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Whatcom County candidates state their cases at forum

Topics included public safety, climate change, policing at City Club event

Hannah Ordos speaks with a microphone in hand at a table with a white tablecloth.
Hannah Ordos speaks as other candidates listen during a Bellingham City Club forum at the Bellingham Yacht Club on Wednesday, Aug. 23. Six candidates, for county executive, sheriff and council, fielded questions at the event. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)
By Ralph Schwartz Staff Reporter

Candidates who will appear on every ballot in Whatcom County this November spoke on public safety, climate change and policing at a Bellingham City Club forum Wednesday, Aug. 23.

In their responses during the luncheon meeting at Bellingham Yacht Club, candidates for sheriff, county executive and county council revealed something of where they stood on the political spectrum, too.

County executive candidate Dan Purdy and council candidate Hannah Ordos, both endorsed by the Whatcom Republicans, spoke of “family values” — Purdy’s words — and a desire to represent the county’s conservative rural population.

In a question about the county’s response to climate change, Ordos said she wants to hear from the people who feel their voices aren’t heard by the progressive majority on the county council.

“When we’re dealing with climate, we really need to do a better job of engaging our community, and what they would like to see done and how they can help,” Ordos said. “We can’t do it just by legislation. We also have to do it with the community’s participation.”

County At-Large candidate Jon Scanlon speaks at the Bellingham Yacht Club with a microphone in hand as he gestures with his free hand.
County At-Large candidate Jon Scanlon speaks at the Bellingham Yacht Club. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

Ordos’ opponent, Jon Scanlon, sits on the board of directors of local environmental group RE Sources. He noted that a new state law requires most counties, including Whatcom, to factor climate change into their 20-year plans. 

If elected, Scanlon said, he would join the council in looking at climate models to see what future floods and drought might look like, and how to better manage the forests in the face of increasing fire risk. 

Purdy said he would address the county’s fentanyl crisis by restoring “traditional American values.”

“We would never allow our children to do some of the things that our county is allowing our citizens and our residents to do,” he said, adding that he would partner with faith-based organizations to get drug addicts the treatment they need.


County executive candidate Dan Purdy speaks at the Bellingham Yacht Club as he smiles while holding the microphone close to him.
County executive candidate Dan Purdy speaks at the Bellingham Yacht Club. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

Incumbent Executive Satpal Sidhu said the problem of cheap, accessible fentanyl was a failure at a national level and “above my pay grade.” But he said the county is already taking steps to combat fentanyl, providing the anti-overdose drug naloxone to the public for free, and supporting anti-drug educational programs in the schools.

Referring to himself as a “process ninja,” Purdy said he could cut through the dysfunction in county government and get things done more efficiently than the current administration.

“We get things done with less talk and more action,” said Purdy, a management consultant who has worked with Fortune 500 companies. 

“You don’t run Fortune 500 companies, and you certainly don’t run businesses, by waiting,” he said.

In his response, Sidhu rejected the premise that government can be run like a business.

“Governments are designed to be dysfunctional for a purpose,” Sidhu said. “That’s why we didn’t have kings. We opted for a democracy.”

“You have to bring along everybody to get to a consensus,” he added.

County executive candidate Satpal Sidhu speaks at the Bellingham Yacht Club with a mic in hand as he gestures to the crowd.
County executive candidate Satpal Sidhu speaks at the Bellingham Yacht Club. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

The candidates for sheriff perhaps had more in common with each other. Both have emphasized training during their law enforcement careers, Doug Chadwick with 29 years in the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office; and Donnell Tanksley as police chief of Blaine after stints in St. Louis and Western Washington University. They were even co-instructors in the same course on fair and impartial policing.

Differences between the two sheriff candidates emerged in certain lines of questioning. They were asked how the current jail, which is over capacity, would be managed over the next five years while a new jail is being built — assuming voters approve a jail sales tax in November.

Whatcom County sheriff candidate Doug Chadwick speaks into a mic.
Whatcom County sheriff candidate Doug Chadwick speaks at the Bellingham Yacht Club Aug. 23. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

Chadwick said he would consider building a temporary facility to house inmates and relieve overcrowding — as well as loosening the booking restrictions that Chadwick said leaves most people suspected of committing crimes on the streets. Chadwick also would seek contracts with jails in other counties to house some Whatcom inmates.

By contrast, Tanksley proposed reviewing every single inmate’s case, to “take a look at why we’re holding a person, for how long, and what the charges are.”

Tanksley said he would consider placing more people on electronic home monitoring and granting “amnesty” to people with warrants in certain cases.

Chadwick also supported various ways to divert people away from jail, including sending defendants to existing mental health and drug courts. The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 7. 

County Sheriff candidate Donnell Tanksley speaks with a microphone in hand.
County Sheriff candidate Donnell Tanksley speaks at the Bellingham Yacht Club on Aug. 23. (Andy Bronson/Cascadia Daily News)

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