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County commission hopefuls stump for votes in Sunnyside

Gangs, the infamous fourth floor at the Yakima County Courthouse and the recent success of the Yakima County Jail were all topics of discussion at the Sunnyside Republican Club meeting held this morning, Friday.

Toppenish farmer Kevin Bouchey and Union Gap City Councilman Dan Olson are both competing against Yakima County Commissioner Ron Gamache for his District 2 seat and both were on hand for today's meeting. Also speaking to Sunnyside Republicans this morning was Mike Leitia, who holds the District 1 seat on the Yakima County Board of Commissioners. Leitia is running unopposed.

Bouchey told the Sunnyside club he is running for the District 2 seat because he thought it was time for him to step up, a time for him to give back to the community.

He also said there is a need for a resident of the Lower Valley to have a seat on the Board of Yakima County Commissioners.

He joked to the Sunnyside club that his wife told him the real reason he wants to run is because he likes to take on battles, comparing him to a dragon slayer.

"It's true," he said. "That's how I approached my farming operation. I focus on the issues and I go out and battle them."

One battleground he sees is the permitting and planning department in Yakima County, housed on the fourth floor of the Yakima County courthouse.

He said he doesn't feel the people in that department really 'get it', adding he's talked to people who have run into many obstacles when dealing with the planning department. Something, he said, as simple as building a carport.

He said he's not interested in raising taxes but would rather encourage economic growth, something that he said is being stymied by the planning department.

"This county has some great opportunities for economic growth," he added.

Another battle he sees for Yakima County is its fight against gangs.

"That dragon has to be slayed," he said. "We have to get our arms around it."

Bouchey said what is needed is a county wide unified approach to the gang problem. He said he would tackle these problems by approaching them whole heartedly and would work with the commissioners and other agencies.

"It will take persistence," he said.

Olson, a former mayor of Union Gap and current city councilman, said he learned responsibility from his father as a young boy. He said he doesn't see much responsibility in the planning department of Yakima County, adding he would like to reduce some of the regulations.

Olson said a simple lot-line adjustment can take up to six months when dealing with the planning department.

"It can be done in days," he said. "The process is just not working right. They're here to serve the public."

He added it is critical that economic growth in the valley is streamlined.

"Customer service is number one and we've gotten away from that," he added. "We need solutions to these problems and I won't give up this county because I think it's the greatest place to live."

Olson also promised to cut out wasteful spending if elected to the board of commissioners. He said there are ways to be more efficient, adding if citizens have to do it at home then the county must do it as well.

Commissioner Leitia said one major problem he and other commissioners were forced to deal with was the Yakima County Jail, which was experiencing funding issues.

He said Yakima is now recognized in Washington state as one of the leaders in the area of department of corrections.

Making every jurisdiction responsible for their inmates equally and forging a relationship with King County was just two of the successes that turned the jail around, he said.

He added that the jail is now paying for itself because of good management.

Leitia pointed out that taxes haven't been raised in Yakima County for the last four years, adding he would like to see Yakima County's relationship with state legislators grow stronger.

"There are a lot of dragons to be slayed," he said. "Being a dragon slayer myself I can say you get burned a lot."

This is why, Leitia said, he approaches each problem with an open mind.

"Along with persistence it takes patience," he added.

He acknowledged problems in the county's planning department. He said there have been terminations in that department and said more are on the way, but added he was unable to discuss those.

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