Pierce County Councilman Stan Flemming and election challenger Derek Young take contrasting stands on some issues, such as how to pay for mental health services and how to fix the deficit at the Pierce County Jail.
But they disagree most sharply over which of them is best qualified for a four-year seat on the council representing the Gig Harbor and Key peninsulas, and portions of Tacoma.
Young touts his roots in Gig Harbor. Flemming, who moved to Gig Harbor because of redistricting, touts his broad experience in city, county and state government.
Young, a Democrat, and Flemming, a Republican, are vying to represent District 7 in the only contested race among three County Council spots in the Nov. 4 general election. The winner will earn a seat on the seven-member council and an annual salary of $107,602.
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The race sets up as a nail-biter. In the August primary, Young finished 50 votes ahead of Flemming out of 29,020 votes cast.
Young says he understands the concerns of people on the peninsulas.
“I live here, and I’ve grown up here,” Young said. “Having to know the area and deal with the repercussions of your decisions is a core requirement of being a representative.”
Young, who runs his own graphic design business, finished his fourth, four-year term on the Gig Harbor City Council in December. He said the county needs to preserve rural areas and rein in growth to core urban areas.
Flemming, who grew up in Steilacoom, says he has more experience in policy making and leadership than Young.
“It’s night and day,” Flemming said.
He is a former state legislator and was a University Place City councilman for 14 years, serving as the city’s first mayor. He is finishing his first term as a Pierce County Council member. Flemming also is a retired Army reserve brigadier general.
Flemming has shown aspirations for higher office. In 2012, he finished third in the primary election in his bid to represent Washington’s new 10th Congressional District. That seat was won by Democrat Denny Heck.
Flemming’s residency in University Place became an issue because of redistricting in 2011. He was drawn out of Council District 7 with three years left on his term. The Gig Harbor and Key Peninsulas were split off from University Place and Fircrest, and linked to Tacoma’s West and North Ends.
To run for re-election to the County Council, Flemming had to move into the reshaped district. The county charter requires council members to be residents and registered voters of their districts for at least one year prior to filing for their position.
Flemming’s filing was just under the wire, occurring exactly one year after his change of address to the Gig Harbor area became official on May 16, 2013.
Flemming told The News Tribune’s editorial board last week that he and his wife, Martha Flemming, are living in separate residences. He said she lives in University Place because she doesn’t like crossing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge every day.
The fundraising and campaign spending for the County Council race has been close, but as of Friday, the challenger had outspent the incumbent.
Young had spent $27,631 of $33,834 raised, according to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission. Flemming had spent $24,086 of $35,599.
For the other two council seats on the ballot, the incumbents are running unopposed: Bonney Lake Republican Dan Roach in District 1, and Tacoma Democrat Rick Talbert in District 5.
FIXING JAIL PROBLEMS
In interviews, both Flemming and Young said deficits at the Pierce County Jail are a major issue for county leaders to address.
The jail has struggled with how to cut costs and reduce daily bed rates to make them more competitive with other jail providers. The deficit hit $5 million last year, resulting in the layoff of 16 corrections deputies, and the jail overspent its overtime budget by $602,983.
Young proposes the county and its partner cities reach an agreement on costs and operations to ensure space’s available for inmates and to reduce spending. He said it’s unacceptable that some misdemeanor offenders are being turned away from the jail.
“We need a regional solution to a regional problem,” Young said.
Flemming said he supports a recent jail operations study, which gave 31 recommendations including adding more corrections deputies to reduce overtime.
“My intent is to support as many of those as we can in the 2015 budget,” he said.
MENTAL HEALTH FUNDING
Young said concern about mental health services is the issue that has resonated most with voters during the campaign.
“We have people who are in dire need of treatment who can’t get it,” he said. “The civil commitment process isn’t working.”
Flemming described systemic problems that need to be resolved. They center on more mental health evaluations at the jail and improving access to inpatient and outpatient services, he said.
But the candidates differ on whether to add a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax for mental health and chemical dependency services.
Under state law, counties have been authorized to impose the tax, or ask voters to do so, since 2005. The Legislature later granted authority to certain Washington cities to impose the tax themselves when their home counties would not. Tacoma did so in 2012.
Flemming said he supports adding the tax countywide as “a tool of last resort ... if all else fails.” Young said he would vote to add the tax.
Flemming stated erroneously at a candidate forum last month that only voters could adopt a new tax. He said it would require a supermajority of the council (five members) to send a proposed tax to voters.
Young said a simple majority of the council (four members) could send the tax to voters for adoption.
Both were wrong in stating that the council could send the mental-health tax to voters for them to decide.
State law requires the tax increase for mental health services to be adopted by the County Council, council attorney Susan Long said.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND CONTROVERSIES
Asked about what he’s accomplished on the County Council, Flemming cited improvements at the Tacoma Narrows Airport and the council’s adoption of stricter enforcement standards for blighted homes.
Young cited his own work on the City Council collaborating with legislators to create a hospital benefit zone providing for road improvements for construction of St. Anthony Hospital. Another accomplishment, he said, was recruitment of local partners and advocating for the start of the Gig Harbor trolley by Pierce Transit in 2013.
Young attended the University of Washington in Seattle for about two years with a focus on political science, but did not graduate. For The News Tribune’s online voters guide, he wrote that he had attended the UW.
He said his statement wasn’t misleading. “I never put that I had a degree,” he said.
In 2008, Gig Harbor police arrested Young — then a City Council member — for driving under the influence. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of first-degree negligent driving in 2010 and was fined $866, according to Pierce County District Court records.
Young called his DUI “quite frankly, one of the worst decisions I made, if not the worst.”
Flemming, a physician, has a doctorate of osteopathic medicine from Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California, and two master’s degrees.
From 2007 to 2009, Flemming was president of the Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, a medical school in Yakima. His time there ended in a flurry of lawsuits and acrimony, concluding with a settlement agreement with strict confidentiality provisions.
In an interview, Flemming objected to details about his tenure at the medical school being included in this story.
“That has nothing to do with the County Council,” Flemming said. But he added that he and two vice presidents “received 100 percent of everything we requested” in the settlement.