For this special election double feature, we crafted a questionnaire for our two Sandpoint mayoral candidates, Shelby Rognstad and Mose Dunkel so that you, the voter, might gain a better knowledge of how each candidate stands on important issues facing our town. What follows are the questions, followed by each candidate’s response. (Ben Olson & Cameron Rasmusson).
1. Could you give an overview of why you decided to run for mayor? What are some of the most compelling issues that motivated you to put your name forward?
MOSE: I ran 4 years ago based on the fact that there was a growing divide between city hall and the residents of Sandpoint. I was right and the last 4 years have only proved my point more. The city has continually taken steps to disenfranchise the voters by making decisions that are broadly unpopular in the community. The agenda of city hall is apparent and does not match what people need! Utility rates continue to climb to a level that is seriousl hurting low income families, people are forced to choose between a gallon of milk and a gallon of gas while they cant afford to water their grass! Instead of relief the mayor and council decide to spend more money on a new bureaucratic position at an unbelievable salary. The explanation provided by the mayor is weak and the backlash against it is strong. Undeniable proof that we are not heard.
SHELBY: Sandpoint needs experienced leadership. I have served the community in City government for eight years, currently as City Council President. We’ve been successful in attracting and retaining good employers, in creating new zoning which ensures an affordable, beautiful town and in developing improvements in the quality of life for all residents and visitors. My colleagues and supporters have asked me to run for mayor to continue this success. We need someone with experience, knowledge and vision to keep the city moving forward. I am the only candidate with a proven track record as an elected official.
2. The new city administrator position looks to be a done deal, but positions regarding the new post should be informative for voters. Could you detail your stance?
SHELBY: The city administrator position was a priority goal for Mayor Logan. The position was established with a unanimous vote from City Council and strong public support. Hiring the right person is what will make this the right decision for Sandpoint. I personally asked Mayor Logan to invite public comment in the hiring process and she has agreed. Sandpoint will retain a strong mayor, accountable to voters, while the administrator will provide counsel and facilitation between department heads, Mayor and Council. The administrator will provide continuity through transitions in departments and elected leadership. Perhaps most importantly, they will provide grant support for every department, which will keep outside dollars funneling in to support local projects and industry. This will more than offset any cost of their employment.
MOSE: Yes everything but naming the person to be hired is done. My stance is this, the city is charged with providing services to the public and to me that means anyone working for the city needs to work hard and be accountable to the public, especially the mayor. I will work hard to create a strong relationship with whoever is hired, I have a strong background in finding a common dialog and building productive relationships in business and in the volunteer community. Failure is not an option with this position, with as much negative feedback as the position received it will be under a microscope. If it doesn’t work out it will not be because I didn’t try every available option. I want this professional to help lower utility rates and fix our looming water/sewer issues, I want them to help find ways to support the youth and low income families of Sandpoint, i’ll need support from everyone and this person should be at the top of the list. I wont deny there are good possibilities with this position.
3. For the past several years, the Sandpoint Comprehensive Plan has been an important guiding document for public officials. What’s your opinion of it? Do you aim to keep working toward the goals expressed in it?
MOSE: Planning is a good idea as long as you make it realistic. It should also be flexible so that obvious mistakes are not made. Parts of the plan are great and parts are not, I plan to learn more about it and work towards things that benefit Sandpoint as a whole.
SHELBY: I was directly involved in drafting the 2009 Comprehensive Plan. I was impressed with the extent of public input and discussion throughout the process. The result was a plan that clearly expresses the needs, desires and values of the whole community. As such it is essential that public officials recognize its significance and embrace it. It is also essential that it continue to be revised and updated so that it remains relevant and valuable to the community it serves. As mayor, I expect to lead a Comprehensive Plan revision in 2016.
4. We’ve seen a lot of concern over coal and oil trains and their impact on the town, especially when it comes to the danger of a potential derailment. What role do you see Sandpoint playing in supporting or opposing the potential expansions of these shipments?
