Response to mayoral questionnaire

We asked contributors Stephen Drinkard and Dan McDonald to give their analyses of the Sandpoint mayoral candidates’ answers to our questionnaire. Want to respond on your own? Write to [email protected]

By Stephen Drinkard
Reader Contributor

When a city is to hire a city administrator one can insist that the candidate has had significant experience as a city administrator, understands how to manage people, and has demonstrated creative thinking in his or her past work experience.

When a city is about to elect a new mayor, one can only hope that the new mayor is, above all, a nice person, who lives the golden rule; that the mayor is presentable, reasonably smart and curious.  Except in the extreme cases, it doesn’t matter for a town like Sandpoint whether the mayor is liberal or conservative. If truth be told, the department heads and their staff generally run the show anyway, following spoken and most often unspoken directions from the mayor and council.

Both Shelby Rognstad and Mose Dunkel are nice men; they present well and both are intelligent. Based on those criteria both are good candidates. I have no doubt.

What separates a good candidate from a very good candidate is the amount of experience and knowledge someone has about city government.  The only way for someone to get that knowledge is to be a councilperson first or spend a lot of time in city committees and attending council meetings.  It takes a long time to learn how be a good mayor. One former mayor told me it took this person three years to become “a good mayor.”

Clearly, from my read of the two candidates’ responses, Mr. Rognstad, with one exception, has a broader understanding of most the issues posed than does Mr. Dunkel.

For instance, Dunkel’s only response to the new configuration of the streets downtown is his concern about diagonal parking specifications. Rognstad understands the implications of the street changes and cites at least six key issues of importance.  Likewise when he talks about economic development in question 7 he understands that job creation is a multi-faceted task and he knowledgably lists a number of those facets. Dunkel only focuses on the safe memes that jobs should be for local people and that they should have training.

It is Mr. Dunkel’s response to the question about public apathy that sets him apart positively. To diminish that apathy takes more than increased Facebook entries or press releases, as Rognstad says.  As Dunkel implies, it demands a change in City culture; how the staff and council and mayor treat each other; and how the staff and mayor/ council engages with the public, in meaningful ways, and how often.  It can also involve creating a better physical environment—the current city hall feels, as some people think, cold, confusing and spatially bureaucratic.  Other city halls are inviting and open.

None of the questions posed to these candidates can be answered adequately in the space allowed, to be fair to both candidates. If you take their issue statements to the next level—and you have to if you are serious about this—and ask how and in what specific ways, for example, are you going support NIC’s developing into “a residential campus,” then the “how” question is a razor’s edge that separates the “good” and the “very good” from the “excellent”.



By Dan McDonald
Reader Contributor

When asked to do this assignment I thought that since both Mose Dunkel and Shelby Rognstad come from different backgrounds that their responses to the Reader’s questions would reflect those differences. Amazingly, the overall positions were for the most part similar in nature.

Where these two differ on these questions comes down to more of an establishment vs. challenger position. Rognstad has served what is clearly a city government that has some issues with transparency and the will of the people. Dunkel is well known but has not served in an elected position in the City of Sandpoint.

Rognstad is running on his experience, pointing directly to policies like zoning and the 2009 Comprehensive Plan, but the twin 800lb gorillas in the room are the perceived lack of transparency and the extremely unpopular City Administrators position. Dunkel points out the undeniable push back heard at our local restaurants, coffee houses and in the streets,” do we really need this $100,000 a year Administrator position?” From that comes the disdain felt by those who see their personal cost of living going up while their income remains stagnant, that is of course if they have a job or three. Of course the twin gorilla, the lack of a city government that is truly transparent and one who appears not to be responsive to the will and needs of the very people it is there to serve only underscores the problem with the current make-up of the City government.

Jobs and the local economy are discussed but the facts are, Sandpoint’s current unemployment rate is about 6.3% – 7.1% depending on the reporting source, which is higher than the reported 5.1% nationally. More startling is it’s dramatically higher than Idaho on the whole at 4.2%. Of course these numbers don’t reflect those in Sandpoint that have just given up looking for work.

The questions regarding their position on legalization of cannabis and, of course, the oil and coal train concerns were interesting. These are two issues the Sandpoint City Mayor has almost no authority to do much of anything about. While it’s interesting to see that both candidates are on the same side on cannabis, question four regarding the real concerns surrounding coal and oil trains was interesting. While we should be concerned about all public safety issues, the old adage that the only thing more powerful than the Federal government is the railroad.

Most folks who grew up here knew there are a great number of trains that come through every day. The trains represent jobs in segments of our country’s economy. Dunkel nails it with his response that there is some concern but certainly not a lot. Rognstad comments that the City has passed three resolutions and has spoken out against the additional train terminals, yet, the trains keep coming. To me, this is just wasted energy on the part of a City Council that has been about the boutique issues and not those that affect the day to day for City residents.

So in the end, if you are satisfied with City business as usual, you will find Rognstad to be a good choice. If you are looking for change from what you perceive is a City government that doesn’t seem to respond to the residents of the City of Sandpoint then Dunkel might be your choice. Either way, make sure you vote.

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