ARPA spending, retention topics at candidate forum

Andy Kopp, a candidate for Uinta County Sheriff, speaks during an Evanston Chamber of Commerce political candidate forum on July 13. Also pictured are Evanston City Councilman Tim Lynch, Evanston Mayor Kent Williams and Sheriff Doug Matthews — all three of whom are running for re-election. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — The Evanston Chamber of Commerce held a forum for politcal candidates running for county and municipal offices on Wednesday, July 13, at the historic Strand Theatre.

Shawn Ungerman was master of ceremonies and began the forum by stating the rules. Each candidate was allowed two minutes for an opening statement, two minutes for a response to the questions and two minutes for a closing statement.  David Benton served as timer.

The candidates at the forum 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 wasn’t in attendance.

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

Anderson said he was running for re-election because he saw changes taking place in the county and wanted to be able to continue to make a difference. He said he has served on the Bridger Valley water board and recognizes the difficult water issues the county will be faced with. He also is a member of the Evanston Aviation Board and the Uinta County Human Services Board, which he said he finds very rewarding.

“I’m from Lonetree, a distance from Evanston,” Hickey said. “I decided to run for the commission because I have a long history here and I care about the people. I’ve been a member of the predator board and the Snake River Association.”

Lind said he was running for the Commission for the second time and has seen lots of things happening in the county and wants to help. He is a Westminster College graduate in finance and business, has worked in the oil and gas fields and has traveled all over the state.

“Uinta County is deeply important to me,” Sheriff Matthews said. “I work with other programs, I meet with the Juvenile Services Board and with other agencies. The taxpayer’s money is important, so I work hard to seek grants for the department.”

Kopp said he has been in law enforcement for 16 years and belongs to the professional peace officers association and has a degree in criminal justice.

“I also have 3,000 post-training hours,” Kopp said. “I have worked in all aspects of the sheriff’s office under two different sheriffs. I want to reestablish the public’s trust in the office and work on retention of staff.”

Mayoral candidates Williams and Lynch both spoke about their commitment to the city of Evanston and the people in the community. Williams said he had worked hard in the last few years as mayor to reduce city government’s costs and expenses.

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

Those candidates running for positions on the Bear River Town Council were the last to give opening statements.

Johnson emphasized that he has been a production manager for many years, supervises 40 employees, and his company has experienced a 30% growth this year. He said he is a conservative Republican and wants to support the community of Bear River.

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 is on the Southwest Wyoming Off-road Trails (SWOT) board.

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

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

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

Anderson said, “We have already voted to use some of those funds to improve the fairgrounds and work on the parking lot behind the courthouse. We have been looking at other possibilities such as a shooting range and other outdoor recreation opportunities.”

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

Lind said, “I’m not a huge fan of federal dollars, but I think infrastructure would be my No. 1 priority, and No. 2 would be economic development by promoting small businesses. We also have the 1,000 acres that needs development.”

Williams said he would want to use the funds in a way that would extend their effectiveness and would collaborate and develop partnerships among the city, county and the valley.

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

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

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 was retention of employees and the hiring of new people. He would like to start internships with high school seniors, he said. He added that a solution was needed to deal with the numbers of mental health issues involving inmates at the jail.

Kopp said his priority was gaining the public’s trust and retaining dispatchers and taking care of them and he would work from the inside out.

Candidates were asked about their priorities and concerns, and any changes they see need to be made in the future.

Anderson said he wanted to see the pay gaps close and possibly cut some positions and spread the work out. He said investment in county roads, in youth services, and providing for multiple use on public land were part of his vision for the future.

“We need to do a better job of keeping the county clean at all exits,” Hickey said. “I would push for economic development and county-wide planning for all activities to avoid overlap.”

“The people who live in the county are my No. 1 priority,” Lind said. “Dollars that come to the county come from the private sector. We need to work on economic development.”

Sheriff Matthews said he is working to keep everyone happy and bring up all of their radio systems to state of the art. He said he has been searching for grants to improve conditions for the dispatch officers as raises would help.

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

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

“In 1995, we had a unity, a plan; we met once a month with the county, the human services and state representatives and developed a plan where we would see a prosperous community by 2030,” Lynch said. “I want to work on that plan.”

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

All candidates had two minutes each to summarize and give a closing statement. 

Approachability, a desire to help people, being able to continue to support local businesses, improving infrastructure, maintaining and balancing a budget while making changes and encouraging growth, and keeping a policy of transparency and openness were common themes in the closing statements from all of the candidates.

The next forum for state and national candidates will take place on Wednesday, July 27, at the Strand Theatre from 5-8 p.m.

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