Local races aplenty in 2019 election

(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)

CHANGE IN THE WIND: Off-year election will reshape schoolboard, while two Chewelah city positions are up for grabs…

This year’s election doesn’t have the headlines of a presidential election year or even the state-level dramatics. But for Chewelah, the winds of change are in the air. The Chewelah School District will be completely different with the exception of Judy Bean, while the Chewelah City Council has two incumbents being challenged.

Colville has a mayor’s race on their hands, and the City of Springdale could also see some changes.

Here is our unofficial election guide as you should be getting your ballots in the mail this week if you live in the area where you can vote on these positions.

Two involved and enthusiastic candidates are running for the No. 5 At-Large Seat. T.O. Bakken, who has run for school board before with a bevy of educational experience, and Warren Stewart, a regular at school board meetings, have thrown in their hats for the election.

Bakken is a longtime community member and has had several kids in or graduated from the district. She has also taught in the K-12 system and in community colleges in Washington as well as having served on curriculum, budgeting and planning committees.

Stewart has been involved with different school systems for the last 40 years and has driven a school bus for about 20 of those. He was involved in the local PTA when his kids were in school. He was also on the board of directors for the little league organization where they grew up. Stewart moved to the area in 2000 and said he noticed a negative trend in the school system after the Alcoa plant closure. He was born in Oklahoma and joined the Navy where he spent six years in the west Pacific. He worked for AT&T in Los Angeles after an honorable discharge and during that time also volunteered as a LA County Deputy. After retiring from 27 years of work with AT&T, Stewart and wife Ruth bought a ranch in NE Oregon for 10 years where he drove school bus.

“The outgoing board has a wealth of knowledge and experience, and it will be challenging to start fresh without a significant number of returnees,” Bakken pointed out in a questionnaire. “The new board will have to develop its own methods of problem solving and discussion, examining policies and making decisions without the historical understanding and insight of veteran members. That being said, a fresh start is not necessarily a bad thing. While the expertise of longtime members is invaluable, I am excited at the possibilities that a new board, with a new perspective, can bring to the district.”

Bakken is running on the platform of greater transparency from the school board and administration, and the teachers when it comes to decisions and policy, along with a “clearinghouse” for information so that the public can easily follow and have coherent input on important issues. She would also like to see sustainable plans for the district’s future that account for state law and policy, a change in negotiation style that allows administration and faculty and staff to “get to yes” more easily, create strong ties to community resources for vocational education, internships and other work experience, community outreach to eliminate achievement gaps at all levels, resources for highly capable students, expansion of “College in the Classroom,” restoration of the theatre program, using the district’s ALE strengths to enhance learning opportunities in the traditional building and continuous improvement of all programs.

When asked by the newspaper about facilities, Bakken said it appears the best way forward is capital levies and said she supports the latest Prop 1, along with the school applying for grants to improve infrastructure when possible and continuous improvement of programs, classrooms, facilities, professional development and curriculum.

“This will keep students enrolled in our district, as opposed to choosing out of district,” Bakken said. “If our schools truly meet the needs of all students, then the students will remain, as will the tax dollars that we count on.”

Bakken is also a supporter of Quartzite Learning, which offers alternative education options as she believes education is not a one size fits all. “One does not have to support one model over the other,” she said.

Bakken said she will act in the best interests of the students of Chewelah, insuring the values and needs of our community are reflected with policies and actions from the school board.

“I bring a unique mixture of expertise and experience to this task, including educational leadership, a knowledge of state law, budgets and policy, ties to our community and a commitment to continuous improvement. Even the best schools can get better,” she said.

Stewart has experienced the school district first hand as he has driven bus in Chewelah for roughly 14 years and said he loves the people, thinks it’s a good place to live and that it needs to attract more young people.

“We have excellent teachers and staff and a 5-star transportation department. We are cutting programs and losing students,” Stewart said. “I want to be in a position to address this problem.”
Stewart has been at nearly every school board meeting since beginning his candidacy.

“I have been learning all I can by going to all the school board functions,” Stewart said. “We have a lot of work to do. I am glad we will have Judy Bean to guide us to a very productive term. I want to pay a lot of attention to our infrastructure.”

Stewart said he would find out what parents and students want and expect from the school system. He said cutting programs will drive parents and students away which are the big driving engine of the community. He would also like to see more transparency on how money is being spent and what is needed to achieve the community goals.

“A published, detailed budget would help,” Stewart said.

Some of his focuses are the high school boiler situation, reaching standards for efficiency in school buildings as well as protecting local school employees and not just replacing them.

“I also want to protect our teachers with good wages and benefits. I want to do all I can to assist our teachers with state-of-the-art technology, supplies and support to help ensure that our kids have the best opportunity to acquire the knowledge they will need to achieve their goals in life,” Stewart said.

This race for a city council position features longtime city council member John May running for re-election against Ryan Sieber.

May is a longtime Chewelah mainstay and in an interview with the Independent, pointed out that he is a big supporter of the Chewelah Police Department and believes Mayor Dorothy Knauss is doing an excellent job improving the city.

“I’ll be the first to admit I’m kind of blunt and like to tell it like it is,” May said.