SHELBY: These concerns are very real for our community. Sandpoint residents and City Council have been very vocal in opposition to these increased shipments. We have passed three resolutions stating as much and have spoken out against additional coal terminals in Washington and Oregon. I will continue to oppose this expansion at every opportunity. I will push for increased safety and containment standards for all rail lines. I will also work with city and county public safety officials to improve our mitigation plan.
MOSE: I wouldn’t say we’ve seen a lot of concern over this but we have seen some concern regarding it. I feel like the agenda is a lot more than safety, which I support in every aspect of life. I think the best approach is to work with the railroads to do as much as we can to facilitate their operations to be safe and efficient.
5. Next year will see the implementation of the new downtown streets configuration, which will transform transportation in town. What’s your stance on the new plan?
MOSE: Its been a long time coming and I still remember the old traffic pattern from when I was young. My stance is I want to make sure the diagonal parking is done correctly so that traffic has room to travel safely through town.
SHELBY: The new downtown streets plan is another victory for transparent government and community engagement. We developed the plan with broad public involvement from businesses and residents. The plan will dramatically improve parking downtown by adding 100 spaces. It will make downtown more accessible and friendly to drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. We will make downtown streets safer and provide more pedestrian and bicycle amenities. The new configuration will also allow the city to complete the stormwater plan for downtown, which reduces stress on our wastewater system and improves water quality in the lake. All these improvements will make for a vibrant urban core and further establish downtown Sandpoint as a destination for retail, service and recreation.
6. Another big item on this year’s ballot is the local option tax supporting Memorial Field. Are you for or against it?
SHELBY: Memorial Field is a wonderful asset for Sandpoint with historical and cultural significance. It is Sandpoint’s premier athletic field and hosts the Festival at Sandpoint. I would love to see it improved into a state of the art facility and therefore support the measure. After years of fundraising efforts by Friends of Memorial Field, the local option tax is likely our last great hope to fund the master plan. The resort tax allows the financial burden to be shared by tourists and visitors. Ultimately, it is up to the voters to determine whether Memorial Field is worthy of their investment.
MOSE: I am voting for it myself, this project is something i’ve supported for a long time. The sales tax is a fair way to spread the burden out and the Sandpoint economy brings enough outside dollars from tourism that hopefully it doesn’t hurt low income families. The only better plan would be to make it county wide.
7. What are your ideas for bringing new business and jobs into town? How about supporting those that already exist, particularly in the downtown sector?
MOSE: Sandpoint needs facilities that can train skilled people to do these jobs. Local people are best suited to take these jobs since they already have a connection here. Its the most positive way to build a local economy by supporting local companies with local people. Outside businesses will appreciate the strong support and new business ideas will be created in that environment. As far as downtown I think its time to reevaluate the BID and see if local business still want it. I’d like to let businesses have more say in what works for them after all it is their downtown.
SHELBY: When Coldwater Creek closed its doors, our community lost 500 jobs. Despite the setback, Sandpoint has maintained an employment growth rate above the national average, at 2.8 percent. We have maintained employment growth by retaining and supporting companies like Quest, Lead-Lok, Tamarack, Kochava and Litehouse. As a City Council member, I have worked aggressively to retain these businesses by helping find grants, tax benefits and land for expansion. As Mayor, I will continue to develop amenities that make Sandpoint attractive. I will complete the fiber network and bring ultra high speed Internet to Sandpoint, an essential amenity to attract high tech jobs and quality talent. I will support the growth of NIC. Workforce training is crucial for both the economic success of existing companies and for attracting new employers to the region. I will continue to implement the Downtown Streets plan. The plan will not only improve parking and make downtown much more attractive, it will allow downtown business more use of the public space for functions, events and outdoor seating. This will allow our downtown businesses to thrive. Lastly, I will continue to develop amenities that attract visitors and employers, such as the Pend Orielle Bay Trail, the Sandcreek Trail, the Baldy disc golf course and the Watershed Crest Trail.
