By Zach Hagadone
For the first time in eight years, Sandpoint will have a new mayor when Jeremy Grimm is sworn in at City Hall in January following his decisive election victory Nov. 7 over Kate McAlister and Frytz Mor.
Grimm, who served as Sandpoint city planner from 2007-2015 and currently owns Whiskey Rock Planning + Consulting, took 1,176 votes (or 53.29%), to McAlister’s 781 votes (35.39%) and Mor’s 250 (11.33%).
Sandpoint voters also elected three council members from among six candidates vying for the seats held by Council President Kate McAlister and Councilors Andy Groat (who recently resigned, though had not intended to run for reelection) and Deb Ruehle, who retained her seat in the Nov. 7 election.
Councilor-elect Kyle Schreiber earned the highest vote count of any Sandpoint candidate — including in the mayor’s race — with 1,544 votes, followed by Ruehle with 1,079 votes and Pam Duquette with 1,025.
Bonner County Clerk Michael Rosedale, whose department oversees local elections, told the Reader in a phone interview Nov. 8 that of the 18,786 eligible voters in the county, 6,519 cast ballots, amounting to a 34.7% turnout.
“All in all, I was expecting a bigger turnout,” Rosedale said, adding later, “We actually printed ballots for 100%, in some cases, for our precincts because we just didn’t know how fired up people were going to be on one side or another, but it was much smaller than we thought.”
The ballot was indeed different for many voters in the county — and some precincts had nothing to vote for at all on Nov. 7, including the Algoma, Gamlin Lake, Kootenai, Sagle, Southside, Westmond and Wrenco precincts.
In Zone 1 of the Lake Pend Oreille School District, east of Highway 95 including Northside, Hope and Clark Fork, multi-generational county resident Scott Wood took nearly 70% of the vote for a board of trustees seat with 1,049 ballots cast against self-described “Christian wife and mother” Jenn McKnight, who earned 451 votes for a campaign based on opposing “social-emotional learning” and, as she said at an October candidates’ forum, rejecting state funding for technical education and new school buildings.
Wood, however, said he planned not to propose any “sweeping changes” regarding curriculum, but emphasized
that the district’s aging buildings and infrastructure need to be updated or replaced, and state dollars must be put toward promoting career and technical education.
Current LPOSD Board Chair Geraldine Lewis ran unopposed to retain her trustee seat in Zone 4, south of Highway 200 including Sagle to East Dufort Road east of Highway 95.
Perhaps most surprising in the school district races were the results in the West Bonner County School District.
In the WBCSD trustee races, incumbents Margaret Hall and Troy Reinbold held onto their seats in Zones 1 and 3, while Kathy Nash bested incumbent Carlyn Barton in Zone 5.
Idahoans across the state have been watching the school district closely since the resignation of former Superintendent Branden Durst on Sept. 25 and the successful recall of Vice-Chair Susan Brown and Chair Keith Rutledge on Aug. 29.
The tumult in the district has made state and regional headlines for months, yet, despite the media coverage, voter turnout was lackluster.
Reinbold — an ally of the three ousted members — beat challenger Elizabeth Glazier for his seat with just 285 votes in total, meaning 60.51%. Hall won reelection with 539 votes or 59.43%, and Nash earned 406 votes or 59.62%.
By comparison, in the August recall election, 624 voters turned out to oust Brown and 762 went to the polls against Rutledge.
“To those who supported me, thank you so much for your dedication and contributions, in so many ways, to the campaign! It was a team effort!” Hall told the Reader in a Nov. 8 statement. “We were successful because of what each person brought to the table. We did what we set out to do and in the way we said we would from the start: focusing on the positive but also recognizing work still needs to be done.
“To everyone in the district, WBCSD is facing a variety of challenges,” she added. “Moving forward, the board must work together in order to regain the community and staff’s trust, address any forensic audit findings quickly, address the district’s long-term financial stability, work to minimize community polarization and more. As a board member, my work is cut out for me. It is a tall order but I am committed to do so for the sake of kids and the larger community.”
Neither Nash nor Reinbold responded to a request for comment.
Rosedale nodded toward the long season of political turmoil in the West Bonner County
School District and its unusually successful recall election in the summer, and underscored that, “My concern with an election is that it goes smooth and accurately.”
Even with lower-than-anticipated turnout in West Bonner, there was higher-than-average interest in volunteers watching the polls.
