Kitsap County government has changed immeasurably over in the past decade.
The board of commissioners has turned over completely, along with most of the senior staff and elected officials. There is a new building, and several new departments.
But the single constant factor is the presence of Vivian Henderson at nearly all of the commissioners’ public meetings and work sessions.
Henderson, of Port Orchard, is executive director of the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners, a countywide alliance of about 1,000 members that advocate property rights while opposing government regulations that take choices out of property owners’ control.
“People who are interested in protecting their constitutional rights should pay attention to what KAPO is doing on their behalf,” Henderson said. “Property owners are the ones who should make the decision as to how their property should be used.”
Henderson, 72, moved to Washington in the 1960s from Jacksonville, Fla., “in order to escape my overly controlling family.”
Since then, she worked as a real estate broker before devoting all her time to KAPO beginning in 2000.
“When I became a realtor, I learned that home ownership is like a magic wand,” she said. “When someone owns a home they become interested in the schools and the community. I watched people who had never owned a home turn into good citizens.”
As Henderson speaks her mind, she steers clear of throwing stones and personalizing issues. In this case she stops herself, making it clear she is not disparaging renters.
Public perception sometimes places KAPO at odds with environmentalists — a characterization Henderson said is incorrect. Property owners who have ultimate control over their land need only to pay attention to health and safety issues.
And they will do that anyway, because no one will destroy their own property. Or as she has said repeatedly, “Landowners are the best stewards of their own land.”
Henderson is not paid for her KAPO efforts beyond expense reimbursement. She said her own income and “an understanding husband” allow her to volunteer her time.
Her efforts aren’t universally appreciated as she tends to point out which particular emperor has no clothes.
“Everything she does is as a volunteer, and she does it on the most professional level,” said Kitsap County Republican Chairman Jack Hamilton, a KAPO member. “Her efforts aren’t appreciated in the courthouse, and thy are not appreciated by the media, which tend to quote her out of context. But who else in this county reads and understands all of the new ordinances? I know the commissioners don’t.”
While many residents only know the county commissioners from regular televised meetings or newspaper articles, Henderson feels the actions at work-study sessions provide a valuable insight to how the board interacts. By observing them in this context, observers can learn what motivates the commissioners.
Even if she is unsure how compatible the newest commissioners are with her point of view, she gives them high marks.
Since North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer took office last summer, the board has become more conciliatory and effective, she believes.
“Steve Bauer is a tremendous improvement over (former North Kitsap Commissioner) Chris Endresen,” she said. “He is pragmatic, has an open mind and is sincerely interested in Kitsap County and its citizens. Endresen was rude and demeaning. When she made up her mind, she wasn’t interested in anyone else’s opinions.”
Henderson also has praise for Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown, saying “He is a quick learner. He makes decisions. He is fair and he is polite. I am impressed and surprised.”
Not surprisingly, Henderson has high praise for South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel, who has consistently supported KAPO’s positions.
“I hate to see Jan leave,” she said of Angel’s plans to depart the board of commissioners and seek one of the 26th District’s seats in the state House of Representatives.
Henderson does not know much about Monty Mahan, who is hoping to succeed Angel, but has no kind words for Mahan’s opponent, former South Kitsap Commissioner Charlotte Garrido.
“Charlotte is terrible news for the county,” she said. “She is part of the reason we are in so much trouble. She is a planner. We don’t need a planner. If she is elected, we will go back to years of downsizing, studies and strict environmental laws.”
A few hours after saying this Henderson has second thoughts — sort of. In an e-mail, she writes, “I’ve been thinking about some of my answers and where I have referred to “Charlotte Garrido could be the ‘worst thing that could happen to Kitsap County’ (or words to that effect). I’d like to say, ‘Charlotte Garrido’s policies.’ That keeps it from being too personal. If you would make that little change, I’d be very grateful.”
Henderson has earned the notice — if not the respect — of local movers and shakers. Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola said she “is a passionate advocate for everything she believes in.” Kitsap County association of Realtors Executive Mike Eliason, who like Henderson is a staple of the public comment section of the commissioners’ meetings, calls her “one of the most moderating voices in the efforts to protect local property rights.”
“On a one-to-one basis, I like to get beyond people’s political and social beliefs,” Henderson said. “I like to know where they grew up and who their childhood heroes were, what events affected them and what important lessons they learned from people along the way. I can usually find a thought or event that connects us in some way. That connection is important to keep our differences from detracting from each other’s value.”
“People don’t recognize how important and effective an advocate Vivian is,” Hamilton said. “But 10 years from now her work will be looked upon with great admiration and thanks.”