availability of housing stock throughout the spectrum of types, styles and price ranges. The impact of regulations — often passed through from the state or federal level — on the cost of housing is real, and we need to be ever mindful of that. Another aspect is the availability of skilled labor and the cost of materials. Many who were in the trades left after the Great Recession and didn’t return. Working with the schools and Kitsap Building Association members to promote STEM and training opportunities will be key to developing a home-grown workforce. And the availability of land is an important component of the affordability equation. I believe one approach is to make target investments using our 1406 dollars (named after a bill number) to acquire land for the development of affordable housing stock and to maintain it in perpetuity.

Ultimately, community cohesion is vital to moving any of these topics forward. We are in this together and will emerge by working together.

KDN: What makes you a better candidate for this position than your opponent?

Gelder: I would not say anything that diminishes another person and the attributes they would bring to this role. What I can offer is that the role of county commissioner requires knowledge of myriad topics from public works (roads, sewers, stormwater, solid waste), parks, land-use planning and labor to what is one of the most important policy documents — the budget. I have over two decades of executive and management experience.

I have approached this role with a focus on service to the community, and to do that, I strive to learn as much as possible about all the programs the county provides, as well as the interplay between state policy decisions and the impacts they have on the local level. That is why I’ve sought out leadership opportunities — to raise awareness among legislators of their impact on local government and taxpayers.

Scott Henden (Republican)

Henden was raised in and has lived in Kitsap County for 57 years, raising four children. After completing four years of electrical trade school and passing the Washington State Administrators Test, he started and has operated Henden Electric for 35 years.

According to the Kitsap County voters pamphlet, he has supported the community by being a Little League coach and a team sponsor for 30 years. Other community endeavors include having served as a board member and site foreman for Habitat for Humanity, previously being elected to a four-year term on the North Kitsap School District Board, and serving as an electrical construction volunteer and supporter for Coffee Oasis.

KDN: What are the three biggest issues you would face if elected and how would you approach each one?

Henden: Affordable housing is at a crisis. In nine years, housing prices are up 90 per-cent, rent is up 80 percent, and wages are up 30 percent. That will not allow many working people to afford housing. A recent county study states we are only building one-third of the homes we need to keep up with growth. This compounds the homeless problem as we drop people and families off the bottom rung of housing. I will work for solutions by reducing regulations. Stormwater, rules, energy codes, electrical codes, building requirements and permit delays. I would apply the same process to business and job creation. We need all elected officials to work to change growth management as the single biggest obstruction to affordability.

There will be a budget shortfall. The sooner we can open business again, the less severe that will be. I am bullish on getting businesses open again. I would support a budget that prioritizes the sheriff’s department and courts. I would cut the commissioner pay to match the cuts needed — it is only fair. I will not support added taxes; we pay enough now.

We have 20-year road problems like the ferry lane going into Kingston and the backup at Highways 3 and 304 (Navy Yard traffic) that have been stalled for nine years with the current commissioner. I will make it a priority to build the coalition to move these forward. I want to see the Hansville boat ramp completed after nine years. I want to see the Port Gamble bicycle Ride & Park permitted after a five-year delay.

KDN: What makes you a better candidate for this position than your opponent?

Henden: I am a solution-driven person or I would not have survived in business for 35 years. After nine years, the current commissioner now wants to work on some of the issues I have brought up. I will work with community groups, the cities, other electees and anyone who wants results to the challenges facing the county. I do not need this job or retirement, but as a 57-year resident, I have a stake in Kitsap County, its citizens and future.