“One of the unique things about this election: We had 35 poll watchers, and most of them were centered around West Bonner County School District trustee zones. We’ve never had that many before, it was off the charts,” Rosedale said. “The vast majority of them were for those zones [1, 3 and 5] … and they were on both sides — both opposing candidates had their people at those precincts.”
Overall, Rosedale said, the vote count went off without any hitches and unofficial results were posted around midnight. The results will be final after canvassing, which will happen in the coming weeks.
“All in all, I was expecting a bigger turnout,” he said.
Sandpoint city offices
By far the highest-profile race on the ballot for Sandpoint voters was the contest for mayor, with Grimm taking the helm from Shelby Rognstad, who opted not to run for reelection after serving two terms in office.
Grimm’s campaign centered on basic infrastructure and “prioritiz[ing] residents over tourists,” while reorganizing City Hall to eliminate the city administrator position, currently held by Jennifer Stapleton since 2015. He also criticized “cotton-candy” projects like the downtown waterfront design concept, and pledged to open dialogue with citizens about the direction of the city, which many feel has been lacking in recent years.
“I could not be more excited about the outcome of the mayoral race. It is a humbling experience to have secured the trust and support of so many Sandpoint residents. Thank you to each and every voter who helped make this day a reality. You did this and your voice was loud and clear,” Grimm told the Reader in a statement Nov. 8. “Moving forward, I will be coordinating with the outgoing mayor to ensure that the transition occurs as smoothly as possible.”
Grimm thanked Rognstad for reaching out to him with congratulations and offering his help going forward.
“The work ahead is significant, maybe the greatest in the town’s history,” Grimm wrote. “First and foremost is to rebuild trust in City Hall through intentional and robust conversations, the review and adoption of the Comprehensive Plan, and capturing and applying the energy of voters as we plan our next steps.
“I want to congratulate Kyle Schreiber, Deb Ruehle and Pam Duquette on their victories,” he added. “I sincerely look forward to rolling up our sleeves and getting busy
with the important work ahead of us. In this effort, I know that we will draw heavily upon the experienced hands of [Councilors] Justin [Dick], Jason [Welker] and Joel [Aispuro]. Their voices will help to guide and carry the load throughout the countless future hours of public debate and discussion.
“Lastly, I want to pass along my admiration and respect to my opponents and other candidates who ran for City Council,” Grimm continued. “Their love and passion for Sandpoint as well as those of their supporters … is a strong reminder of how much we all share as a community.”
McAlister’s showing of 781 votes came as a bit of a surprise to some observers, who figured the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, who will close out her term on the City Council as president in January, would have the power of incumbency and benefit from decades of popularity for her various community contributions from local nonprofits to performing on stage as a well-known actress.
Her campaign focused on managing growth, with both its benefits and challenges, touting “responsible, thoughtful development” and exercising the office as a “strong mayor” focused on “drinkable water, flushable toilets and drivable streets.”
She supported continuing with the city administrator position, but also suggested that if that function would be removed from City Hall, Sandpoint should first establish the mayor as a full-time employee with a livable wage.
“Thank you everyone who worked on my campaign. I appreciate all your hard work. Especially my fellow council members, Keely Gray, Paula Marcinko, Marcia Martin Pilgeram and of course my wonderful husband Dave Lovejoy,” McAlister wrote in a Facebook post Nov. 8. “Thank you to all those who voted for me. It means a lot. Onward.”
Frytz Mor, whose showing of 250 votes in the mayor’s race came in well below the 612 he garnered in a 2020 City Council bid, ran with similar talking points as Grimm, though emphasized that he had no conflicts of interest or other potential connections that would bias his decision making in office — a point he made in reference to Grimm’s private sector career as a consultant for several high-profile developments, including the Idaho Club’s Trestle Creek project, and McAlister’s work with the chamber of commerce.
Mor had not issued a post-election statement by press time and did not respond to a request for comment from the Reader.
Schreiber, who works in marketing, has been a consistent attendee at City Hall meetings and a frequent commenter, and ran on a campaign emphasizing infrastructure, eliminating the city administrator’s position, expanding public engagement and focusing on affordable housing.
As the highest vote-getter in the Sandpoint elections, he told the Reader in a statement Nov. 8, “I’m absolutely overwhelmed by the support I’ve received from this community.
Thank you, Sandpoint, for your confidence in me. I will do my best to represent your voice in our city government.”
