Clint Didier, a Franklin County farmer, former Washington Redskins football player and now county commissioner-elect, is on a listening tour as he prepares to take the oath of office in January.
He’s already met with citizens and is working his way through the courthouse, holding meetings with various departments.
The Republican defeated Democrat Zahra Roach in the Nov. 6 election, unseating three-term incumbent Rick Miller in the process.
Miller did not survive the four-way August primary and leaves the District 3 position at the end of December.
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As Didier shifts from candidate to elected official, he said transparency and keeping government in check are his top goals.
He will advocate for rural roads and law enforcement, and hopes to reopen the county commission’s decision to provide space in downtown Pasco for drug users to exchange dirty syringes.
Didier said he will improve transparency by pushing back on the number of topics commissioners discuss in closed-door executive sessions.
Washington law allows elected bodies to discuss certain topics in private. Didier said it’s been applied too liberally, and he pledged to object when the closed sessions are called.
He agrees that personnel matters should be discussed privately, but believes land transactions and most other matters should be handled in public.
He is open to expanding public access to the commission’s weekly meetings on Tuesday mornings.
The county began posting audio transcripts of its regular meetings earlier this year, a step Didier pushed for. He is satisfied with the audio recordings, but wants to consider adding video if it can be done at no cost to the county.
Didier wants to reopen the discussion that led to a needle exchange this spring, a topic that is already generating attention on his private Facebook page.
The exchange is operated by Blue Mountain Heart to Heart with support from the Benton-Franklin Health District.
The Walla Walla nonprofit has a mission to reduce harm, which includes providing a place for drug users to exchange used needles for clean ones, which helps reduce the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C.
Syringe exchanges promote public health by connecting addicts to treatment and reducing the number of discarded syringes littering the community, say health officials.
The county commission played a small role in the exchange when it allowed Blue Mountain to use county-owned space at 412 W. Clark St. for its weekly service.
The exchange hit a milestone in September, when clients exchanged nearly 17,000 used syringes. Supporters say the numbers show the stark need for a safe exchange in the Tri-Cities.
But Didier, who posted a video on the subject to his Facebook page, said the exchange normalizes illegal drug use and tells children it’s acceptable.
“You’re supposed to be arrested if you’re caught doing this,” he said.
Didier wants to hear more public comment when he’s in office.
“I’m listening and learning,” he said.
Didier said rural roads will be another priority.
In early 2017, Didier accused the county of mishandling a crisis when melting snow and ice caused widespread road damage. The county closed some stretches, decisions Didier said were polically motivated.
As an incoming commissioner, his language has softened, but Didier said he remains focused on drawing attention to what he considers substandard conditions.
“I’m on a learning curve,” he said. “I want to talk to (Public Works Director) Matt Mahoney about his best suggestions.”
Drawing on his professional football career, Didier said he wants to be a coach/peacemaker among Franklin County’s feuding elected officials.
The Redskins NFL team held Monday meetings to review its wins and losses, he said. The mood was mostly celebratory and players were eager to earn praise.
Franklin County should celebrate its workers too, he said.
“If you’re going to have a great team, you have to put your time into the teamwork,” he said.
Didier’s new job pays $94,000 a year, plus about $1,100 a month for health benefits.
Didier said that’s too much, but he’s backed off his commitment to use “excess” salary as a bonus for employees. He said he is rethinking how he will handle the salary he considers too generous after getting push-back on his original plan from employee unions.
He won’t be able to lower the salary. State law prohibits elected officials from raising or lowering their own salaries during their term of office.
Though he believes the county commission should be a part-time job, he pledged to devote “as much time as it takes.”
The three-member board is the county’s elected and policy making board. While it controls the budget, the members serve on the same footing as the other elected officials, including assessor, auditor, clerk, coroner, prosecutor, sheriff and treasurer.
Didier previously ran for office five times, including for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and Washington Commissioner of Public Lands. Didier prefers the description “persistent candidate” to “perennial.”
Fox News noted Didier was one of several former NFL players elected to public office on Nov. 6.
Precinct-level vote totals won’t be available until the Franklin County Auditor’s Office finalizes the results on Nov 27.
Results from the four-way August primary indicate Didier had support in both urban and rural precincts within District 3, which covers western Franklin County and follows the Columbia River.
His victory margins were the widest in the county’s rural northern end. Roach, a moderate, performed the strongest in precincts closer to Pasco. Didier won 23 of the 40 precincts and tied in two others. Roach won 17 precincts in the primary.
Commissioners serve four-year terms. Commissioners Brad Peck and Bob Koch are up for election in presidential election years.
Didier invited the Tri-City Herald to publish his phone number so Franklin County residents can reach him as he prepares to take office. His number is 509-380-7324.