By Elon Glucklich

The Bulletin

Two Deschutes County commissioner candidates took on issues from rural land rights to business fees to commissioner health insurance benefits during a forum Tuesday night.

County Commissioner Tony DeBone and challenger Richard Esterman made their election pitches and fielded questions from a crowd of about 40 at the Bend Shilo Inn Suites Hotel.

Deschutes County District Attorney Patrick Flaherty also spoke at the event sponsored by the Deschutes County Republican Party.

With two months until the May 20 primary election, DeBone and Esterman, both Republicans, offered some different takes on county issues.

Esterman took strong positions against what he considered excessive fees, redundant county committees and staff.

Responding to a complaint from an audience member about what he said are rising county fees for businesses, Esterman said various Deschutes County departments were hampering businesses.

“I think the fees are outrageous,” he said. “I feel (the fee process) should be more affordable and accountable.”

DeBone often spoke in more nuanced terms. He called some fees inevitable, a trade-off for government services that help local communities.

“I feel your pain,” DeBone said, “but as your elected officials, we are the watchdog” of public funds.

DeBone, a La Pine resident, was elected to the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners in 2010. He touched on his business experience Tuesday, and said he helped the county set conservative budgets to get through the economic recession. After years when businesses struggled, he said, employment has picked up and more revenue is coming into the county.

“We’re in a good spot,” he said.

Esterman, a Sisters resident and event planner, has pledged not to take any campaign funds. He criticized DeBone and other elected officials for accepting health insurance benefits, saying it goes against the basic idea of public office.

“When you run for public office, you’re a public servant,” Esterman said.

He added that various county jobs should be reviewed and possibly eliminated to save taxpayer money.

The candidates had slightly different takes on landowners who hold events on their property, an issue that’s taken on more urgency coming out of the recession, as the number of event applications has ballooned.

Responding to an audience question about a Sisters-area wedding rejected by the county earlier this year, Esterman said commissioners should move more quickly to approve events.

But DeBone said the county’s guidelines for event permits help protect neighboring property owners and keep events like weddings and concerts from spiraling out of control.

District Attorney Flaherty also spoke and fielded questions. Deschutes County Sheriff Larry Blanton asked Flaherty about what are the biggest issues affecting quality of life.

Flaherty said methamphetamine use has long been the most serious issue his office faces. But he added that he’s concerned about the push to legalize marijuana, saying it would lead to more charges of driving under the influence and vehicular assault.

Flaherty faces an election challenge from Bend attorney John Hummel. Voters will choose between Flaherty and Hummel in the May 20 primary election.

The winner of DeBone and Esterman’s May 20 primary race will take on Bend City Councilor Jodie Barram, a Democrat, in November.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820,