The Saratoga Sun -

VSO forum

Local candidates speak Oct. 22

 

October 31, 2018

The first night of the VSO Forums.

The Valley Service Organization (VSO) once again held forums at the Platte Valley Community Center (PVCC) preceding the upcoming general election. The first forum, held on Oct. 22, saw candidates for contested county seats and Senate District 11 enter the Great Hall of the PVCC. The second forum, on Oct. 24, was held for candidates for Saratoga Mayor and Town Council. Both forums were live-streamed on the Saratoga Sun Facebook page, though the second night saw some technical difficulties.

At both forums, attendance was sparse with candidates and their families making up the bulk of the audience on the first night. Senator Larry Hicks, who had not shown up to the primary forum held by the VSO nor any other general election forum, was in attendance on Oct. 22. With a small audience, even online, the majority of questions asked were from moderators Sue Jones and Kassey Westring.

Monday, Monday

Most of the candidates that were in attendance had also been present at the primary forum held by the VSO. Byron Barkhurst, who is running for the two-year unexpired term on the Board of Carbon County Commissioners, had the floor to himself as his opponent, Don Cuin, was unable to attend. Both candidates for Carbon County Assessor and Carbon County Sheriff were able to attend, however, and answered questions that ranged from property valuation for the assessor candidates, to centralized dispatch for the sheriff candidates.

There was little in terms of contention between the county candidates, though they did disagree on various subjects. While Snider felt that, in terms of transparency, much of the public was unaware what was available to them in terms of information, West stated that she would want to be proactive by holding workshops for county residents. Meanwhile, with the sheriff candidates, Hagan voiced his support for a centralized dispatch system similar to those seen in Albany, Sweetwater and Natrona counties and Roybal touted his ability to obtain staff raises and additional deputies.

For the candidates of Senate District 11, this was the first time that Hicks and Stephenson had appeared together following candidate forums in Riverside and Baggs before the primary election. When it came time for introductions, Hicks stated that the values and culture of Wyoming were at stake in the general election.

"The contrast between myself and my opponent are stark. I'm a fiscal conservative, a Ronald Reagan Republican. My opponent is a liberal Democrat who voted for Obama and Hillary Clinton," said Hicks, despite having no way of knowing who Stephenson had voted for.

Hicks brought up the structural deficit, $500 million following the most recently passed budget by the Legislature, and stated Stephenson would increase taxes and spending. When it came time for her introduction, however, Stephenson steered clear of partisan attacks instead stressing the importance of listening to the rural communities within the district.

"I've attended most all of the town hall meetings across this district and listened to the concerns of the people of the smaller town and it's amazing how many similarities we have about our area. When we talk about law enforcement, when we talk about taxes, when we talk about the many burdens that are put on by the state government on small rural communities," said Stephenson.

Questions for the candidates ranged in topics from sales taxes to education funding. While Hicks was in support of a sales tax, saying he felt it was the most fair tax there was, Stephenson disagreed and added she felt it was more regressive than property taxes as lower-income residents spent more of their income on sales tax than those who were of higher-income in the state. Taxes, however, weren't the only subject that the candidates disagreed on. Both Hicks and Stephenson stood in contrast when it came to funding education within the state of Wyoming.

Stephenson brought up legislation that had been sponsored and co-sponsored by Representatives Steve Harshman and Jerry Paxton.

"One of things that I would like to do is to work ... and look at all solutions and also take forth the solutions from all five school districts that we have in District 11," Stephenson said.

Hicks suggested a land swap with the federal government to access an estimated 106,000 acres of school land trust under the supervision of the Wyoming State Land Trust.

"Based on the State Geologists information, we estimate that there is somewhere in a billion dollars plus in mineral wealth locked up in those federal parcels," said Hicks. "One of the issues that I've worked on for two years, that we have legislation going in this year, is to start to look at doing a major land swap with the federal government to get those school trust sections out of those landlocked parcels."

The question of open primary elections was also raised to the candidates, with Stephenson stating she was comfortable with the current system in place and did not wish to see a change. Hicks, however, stated he would prefer to see an even more closed system so as to keep voters from being able to switch parties at the polls, suggesting that open primaries would lead to the "destruction of our democracy."

The one time face-to-face between the two candidates came to an end and, also, brought an end to the evening.

Wednesday

The second night of the VSO forums, this one for the Saratoga candidates, saw a lower turnout than the one on Monday. With incumbent council member Will Faust out of town, only Jon Nelson and Bob Keel were in attendance to represent the council candidates.

Kim Hytrek, who was also vying for a seat on the council earlier in the year, recently withdrew her candidacy citing personal reasons. Additionally, the resignation of JennieLou Garland from the town council led to, essentially, three candidates going for three seats.

While the seat vacated by Garland is not open for this election, there has been some speculation that whichever council candidate loses the general election will be appointed to the open seat to finish the term. Also in attendance were former mayor John Zeiger, who ran a successful write-in campaign during the primary election, and current mayor Ed. "E.J." Glode.

Questions asked by Westring, who served as moderator for the whole evening, ranged in subject from whether or not the candidates supported Shively Airfield becoming a commercial airport to what role the municipality should play in the sustainability of healthcare in the Valley.

One question asked by Westring that seemingly echoed the sentiment of town, and Valley, residents recently was the feeling of lack of transparency. The question asked the candidates what they would do to change that perception.

"I think that there's definitely been feelings of lack of transparency the last four or five months. It's been, as somebody who is a resident and citizen, frustrating to learn it seemed like things were going on behind closed doors and off the record, only to come to light several weeks later," said Nelson.

Nelson stated he would work to encourage more public participation in the process and have as many discussions as possible in public meetings and in the "light of day."

Keel stated that he felt things should be made clear to people as to why the council is entering an executive session as there are times, such as legal matters and discussion of personnel, that require a discussion behind closed doors.

"I think community participation is key. Not only coming to town council meetings, but participation on a lot of the committees that the town has," said Keel. "Maybe the key is to be a little more public with these town council meetings by radio, newspaper, Facebook."

Zeiger suggested having, essentially, a monthly or bi-monthly "coffee day" where town residents could come to the town hall and speak with the mayor and council members. Glode admitted that, with the recent decisions made regarding both the contract with Health Management Services (HMS), LCC. and the current provider's lease at the clinic, things did not appear very transparent.

"I don't think this question was out there eight months ago," said Glode. "I apologize for how that looked in the public's eye, but we are trying to make that better."

The second night of the VSO Forums.

As the evening wore on, Nelson and Keel spent most of the forum agreeing on issues and there was little contention between Zeiger and Glode. The former mayor did bring up, several times, what he felt was mismanagement of the Town of Saratoga's reserve fund and pointing towards recent events, such as the Saratoga Forest Management sawmill fire, as something that could have completely wiped the account out.

Questions from the audience were few, as there weren't many people in attendance, so most of the questions came from the moderator. When members of the audience did speak, they were less questions and more statements.

An hour and a half after it began, the forum for local candidates ended bringing an end to the VSO's forums for this election cycle.

Video of both forums are available on the Saratoga Sun Facebook page and online at www.saratogasun.com.

 

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