By Molly Priddy, 5-02-12
The primary election is on June 5, leaving roughly a month for voters in Flathead County to decide on who will go on to the general elections in November.
And with two of the most powerful positions in county government up for grabs, valley residents will have to narrow down a considerably large field of candidates running for the Flathead County Commission.
The three-member county commission operates as the both the legislative and executive branches of county government. Commissioners are elected for six-year terms and these elections are typically staggered.
However, due to the unexpected death of former Commissioner Jim Dupont, there will be two seats up for election this year. Dupont was elected to represent District 1.
District 3, which encompasses the southern part of the county, is the seat scheduled to be up for election in 2012. Current Commissioner Dale Lauman, who began his term in 2007, is not seeking re-election, leaving an open seat for the contenders.
An open seat typically draws multiple candidates, and this year, there are five Republican candidates vying to represent District 3. Only one Democrat – Clara Mears-LaChapelle – filed for the seat, and therefore does not face a primary.
The five GOP candidates are Bob Herron, Terry Kramer, Gary Krueger, Mike Schlegel and Gerald “Jay” Scott.
Each Republican candidate believes he is fit to lead, and to help voters parse through the voluminous amount of information out there, the Beacon put together a questionnaire for the candidates to answer in their own words.
The Flathead County Commission candidates were asked the following four questions:
1. What is the most pressing issue facing the county, and how would you address it?
2. As a commissioner, what steps would you take to combat high unemployment in Flathead County?
3. What is your perception of neighborhood plans in Flathead County?
4. Do you think Flathead County’s budget has been managed properly, and, if not, how would you change it?
FLATHEAD COUNTY COMMISSION CANDIDATES
President- Kramer Enterprises, Inc (Builder Developer)
Years in the valley:
1. The most pressing issue by far is the economy. The Flathead has everything going for it, with a diversified economy that includes timber, agriculture, manufacturing, construction, retail, tourism and health care; yet we continue to have one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. We cannot wait for the national economy to improve. We need to act and act now, telling the world the Flathead is open for business. We need to look at each industry and make sure government is not standing in their way to grow and prosper.
2. Government cannot and shouldn’t create jobs; this can only be achieved through the private sector creating investments and jobs. However, government can help create conditions for small business to grow, thrive and hire more workers. We need to change business-inhibiting policies and regulations, and streamline processes for permitting, licensing and approvals. Lowering taxes will provide more capitol for investment, stimulating job growth. I’ll revitalize the forested counties coalition providing support and assistance to the timber industry. I’ll work with manufacturing and construction to grow these industries. I’ll promote the Flathead as a trade and health care center and help the convention bureaus and chambers promote tourism.
3. Neighborhood plans were intended to give people more input on land use issues within communities of like interest. I served on the Ashley Lake Land Use Committee and I believe the process, for the most part, did provide residents a voice. As a member of the county Board of Adjustments I review and consider the input from the land use committees. With recent court opinion that considers Growth Policies as regulatory, this may create an inequity with neighborhood plans. This would put decisions in the hands of a few members that are appointed not elected by the people they represent.
4. I don’t believe there has been any mismanagement of the budget, but as a budget and numbers expert I do believe there is room for improvement. In our business we are constantly reviewing the budget and able to cut it through efficiencies, by reducing waste and competitive pricing. The same methods can be used with the county budget. Costs to the county can also be reduced through public/private partnerships. I have worked on many projects that private industry has partnered with a governmental entity saving the taxpayer millions of dollars. There are many opportunities with the county such as at the fairgrounds and in technology.
Independent Insurance Agent
Years in the valley:
1. Our stagnant local economy and high unemployment. I will work tirelessly to help existing businesses expand and grow, and to recruit new businesses to the Valley. For instance, the valley is close to reaching a critical mass in gun manufacturing and CNC machining. We must insure land use laws and other rules do not impede these exciting industries (to see what not to do, look at Whitefish’s rules and fees, which have run businesses out of town). As a successful small business insurance salesman, I understand the impact of bad laws and needless regulations on our small businesses and self-employed families.
2. I would challenge the anti-business, anti-development extremists who have locked up our national forests and shut down our commercial developments. We have several nonprofit groups, with a handful of members, who have destroyed entire industries (think logging) or entire developments (think Glacier Mall) with a filing fee and a lawsuit. Our tragic unemployment rate is not an accident; it is a direct result of these groups and their obstructionist lawsuits. We must stand up and say "Enough is Enough."