“Our police department is doing a good job and I would like to be in a position where I could aid them and help them continue to do a good job,” May said.

May is a graduate of Eastern Washington University and has taken classes from Gonzaga, Whitworth and the University of Nevada-Reno.

May also told the newspaper he would serve as a voice for the older generation in Chewelah and represent senior citizens on the council. May began teaching in the Chewelah School District in 1967, retired in 1996 and then drove bus until 2018.

“At one time I was certified to have temporary custody of moon rocks,” May said. “That was a special time for me and I think some of my students.”

During his service with the city council through the years, he got involved in getting the golf course in Chewelah and served on the golf course’s board as director and president.

He points to many of the city’s current projects including new sidewalks, a new shop, the Chewelah Center for Arts and more. He would continue to serve the city in an official fashion to help with the community.

“I will also say I’m the first to ask questions when there is something I don’t like, but I’m also not afraid to say, okay that worked out even if I didn’t support it at first,” May said.

He would like to see improvements to the Chewelah Police Department in terms of support from the city and continue to provide a conservative voice on the council.

Ryan Sieber has been in Chewelah for three-and-a-half years and has a bachelor in arts for history but has also been a longtime carpenter. Sieber is the Vice President of the Chewelah Valley Land Trust which is trying to bring a community forest to Chewelah.

His focus would be improving tourism and recreation in the area as he sees it being one of the town’s biggest economic drivers. He sees grants as a good way to improve infastructure in the town for sustained economic growth.

“I think it would be good to bring a new perspective to the council and work on attracting the younger generation to town,” he said.

Coming from Colorado he was shocked at the lack of posted hiking trails and recreational opportunities.

“People told me, well you’re going to have to drive about an hour to do this or that,” he said.

Seiber pointed to the golf course and 49 Degrees North as great drivers of the economy but added those were seasonal and couldn’t provide year-long employment or draw tourists year-round.

He sees issues like recreation being underdeveloped, the highway being dangerous, and infrastructure not handling growth as some challenges for Chewelah. He feels that the city can work on some of the low-hanging fruit with improvements and work towards the goal of making the town tourism friendly, handle economic and population growth and be a place for young people to settle.

“I like working together with people and seeing commonality with people to seek solutions,” Seiber said. ”I deal with many folks in Chewelah from all over the political map. I will respect the fact that this is a non- partisan position, and intend to be a voice acting in the best interest of all Chewelah citizens, conservative, liberal, or otherwise. I will not be driven by a political agenda, but will instead focus my efforts on improving life for everyone here using the resources we have available.”

He also said he has the time to dedicate his efforts to the council and that there is a feeling in town that new takes and perspectives are needed.

Another current councilperson, John Wight, is facing a re-election race as Ashley Grubb is also running for the position.
Wight, a 35-year resident of Chewelah, said he wanted to continue to be a positive impact on the city and keep the city out of debt along with a making sure the cost of living is reasonable for all of our residents.

Grubb brings a wealth of education to the job as she has bachelor’s of arts in business administration with a major in accounting along with a master’s in business administration with finance concentration. Both candidates told the paper they want to look out for the regular people of town.

“I have been a member of the community for over 35 years and have seen many changes transpire over this time,” Wight said. “I have a very good understanding of what the people want and need to live in a safe and comfortable community. I have been a blue collar worker my entire life and understand what it means to live paycheck to paycheck. Many of our community members live on a fixed income and their needs must been taken into consideration. I have also raised my children in Chewelah and understand the concerns of keeping our city safe for everyone.”

Wight has served the past four years and added that he was a driving force for the recycling center and consolidating resources to stay debt-free. Along with staying out of debt, he would like to keep the community both clean and safe.

“I am proud that I have been on the council during this exciting time,” Wight said. “We have made improvements to our sidewalks through grants and we have built a new city shop and recycling center by selling two older buildings which in turn has saved the city money in repairs of old buildings. The vote of the council has also allowed us to purchase the airport which has great opportunity to bring in funds that will help Chewelah as a whole. I believe that when re-elected I will continue to be a positive driving force behind keeping our city and it’s businesses thriving.”

Grubb sat down with The Independent and talked about how her primary focus would be to see public dollars distributed and spent in the most efficient ways.

“I plan on putting my education and work experience to use if I am chosen to represent our town on the city council,” Grubb said. “I feel the best way for anyone to become informed is to become involved.”

Grubb would love to see some more things for the middle generation and younger families to keep kids busy.

“I would like to see more things geared towards kids and that takes time,” Grubb said, adding the council has a great mixture of experience and age.

But in general she sees the council position as serving a variety of needs from the community and wants to make sure slender funds are used, including state and federal grants, in the best way to help people.

“I would like to see public dollars distributed in the most efficient ways,” Grubb said. “I’m not saying that isn’t happening not I would just like to be involved in the process and ask if this is the best way to spend things and the best thing for our small town.”

In general Grubb said she has an extreme appreciation for community and wants to become more involved.

“I feel this would be one way for me to give back to the community that has supported and encouraged me throughout my life,” Grubb said. Therefore, I have decided to act on my interest and run for a position on our city council.”