Commissioner hopefuls Jack Seley and Seth Crawford square off in a candidate forum held at Bowman Museum

by: JASON CHANEY - During a break at the forum, the candidates mingled with members of the audience. On the far left is Crook County Commissioner candidate Seth Crawford and Crook County Clerk candidate Cheryl Seely. On the far right is commissioner candidate Jack Seley.

Local residents were invited to get to know their county candidates better on Wednesday evening as the Central Oregon Patriots hosted a candidate forum.

Nearly 50 people attended the event held at Bowman Museum and candidates for Crook County commissioner, clerk, and sheriff addressed the crowd during the two-hour session.

Running unopposed, clerk candidate Cheryl Seely and incumbent Sheriff Jim Hensley briefly spoke about their decision to run and provided some personal background for the audience.

However, most of the meeting was devoted to the one contested county race. Incumbent Seth Crawford and challenging candidate Jack Seley, a current Prineville City Council member, fielded more than a dozen questions that ran the gamut from economics and job growth to Constitutional rights and even their stance on such social issues as same-sex marriage and abortion.

Though the questions covered many topics, some issues that county government will face in the coming years continually surfaced during the forum. Of those, the primary concern expressed by both candidates was local employment. Both Crawford and Seley cited jobs as their top priority if elected.

“Unemployment is still way too high,” Seley said. “We need to provide an opportunity for the kids who grow up here to have a living-wage job if they choose to stay here.”

He went on to stress that as county government pursues economic development, it should try to preserve the rural heritage that many people in Crook County enjoy and cherish.

Crawford highlighted three industries that he feels the county should focus on to generate more employment opportunities in Crook County.

“We need to continue to expand our tech sector,” he said. “We need to pursue manufacturing and we need to improve our tourism options.”

The candidates both stated that the primary role of county government when it comes to job creation is to make the community as business friendly as possible. A large part of that effort has come in the form of enterprise zone tax breaks. One question asked why the secrecy with enterprise zones was necessary, while another sought to learn how beneficial the program has been for Crook County.

Regarding the secrecy, Crawford and Seley both noted that companies ask local officials to keep details confidential during the negotiation process. Both went on to praise the results of the enterprise zone program.

“It offers business opportunities that would not be there without those incentives,” Seley said.

At another point in the forum, the candidates were presented with a question about rising property taxes and their willingness to cut county government to offset the burden some citizens face.

“It has to be a case-to-case basis,” Crawford responded. “You have to look at what is going on and what the situation will be in the future.”

He went on to stress that one of his primary goals, if re-elected, is to institute a long-term budget plan that covers a five- to 10-year span. Crawford said that such a plan would enable the county to make better decisions regarding government spending.

Seley said he would support reducing government if he was able to identify inefficiencies, such as an overlap in employee duties.

“I have supported reducing city government and making it more efficient,” he added.

Another issue raised during the forum was the future of a jail in Crook County. Seley first broached the topic in naming the construction of a new jail and justice center as one of his top goals. Later the question was posed whether or not the candidates would support a jail bond.

In response, Seley said it would depend on what community leaders learn from a current on whether the Pioneer Memorial Hospital building could be converted to a jail, and how the citizens want to proceed.

“I think it is a good thing to put a jail bond up for a public vote,” he said. “It is not to be decided by the county court or city council.”

Crawford explained to the audience that the county is looking at three options for a jail. They can convert the hospital building, build a new facility, or rent more beds from Jefferson County.

“All three are viable options,” he said, “but what we need to do is make sure that we research each one and find the most economically viable choice. Once we do find that choice, we need to go to the people of Crook County and have public meetings ... What would you like us to do?”

The 2014 Primary Election will be held on May 20. The winner of the county commissioner race will go on to the general election. So far, no other candidates have filed for the office.

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