City, town candidates largely see eye to eye at chamber forum

Candidates for local city and town offices participate in a forum hosted by the Evanston Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, July 1, at the Roundhouse. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — There was quite a lot of agreement among candidates at the first Evanston Chamber of Commerce candidate forum held on Wednesday, July 1, at the Evanston Roundhouse. The opening forum was for candidates for the Evanston City Council and Bear River mayor and town council.

Chamber Director Tammy Halliday opened the forum by reading a statement from Bear River mayoral candidate John Dubois, who was unable to attend the forum in person. Dubois said if elected he would focus on transparency, accountability and town personnel. Dubois said he would be committed to ensuring all town agendas, minutes and information, as well as the town budget, were available online.

Dubois also said steps toward accountability would include an audit and other steps to ensure hired contractors were held to standards and said he would conduct a review of all town personnel and work to enact cost of living salary adjustments. His comments concluded by recognizing the importance of change and bringing in fresh faces and perspectives.

The forum itself consisted of opening statements from each candidate, followed by three questions and a closing statement. All candidates received the same questions. For Evanston City Council, candidates in ward one include incumbent Tim Lynch and challengers Mark Potter and Michael Searle; ward two candidates are incumbent Michael Sellers and challenger Jonny Pentz; and in ward three incumbent Evan Perkes is running unchallenged.

For Bear River mayor, candidates include Dubois and Brian Stokes and for town council the two candidates for the two seats are Todd Jones and Lance Norris.

The opening question presented by Halliday asked candidates how they planned to improve the community and what steps they would take to make improvements. First respondent Lynch said he believes the community would benefit from making Evanston a destination spot and referenced the recent efforts to create an off-road trail system throughout southwest Wyoming, which he said is an excellent idea. “Evanston is a well-kept secret and it’s time for us to share,” said Lynch.

Potter said it is important to find ways to get new businesses to come into the community other than tax incentives. Potter also stressed the importance of caring for the elderly in the community and making sure their needs are addressed and met. Searle began by saying the current city council and mayor have done a good job and said he believes it’s important to look for businesses with longevity and stable job opportunities. Searle said getting a trade school would be great for the community.

Pentz referenced his longstanding and current involvement in different projects to benefit the community, including working with a local motorsports group and organizing the Main Street Car Show. Pentz said he would be more proactive in luring businesses with good jobs and would also like to see more assistance going to struggling community events.

Incumbent Sellers said there are recent positive developments for Evanston, including the announcement of new company ISA moving into town. He said there are other new businesses that are looking into the community, though city staff are not able to provide additional information or details unless and until a project is certain. He also stressed the importance of encouraging local shopping to support existing local businesses.

Perkes said people in the community already do a “wonderful job” luring visitors to the community but the city is in need of sustainable growth and new businesses and employers. He commended the city staff for doing an excellent job trying to bring in those new businesses and said as a council member he would continue to support those efforts.

Stokes said Bear River is different from Evanston as the former is “more of a bedroom community.” He said he would like to add trails along the river for hiking, riding and other outdoor recreation, as well as taking steps to get the entire town on the sewer system instead of having some homes still on septic systems.

Jones also spoke of the off-road trail project, with which he has already been heavily involved. He said he wants to see communities working together for mutual benefit. “I don’t want Bear River to just be a place to live, I want it to be the place to live,” he said, noting there were things that could be improved related to public safety, signage and more.

Norris said he wants to make sure infrastructure is in place to allow for sustained growth and particularly emphasized creating a second emergency egress off Deer Mountain. Norris said the current situation with having only one entrance and exit to the area could result in a dangerous situation and he would prioritize the creation of a secondary road.

The second question posed by Halliday asked what plan of action each candidate would take to prepare for the future from a financial perspective.

Many of the candidates responded to the second question by showing appreciation for the city’s department heads, staff and current council for already planning ahead and building up city reserves. Lynch, Searle, Sellers and Perkes all said the city had been proactive, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic began, and department heads had already found places to save money. Potter said he would be a fighter and look into securing grants for community projects and said he would like to see city events return to the more vibrant events of the past. Pentz said he’s seen potential businesses, such as the proposed ICE detention center, get “tremendous pushback” from some area residents but he believes it’s important to continue the work the council is already doing to vet businesses.

Stokes said the news out of Cheyenne regarding the state’s financial situation is bleak, but Bear River has been very fiscally responsible and has a “pretty good reserve” that will allow the community to continue to provide services. “People have been very responsible and socked it away for a rainy day and that rainy day is here,” he said.

Jones said he hasn’t had the opportunity to see all the numbers related to Bear River’s finances, but added, “We have to protect what we have and continue to spend money responsibly.” He said it’s a tough question because the town needs growth but it’s difficult to figure out how exactly to make that happen. Norris stressed the importance of diversity, which he said is “essential to the future.” He said everyone needs to be proactive in looking into diversification as well as being fiscally responsible with purchases and expenses.

For the final question of the night, Halliday asked candidates to finish the statement, “A councilperson should be doing…”

Lynch replied with “whatever it takes,” while Potter said “supporting the community.” Searle responded, “stuff” and then elaborated that he meant being involved with community events and communicating with residents. Pentz said “listening to citizens and being proactive in the community.”

Sellers said “giving employees the ability to fix and solve problems and being active in the community.” Perkes said “their job, and if not, vote them out,” while adding doing a councilperson’s job entailed doing a lot of homework on the issues.

Stokes said “everything is his or her power to ensure good quality of life for the people served.” Jones responded by saying “a lot of listening with an ever-attentive ear and being willing to compromise and find the best path forward.” Norris closed out the questions with, “A councilperson should be serving. If you’re truly passionate about shaping and improving the community, you should be serving and concerned about the greater good.”

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