Ruehle was the only incumbent councilor to seek reelection, and her win signals the start of a third full term — she was appointed to council in 2014, elected in 2015 and reelected in 2019. Prior to that, she served on the Planning and Zoning Commission for three years and works in the private sector as a physical therapist.
Her campaign, like the other winners, emphasized basic infrastructure and strengthening public involvement with city decisions, though she signaled her opposition to eliminating the city administrator position.
“I would like to thank everybody who supported me; I’m looking forward to reinvigorating our citizen committees, making sure sewage treatment stays on track and protecting the historic character of our downtown core — and getting those updates to the multi-modal plan that citizens have been asking for,” she told the Reader in an interview Nov. 8.
Asked to describe what changes to the multi-modal plan she would pursue, Ruehle said, “Clarifying exactly how people would like the Dub’s intersection and Highway 2 integration with Fifth Avenue to work.”
“We need to get the public to understand that it is a state highway so we don’t always have absolute control over what happens,” she added. “That doesn’t mean we can’t work really hard to get what we want. … To me, the planning pieces are what’s really important.”
As the currently longest-serving member of council, Ruehle said she’s particularly looking forward to getting the Comprehensive Plan update in place, and excited for the upcoming town hall-style workshops on the project at City Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 29 and Thursday, Dec. 7.
“I’m looking forward to strong turnout from the public because they’ve been working on it for four years,” she said.
Duquette, a retired educator, ran under the slogan “Keep Sandpoint Real,” focused on sustainable development, environmental stewardship and citizen engagement, and also came down on the side of eliminating the city administrator position.
“It has been quite a journey for me these past couple of months, but I know life is nothing if not an adventure in learning!” she told the Reader in a Nov. 8 statement. “This morning, I feel both humbled and honored by the election results placing me on our City Council! The community support has exceeded any expectations I may have had, and the help from my friends both new and old was amazing.”
She went on to state that looking back on the election win, she “found myself thinking of my mom this morning (no longer living),
and how she would have been so proud of me! Sounds kind of
silly maybe! Anyway, I am grateful for the votes of confidence, and I will work diligently to not disappoint! Anyone whose vote I did not earn, I hope to at least gain your respect and support through the next four years.”
Duquette wrote of the “exceptional group of candidates” and recognized that voters had to make some tough calls at the ballot box.
“I am excited to envision how with a strong mayor, council and engaged community members, we can work together for the betterment of Sandpoint and its residents as we continue to grow,” she wrote. “Thanks to you all.”
The other council candidates whose campaigns didn’t deliver wins on Nov. 7 also provided statements, all expressing their gratitude and pledging to continue serving the community in their various capacities.
Boyd told the Reader in a statement, “It was a great run and I enjoyed every minute of it! Thank you to everyone who supported me! I will continue my service to our community while serving as a commissioner on Planning Zoning for the next two years. Congratulations to Deb, Kyle and Pam!”
Simmons, also a Sandpoint P&Z commissioner, told the Reader in a Nov. 8 statement, “The election may not have gone my way, but my commitment to Sandpoint remains unchanged. I am grateful for the dialogue we’ve shared and for the support that many of you have shown.
“To those who will take office, I extend my sincerest congratulations. It is my hope that you will carry forward the mantle of responsibility with the utmost integrity,” he added. “To all who have engaged in this election, let us proceed with grace and a collective resolve to nurture the town we all love.
“Thank you, Sandpoint, for the opportunity to dream together,” Simmons concluded. “I look forward to continuing to serve our community in new ways, always with optimism and a spirit of unity.”
Finally, Susnis — who serves as chair of the Sandpoint Arts, Culture and Historical Preservation Commission — wrote to express
how privileged she felt to run for office in Sandpoint, “where people care so deeply for their community.”
“I have learned so much from this experience, and met so many wonderful people,” she wrote. “One of my objectives was to raise awareness of the importance of historic preservation in our town. I believe people are now really thinking about what it means to lose our touchstones and places that make Sandpoint so special.
“This is not the end of the race, it’s just the beginning, to guide responsible development without destroying the things we hold dear,” she added. “Even though I won’t be on City Council, I am here to do the work right beside you. I know you are ready to be involved. Thank you Sandpoint!”
For full results, visit the Bonner County Elections breakdown at bit.ly/464BUt6.
Additional reporting by Soncirey Mitchell.
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