Uinta County Herald |  ARPA issues, binding topics in candidate forum

Uinta County Herald | ARPA issues, binding topics in candidate forum | Pro Club Bd

EVANSTON — The Evanston Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum for political candidates running for county and township on Wednesday, July 13, at the historic Strand Theater.

Shawn Ungerman was master of ceremonies and opened the forum by explaining the rules. Each candidate was given two minutes for an opening speech, two minutes for answering questions and two minutes for a closing speech. David Benton served as timer.

The panel’s nominees included Uinta County Commissioner Mark Anderson, who is running for re-election, and challengers Joe V. Hickey and Jesse Lind. Commissioner Eric South is running for re-election but was absent.

Acting Uinta County Sheriff Doug Matthews and his challenger, Andy Kopp, were in attendance. Evanston Councilman Tim Lynch, who is running for mayor, was there alongside Mayor Kent Williams, who is again running. Three of the four Bear River City Council candidates were present: James G. Johnson, Todd Jones and Nicholas White. Candidate BJ Stokes was not present.

Anderson said he’s running for re-election because he’s seen changes happening in the county and wants to be able to keep making an impact. He said he has served on the Bridger Valley Water Board and recognizes the difficult water issues the county will face. He also serves on the Evanston Aviation Board and the Uinta County Human Services Board, which he finds very enriching.

“I’m from Lonetree, not far from Evanston,” Hickey said. “I decided to run for the Commission because I have a long history here and I care about people. I was a member of the Predator Board and the Snake River Association.”

Lind said he was running for the commission for the second time and had seen a lot of things happening in the county and wanted to help. A graduate of Westminster College in Finance and Economics, he has worked in the oil and gas fields and traveled around the state.

“Uinta County is very important to me,” said Sheriff Matthews. “I work together with other programs, I meet with the youth welfare office and with other authorities. Taxpayer money is important, so I work hard to get grants for the department.”

Kopp said he has worked in law enforcement for 16 years, is a member of the Peace Officers Professional Association and has a criminal justice degree.

“I also have 3,000 hours after training,” said Kopp. “I’ve worked in all areas of the sheriff’s office under two different sheriffs. I want to restore public confidence in the office and work to improve staff retention.”

Mayoral candidates Williams and Lynch both spoke about their commitment to the city of Evanston and the people in the community. Williams said he’s worked hard over the past several years as mayor to reduce city government costs and spending.

Lynch said he has been involved in the community for many years, has worked in radio, served on the board of the Chamber of Commerce, is a realtor and wants to continue working to make Evanston an even better place to live.

The candidates running for positions on the Bear River City Council were the last to deliver opening remarks.

Johnson emphasized that he has been a production manager for many years, oversees 40 employees and has seen his company grow 30% this year. He said he was a conservative Republican and wanted to support the Bear River community.

Jones is running for re-election to the council and said he wants to keep working to make Bear River a great place to live. He is a member and vice president of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Uinta County Economic Development Commission (UCEDC), and serves on the board of directors of Southwest Wyoming Offroad Trails (SWOT).

White said he has lived in Wyoming for 15 years, 12 of them in Bear River. He holds an associate’s degree and is a small business owner.

“I’m running because I just want to help my community,” White said.

Ungerman then posed the first question to the candidates: “If elected, how do you plan to use the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act Funds) to improve the city or county?”

Anderson said: “We have already voted to use some of these funds to improve the fairgrounds and work on the parking lot behind the courthouse. We looked at other options like a shooting range and other outdoor recreation options.”

Hickey said he’s concerned about sheriff’s office wages and the high suicide rate in Wyoming and Uinta County and would look at projects to help people.

Lind said: “I’m not a big fan of federal dollars, but I think infrastructure would be my #1 priority and #2 would be economic development by encouraging small businesses. We also have the 1,000 acres that need to be developed.”

Williams said he wants to use the funds to increase their effectiveness and develop city-county-valley partnerships and work together.

Lynch said he will work with department heads and develop a plan for using the funds. He said He was proud to have been instrumental in bringing industry to the area including Avalon moving to Evanston.

Johnson, Jones and White all said they would work with other Bear River Town Council members to develop a plan for how the ARPA funds would be used.

A question for Matthews and Kopp, candidates for sheriff, had to do with the candidates’ priorities for the future of the department.

Matthews said his priority is retaining employees and hiring new employees. He would love to start internships with high school seniors, he said. He added that a solution was needed to deal with the number of mental health problems faced by inmates in prison.

Kopp said his priority is gaining the public’s trust and retaining and caring for the dispatchers, and he would work from the inside out.

Candidates were asked about their priorities and concerns, as well as any changes they felt might be needed in the future.

Anderson said he wants to close the pay gap and maybe cut some jobs and spread out the work. Investments in district roads, in youth welfare and the multiple use of public areas are part of his vision for the future.

“We need to keep the county cleaner at every exit,” Hickey said. “I would urge economic development and nationwide planning of all activities to avoid duplication.”

“The people who live in the county are my #1 priority,” Lind said. “Dollars coming into the county are coming from the private sector. We have to work on economic development.”

Sheriff Matthews said he’s working to keep everyone happy and get all of their radio systems up to date. He said he was looking for grants to improve conditions for the dispatchers because pay increases would help.

Kopp said: “You have to take care of your people first and communicate with everyone. What are we doing wrong that we cannot retain employees? Every time we hire new employees, it costs more to train them than it does to retain the current employees.”

Williams said his vision for Evanston is to diversify businesses. He added that the city currently has a great team working on this very issue and he wants that group effort to continue.

“In 1995 we had one unit, one plan; We met monthly with the county, social services and state officials and developed a plan that would see us have a prosperous community by 2030,” Lynch said. “I want to work on that plan.”

All three Bear River candidates said the safety of the people in the community is their first concern and keeping the way of life there intact while encouraging growth.

All candidates each had two minutes to summarize and give a final word.

Accessibility, a desire to help people, to be able to continue to support local businesses, to improve infrastructure, to maintain and balance a budget while making changes and fostering growth, and to maintain a policy of transparency and openness were common themes in the closing statements of all the candidates.

The next Forum for State and Federal Candidates will be held at the Strand Theater on Wednesday 27 July from 5pm to 8pm

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