Job no conflict for Woodland mayor candidate

Cowlitz County commissioners weigh in on his position as Emergency Management chief

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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Woodland mayoral candidate Grover Laseke will be in charge of guiding his city through fires, floods and any other emergency that should arise if he is elected in November. They are duties he is well-accustomed to handling.

Laseke already serves as Cowlitz County’s Emergency Management director, a position requiring him to coordinate emergency operations across the county’s 1,166 square miles.

But could Laseke’s county job present a conflict of interest with his potential elected position as Woodland’s mayor?

The answer is no, according to Cowlitz County Commissioners Michael Karnofski and George Raiter. His positions with Cowlitz County and Woodland, if he’s elected mayor, would not affect emergency decisions, they said.

Laseke, 57, will run against 59-year-old Councilman J.J. Burke in the Nov. 8 general election. The winner will serve a four-year term.

Laseke, a former Woodland police chief, won Tuesday’s primary election with 305 votes, which represented 43.82 percent of the vote. Burke came in second among four candidates with 189 votes or 27.10 percent.

Laseke previously served as mayor of Toledo in Lewis County.

“I thought about it long and hard,” Laseke said, when asked about a potential conflict. “I did some reviewing of things I do, and I don’t believe I have (a conflict).”

Laseke answers to Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson. If there were an issue, Nelson would have alerted him, Laseke said.

Attempts to contact Nelson, who was out of his office Friday, were unsuccessful.

Laseke’s opponent, Burke, said he would go along with the Cowlitz County Commissioners’ decision on whether Laseke’s day job would constitute a conflict of interest. Laseke’s job will make it hard for him to lead the city, Burke noted.

“He’s not going to have the time to work with the city,” Burke said, adding he could put his full efforts into city business.

Raiter and Karnofski each said they believed Laseke’s position with the county’s Emergency Management division would not factor into his eligibility for the mayor’s seat.

“The mayor doesn’t pass legislation and doesn’t vote,” said Raiter, chairman of the Cowlitz County Commissioners. “So I don’t perceive a conflict.”

Raiter viewed Laseke’s emergency response training as a benefit should he serve as mayor. So did Karnofski.

“It will be interesting if there is an emergency in Woodland and he has to talk to himself,” Karnofski said.

Karnofski noted the county uses a standard format in emergencies, setting up an Incident Command System. Laseke would work with Nelson, the sheriff, to form response plans.

Cowlitz County has had public employees hold public office before, Karnofski said.

“This would be a little higher (office),” Karnofski added.

Woodland council members deferred to Cowlitz County Commissioners when asked whether a conflict might arise.

“They’re a responsible group and can make a responsible decision,” Woodland councilman Benjamin Fredricks said.

Councilwoman Marilee McCall added, “I don’t see why it would be a conflict.”

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend; www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com.