3. These plans can cause great conflict, as we saw in Somers a couple years ago when the sheriff’s office had to break up a meeting on a potential neighborhood plan. As we know from watching Whitefish’s destructive and divisive land-use laws, when there is serious conflict among neighbors about land-use laws, there is something wrong with the law. Neighborhood plans are supposed to be “non-regulatory,” but they now are being used to stop certain land uses, which means they are regulatory. Flathead County currently has 15 neighborhood plans and three city-county master plans for the three incorporated cities. Unless we see better relationships and more trust among neighbors, I am skeptical about any push for more neighborhood plans.
4. Our current county commissioners have done a great job. It’s too bad we can’t fire Congress and have our commissioners get the federal budget in shape! Moreover, the county administrator and department heads are doing a fine job of working within their budget. I ask for your vote so I can join this team and act as your advocate to make sure our tax money is spent wisely and our property taxes are fairly controlled. I will work hard to ensure that the county maintains the essential services that help make our beautiful Valley the best place on earth to live and raise a family.
Gerald “Jay” Scott
Part-time employee at KGEZ radio station
Years in the valley:
1. The biggest issue depends on an individual perspective. If you are unemployed or underemployed, it's jobs. If you are in substandard housing, it's affordable housing. If you have school children, it's our educations system. The list can go on and on to fit each individual in Flathead County. Simply, I think these examples indicate our most pressing issue is "community." As your county commissioner I will work with businesses, city governments and state agencies to improve Flathead County’s economy. I will work to get this accomplished by giving my word to being your full-time county commissioner.
2. We need to reach out to business owners and leaders, listen to their needs and attend meetings and give help where we, the county can. There are times and places where Flathead County can offer businesses incentives for new and expanding business. We can work with Flathead County Economic Development Agency to help bring jobs to our county. We live in a wonderful county, people want to live and work here. We have a lot to offer any company intending on locating in Flathead County. Flathead County needs to improve the way we promote our natural resources to attract more businesses to move here and bring new opportunities to Flathead residents.
3. This is where the neighbors in an area get permission from the county to form a planning document that can determine what a neighborhood will be. This document can be included into the county’s growth policy. Neighborhood plans are not regulatory but zoning is and zoning may be based on neighborhood plans. When making any kind of planning, people must remember that private property rights are very important to everyone. Private property rights are affected by neighbor hood plans and also by zoning.
4. Yes, for the most part the budget for Flathead County is managed properly. Is there room for improvement? Yes. I would work with each department to implement a plan to track and monitor how efficient department budgets are spent. Flathead County has done a remarkable job with the budget for the last several years, without taking advantage of the mills that are available for tax purpose.
Farming, trucking and construction business
Years in the valley:
1. Every issue that comes before the board of commissioners must be addressed diligently. Some of the issues may be addressed quickly, while others may take years. Currently our job issue has everyone’s attention. It took years for this problem to develop and it will take time to resolve. That being said the solution is in promotion of business and streamlining of business permitting, utilization of our resources like agriculture, timber and mining and protection of private property rights.
2. High unemployment is the result of the loss of our resource-based jobs, like timber and metals manufacturing jobs, as those mills and plants closed the workers went to construction. With the collapse in housing nationwide our unemployment spiked higher than the state. We need manufacturing in the Flathead and we need to export our manufactured goods from the Flathead. Promotion and regulation changes most appropriate are those dealing with where we can have start-up manufacturing, like home or owner-based businesses. These businesses can grow in tough economic times because they are very efficient.
3. The right of private ownership of property is protected by the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the state. State and county government has the duty to protect the health and safety of its citizens. We do this through a series of measures and laws including environmental review, floodplain and lakeshore laws, zoning and subdivision review. These reviews and laws are fact based whereas neighborhood plans seem to bring emotion into the picture, which clouds facts and erodes property rights.
4. I cannot say enough good about the leadership in the county today regarding the budget. I also recognize that it is the employees and department heads that put policy to action. A sincere thank you goes out to all the citizens of the county and it would be an honor to be elected to our Flathead government team.
President of Schlegel & Sons Contractors
Years in the valley:
1. The economy and county funding is the most pressing issue. It all starts with an attitude. As commissioner, I would push for economic development within our business community. Lobby the state legislators for promotional tools for businesses. Lobby for revenue-generating bills in Helena. Remove unnecessary hurdles for economic progress.
2. As commissioner, I would continue to support economic agencies that are promoting business and jobs in the Flathead Valley. To use any tools available to achieve that goal, both for the current and future of the Flathead Valley’s economy.
3. The concept of neighbor plans makes sense, but we need to be careful with property rights. A neighborhood plan needs to originate within its community. The community needs to be totally involved in that process. If the community is not involved in the neighborhood plan, it will not work
4. I do believe the budget has been managed property. As commissioner, I would always be looking for ways to save dollars. Nothing is off the table. I would continue to do business in the most economic way for the taxpayers. To be cautious of short-funded grants. To be aware of short falls in government funding and plan accordingly.
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