8. Young people in Sandpoint are often forced to move out of town to make anything of themselves, even though many would prefer to stay. Do you have any ideas to provide them with more opportunity? Why do they leave?
MOSE: School and jobs mostly. I think they also know how expensive it is to live here. Just south of us there is are legitimate college campuses along with more available jobs. To top it off rent and home ownership are much more affordable. Its not a secret why there is substantial growth there and very limited growth here. A community college campus here would be a great start with a focus on local industry so that youth could be trained for job openings in existing companies. A junior college football, soccer and baseball program would be awesome too!
SHELBY: I am committed to providing youth with opportunities to live and work in Sandpoint. We must continue to attract and retain high tech employers. High tech jobs are good paying jobs. Quest alone is adding 80 jobs and will employ 300 people by the end of the year. I will work to expand education and workforce training. Our youth need the educational support to transition out of high school into good employment. The PTECH program is a great example of this. It provides high school students with advanced training in aerospace, medical and information systems. This model needs to be supported and expanded to specifically address the needs of local industry. As Mayor, I will appoint a citizen committee to work with NIC, local businesses and other partners to find ways to expand education opportunities for our youth. Also, if NIC could develop into a residential campus, Sandpoint could become a destination for higher education. This would multiply the positive impact on the downtown economy.
9. While you and your opponent are very different candidates, we understand one unexpected area of common ground is the legalization of cannabis. Could you talk about this in more detail?
SHELBY: Cannabis laws are quickly changing in the US. Idaho is surrounded by states that have either legalized medical or recreational cannabis. I think it is time for Idaho lawmakers to consider allowing properly licensed doctors to prescribe cannabis to patients with qualified conditions. We should not waste precious legal and police resources making criminals out of non-violent and often extremely ill citizens. As mayor, I will encourage the State of Idaho to re-examine its policy towards medical cannabis. I will also encourage the Chief of Police to deprioritize arresting nonviolent adults for simple possession. We need to focus police resources on fighting real criminals and keeping our community safe. I’m glad that my opponent shares this common sense stance.
MOSE: I’m in favor of natural ways to help people heal and i’m also ok with people being responsible with personal use. I’ll be honest I know very little about this but when liberty is given to people with restrictions its kinda not liberty anymore. The fact is the state of Idaho will probably be one of the last to legalize any use and the federal government still enforces its laws regarding it, so about the only thing Sandpoint could do is make it a least priority enforcement inside the city limits which i’m open to talking about. Bonner county I believe will still continue to treat it as a priority which will make it a possible issue. As mayor i’m open for good ideas and collaborative planning.
10. Apathy appears to be a problem when it comes to getting residents invested in local government. Do you have any ideas to engage the public and encourage them to be a part of the process?
MOSE: This is the result of the divide I talked about earlier and it is not new here. People absolutely feel like their voices are not heard! I don’t believe its apathy I think its powerlessness. If you have a good plan then people will show up to support it. I think having committee meetings in different locations would be a good idea to help bring attention to people who don’t know what going on. Also wouldn’t it be awesome to have some city council meetings at the city beach during the summer? How about a city sponsored community dinner right on the downtown streets? Town hall meetings frequently where people have a real opportunity to engage with the mayor and council. A true open application period for any resident to apply when city council seats become vacant. Once again i’m open to creative ways to stimulate local involvement! Apathy is not an option.
SHELBY: I intend to be active in engaging local media. Most people rely on the Reader, the Bee and our local radio stations for their news. I will do my best to ensure that these outlets are engaged in all important issues at City Hall. I will also promote engagement through social media, particularly the city’s Facebook page. This can be a great venue for announcements but also for discussion and debate over any issue. Of course, the next opportunity for engaging in local government is voting in this important election. Your vote will impact the future of Sandpoint. A vote for me is a vote for good jobs, expanded education, a clean environment, more recreational assets and improved public safety. I encourage everyone to come out and vote for their vision of Sandpoint.
We thank you both for taking the time to answer our questions Have an important question for either candidate? Their email addresses are listed below: