Candidates for Kittitas County Commissioner District 1 convened at Ellensburg City Hall last Tuesday to share their thoughts on subjects that ranged from budgetary issues to land use plans. The forum was sponsored by the Kittitas County League of Women Voters and was moderated by Charli Sorenson. Questions were submitted by the audience, and candidates Nancy Lillquist, Laci Harrison and Cory Wright were limited to 60-second responses. Today’s article is part three of a three-part series that will examine issues talked about during the forum.

ON THE FUTURE OF RODEO BOWL PROPERTY

HARRISON:

Harrison said the best move for the property would be to conduct a feasibility study to decide whether it would be worth repurposing the building, or if it would be more effective to bulldoze the structure.

“Selling it would be an option too,” she said. “I think in the long term, I’d have to look at what the long-term planning is in that area, but most likely it would be to not turn it back into a bowling alley, which I know some people are interested in.”

LILLQUIST:

Lillquist said her opinion is that it was a mistake to purchase the property in the first place.

“The county spent half a million dollars to put a new roof on it, and now it’s full of mold,” she said. “People who have been in it say it’s pretty much a disaster.”

Lillquist favors selling the property, and she said even if it comes at a loss and the building has to be bulldozed, that may be what has to happen.

WRIGHT:

Wright said further examination into the issue is necessary, as the building is currently not a buildable shell.

“This year we budgeted some money to get it to a point where we can actually do something with it,” he said. “There’s three different grades inside between the old shoe counter, down to the lanes and then down to the pin setting machines. Sorry to those folks that bowl, but it’s never going to be a bowling alley again. It just has been picked over and scavenged over the past few years by different entities looking for different parts.”

Wright said although it is unfortunate that the building won’t be used for bowling again, there is private interest in finding a viable way to utilize the property. He said there is the potential for a private interest to temporarily use the property until the events center has a purpose for the land.

ON HIGH COUNTY STAFF TURNOVER RATES

LILLQUIST:

Lillquist said she has talked to former county employees who said they left for a variety of reasons. One factor she cited was pay and benefits.

“You can do better at other institutions within this county,” she said. “Given the chance, many people do. The city has hired many former county employees.”

The second issue she saw impacting the turnover rate is workplace culture.

“Staff needs a harassment-free workplace,” she said. “They need a common sense of purpose, and they need a sense of being supported and understanding their mission. The county can’t solve all these other issues we’re talking about unless they have a strong staff to accomplish that.”

WRIGHT:

Wright said the current high turnover rate stems from his belief that the county is currently lacking the foundational structure of a quality management system.

“Recently, I took the time to look at our management principles posted on every wall,” he said. “I could not memorize them if I had to. I think every employee needs to know at a base level what a mission, vision and value statement, what it takes for them to be a valued part of that organization. Right now, we’re not hitting that mark and we need to improve that and improve it quickly.”

HARRISON:

Harrison said a combination of culture and a lack of workplace training and support is what she believes is behind the high turnover within county staff.

“Management and supporting management and additional training,” she said. “There is need for further training, especially to retain employees. Supporting employees in their personal lives and their personal interests, as well as their career goals. Not everybody wants to stay in the same position throughout their lives, and it would be a great thing to be able to promote from within like we have so that staff is growing in their positions.”

ON A COUNTY PARTNERSHIP WITH CWU TO FOSTER ENTREPRENEURSHIP

WRIGHT:

“I think it’s important to recognize how blessed we are to have a university in this town,” Wright said. “Without it, we’d just be another dusty basin whistle stop.”

Wright said the county has benefited greatly from the presence of CWU, pointing out that the university is the county’s largest employer.

“I commend them for the work they have done,” he said. “I think the best thing we can do is bring together all of the various parties in place.”

Wright said the county needs to collaborate not only with the university but also with local school districts to enrich educational offerings within the county in ways like workforce development training and vocational education.

“How do we use existing county facilities, public facilities,” he said. “How do we bring in that outside funding from a lobbying standpoint, which I think the multiple entities here can do very well together in a collaborative manor. It opens up a lot of exciting opportunities.”

HARRISON:

“I would say the best thing the county can do to partner with Central Washington University is supporting the organizations that work in between those,” Harrison said. “The ones that are helping and supporting entrepreneurs in getting them facilities they need or finding resources that they need.”

Harrison said organizations that help support local businesses like the Chamber of Commerce and the Ellensburg Downtown Association would be a good example of groups that could fall within the partnership.

“The county has a part in that, but I would say it’s mostly an indirect part,” she said.

LILLQUIST:

Lillquist pointed out that the university already has a center for entrepreneurship and that the center has helped launch local businesses.

“There is some integration,” she said. “The Ellensburg Business Development Authority’s board membership includes a couple of Central folks.”

Lillquist said another way to partner with the university would be through the city’s business incubator buildings.

“Perhaps spinning off some of those good ideas that Central students come up with, and helping them start up that way,” she said.

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