SANDPOINT — Candidate seeking seats on the Bonner County commission held forth on a wide range of topics during the Selkirk Association of Realtors campaign forum on Wednesday.
Candidates seeking the district 1 and 3 seats covered a lot of ground during the forum — from the proposed silicon smelter in Newport and land use code reform to self insurance and management of federal lands in Idaho.
Voters cast ballots on county commissioner seats regardless of whether they reside in a particular district that’s up for election.
In the District 1 contest, incumbent Republican Commission Chairman Glen Bailey is fending off challenges by Steven Bradshaw and Gary Hollett for the GOP nomination. The winner of that race will move on to face Democrat Patricia Wentworth.
Bailey, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, has held office for five years and the board’s effort shows in the state of the county’s finances. He said county employees are doing well, although they are increasingly sought after by governments in Kootenai and Spokane counties, which can offer higher salaries.
“Bonner County has to keep up with that,” said Bailey.
Bradshaw is billing himself as a staunch property rights advocate who is willing to entirely dismantle land use regulation in Bonner County.
“I would disassemble it and sell it in a garage sale,” Bradshaw said of planning and zoning.
Hollett did not attend the forum.
Wentworth admitted she lacked political experience, but has a business management background and a solid record of volunteering in the community. A couple candidates likened the job as commissioner as a CEO during the forum.
“I am familiar with the structure of business,” said Wentworth, who also advocates for increased eduction funding, closing the Medicare gap and improving average wages in Idaho, which she said Idaho is dead last in.
Wentworth also questioned the wisdom the smelter proposal, as did Steve Lockwood, a Democrat who is seeking his party’s nomination for the District 3 seat.
“Health comes first. Air quality is as fundamental as anything we have,” said Lockwood, a retired manager who spent more than 30 years with Bell and AT&T.
But incumbent Republican District 3 incumbent Dan McDonald said commissioners were effectively powerless to stop the smelter because it’s a Washington state project.
“I do know what the county can do and it is nothing,” said McDonald.
Fiscal responsibility was a recurring theme during the forum. McDonald said the commission managed to slash $8 million from the budget without sacrificing services. That figure has been disputed, although McDonald said that sum has been vetted by county Clerk Michael Rosedale.
“Without sound fiscal policy for the county, everything falls to the wayside pretty quick,” said McDonald.
Carol Kunzeman, who is challenging McDonald for the GOP nod for the District 3 seat, emphasized her established record of 13 years of public service, eight of which were as Ponderay’s mayor.
“I know how to bring diverse groups to the table,” said Kunzeman, who has handled multi-billion dollar budgets in her former employment as a defense contractor.
McDonald is a strong proponent of state management of federal lands in Idaho, as is Bradshaw.
“I’m for any kind of management that takes the federal government out of it,” said Bradshaw, who also boasted a business background in Texas.
Wentworth doubted the state had the financial ability to carry out such a task, while Bailey said groups such as a the Panhandle Forest Collaborative is effective at bringing diverse viewpoints together so timber can still be harvested.
McDonald and Bailey defended the county’s recent decision to insure itself, which increases liability coverage and reduced premium costs.
“I am not into risk-taking,” said Bailey.
Kunzeman expressed concern, however.
“I am worried about a catastrophic event which could bankrupt the county,” she said, adding that the decision needs further scrutiny.
“I think it deserves a really hard look,” said Lockwood.
Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.