Selinda Barkhuis lives modestly in a well kept wood frame house in central Port Angeles, a 3 ½-block walk from her office at the County Courthouse. She tends a garden in the front yard and indoors monitors her blood pressure. A slender, middle-aged blond, she might pass for an ordinary citizen were it not for her position at the center of a political tempest.
In her living room, she flips through page after page of collected e-mail communications and budget documents, many of them detailing steps in the path that brought her to challenge the Clallam County Board of Commissioners and County Administrator Jim Jones regarding fiscal management of taxpayers’ funds.
All in a day’s work
As County Treasurer she cited state law and insisted that the commissioners must hold a public hearing and then take formal action in order to amend the county budget by some $3 million. They not only refused to do so, but threatened to challenge her in court while slandering her character and belittling her efforts — until her blood pressure reached alarming levels and her medical doctor told her to stop.
She dropped her objections. She now works from home whenever she can, gardens and practices yoga to relieve stress. She also visits a personal counselor.
But Barkhuis has not given up the larger struggle to make county government accountable for how it handles county funds.
For her efforts and her continuing whistle blowing, the Port O Call honors Selinda Barkhuis as Clallam County Person of the Year.
A child of the Netherlands
A child of the Netherlands, Barkhuis did not know Clallam County existed when she attended high school in Barrington, Rhode Island, as an American Field Service exchange student.
Two years later she returned to America and wound up in Phoenix, Ariz., where she earned a bachelor’s degree at Grand Canyon College. After a while, she moved north and earned a master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Washington.
She then had a son and went on to U.W. law school becoming a lawyer. Her son, Mason Bially, has since graduated from Western Washington University and works in Bellingham.
Early in 1995, she established a law practice in Port Angeles and practiced law for seven years. It did not prove to be her life’s work and when opportunity arose at the county she accepted a position as salmon habitat recovery coordinator.
The county position was her first step into government bureaucracy. She next took a position as a senior planner in the Department of Community Development, working on the county’s growth plan update. She held that position when she decided to run for County Treasurer.
Moving on up
Why did she do it? “I needed to get out of the basement,” she said simply, referring to her planning office’s location in the county building. She considered the treasurer’s post and decided, “It was something I could do and it (the office) had windows.”
She knew a previous treasurer had been sued, even though the suit was not successful. She knew a previous treasurer had fraud take place on her watch.
She did not know that doing her job according to the way she as a lawyer understood the law would get her into a power struggle with the Board of Commissioners and the county administrator.
Throughout the controversy, she has been outspoken in these pages and in reports in the Peninsula Daily News. She recently insisted publicly that the county should dismiss Jim Jones as administrator.
She says it is her job to reconcile warrants to spend money, to assure that money is spent according to law and to assure that money is invested in “safe and liquid” funds or accounts. She said she can be held personally responsible if she fails at those responsibilities.
One key problem, according to Barkhuis, is that the commissioners and County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols know there is no one to correct their actions or force them to follow the law as she sees it.
On her own
She said the State Auditor’s Office would not even give her the time of day. Further, she said the only agency that could prosecute the county officials would be the state Attorney General’s office, and that agency would be likely to act only if it received a recommendation to do so from the state auditor.
She isn’t reserved or shy about criticizing the men who have become her adversaries. McEntire and Peach, she said, “have been trying to rewrite how government works.” She sees Jones as their prime accomplice.
Lately, they have made a point of saying that she hasn’t participated in budget work sessions. She says, “I’m not going to participate when you’re destroying the financial integrity of the county.”
Besides, she said they don’t listen to her anyway. “They don’t even talk to me.”
That does not mean that she is letting things go their way. She has been working on a report that she plans to make public early in 2016.
Taking it one day at a time
Meanwhile, she takes “one day at a time.” And she is hopeful that McEntire’s loss on election day and his replacement by Mark Ozias of Sequim will effect important changes in the coming years. She has three years remaining in her second term in office.
Ozias and Commissioner Mike Chapman of Port Angeles could accomplish a great deal to resolve the problems Barkhuis has dealt with.
Meanwhile she has received dozens of get well cards and supportive greeting cards, and pats on the back from people who recognize her around town. “That’s what keeps me going,” she said.