The four Republican candidates running for Flathead County Commissioner shared their opinions on a few issues facing the county during a recent candidate forum in Kalispell.
Incumbent Gary Krueger currently holds the seat for District 3. He is being challenged by Gerald “Jay” Scott, Randy Brodehl and Ronalee Skees.
The one Democrat candidate Tom Clark faces no challenger in the June 5 primary and will move into the November general election.
Krueger, 59, is a farmer and bee keeper. He has served on the West Valley School Board; West Valley volunteer fireman; Flathead County board of Adjustment and West Valley Land Use Advisory.
Scott, 63, is a retired rancher and small business owner. He is the former Flathead County Fairgrounds manager; operated Columbia Falls rodeo; 4-H leader; volunteers and donates to local food banks, and is a Salvation Army bell-ringer.
Brodehl, 63, is the retired Kalispell fire chief and owner of R & J Enterprises cabinet shop. He served as representative for House District 9, served as vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee and chaired the Judicial subcommitee; National Rifle Association member; active with Canvas Church; has a degree in fire service manager; and an executive fire officer through the National Fire Academy.
Skees, 50, is a nonprofit development consultant. She is the former director of mission advancement for Immanuel Lutheran Communities; Leadership Flathead Class of 2016; Rotary member; served on Flathead City-County Board of Health, Kalispell City Planning and Zoning Commission; congressional ambassador for Montana Alzheimer’s Association; and Flathead Valley Community Drug Task Force.
The candidates were asked a series of questions during the forum:
What skills do you uniquely possess for the commissioner office?
Krueger noted that he has served five years as county commissioner. He said to “look out into the community” to see all of his achievements — Agency on Aging, updating the county jail to allow law enforcement to do their job and updating the green-box sites.
“I think financially and fiscally we have a very sound future and I want to say 10 years down the road we made good decisions,” he said. “I believe in the process of leaving it better than you found it.”
He also noted that when he ran six years ago at the time he said he would promote job growth and he has done that.
Skees began by describing herself as fiscally conservative and as a listener.
“I am listener and I have spent time getting to know our community deeply to know what the needs are and the ways we can serve those needs,” she said. “I look at things as a whole, not just one side, but how all of the sides have to be worked out.”
She went on to describe herself as “forward-thinking” in her decision making.
Brodehl says he is “the conservative” running for commissioner and he expects, if elected, to face three critical issues — protection of property rights, public safety and the county budget.
“As the representative for House District 9 ... I fought to reduce regulations,” he said. “To protect our citizens from the overreach of state, federal and tribal governments.”
On the forefront of public safety, he said is the county jail and the 911 dispatch center. He pointed to his background of four decades as a career firefighter as preparing him to lead the county to work through issues.
He said he plans to maintain a frugal budget in the county and that his personal and political experience will also guide him dealing with the budget.
Scott says his family has lived here for several generations, and many family members continue to live in the Valley.
He says he would like to work on public safety and the county budget.
“I have worked for the county fairgrounds for 14 years and owned three businesses managing a budget,” he said. “When I was at the fairgrounds I helped build three buildings to help it be more self-sufficient.”
He calls himself a “problem solver” and “good listener.”
“There is a general discontent between the public and the county commissioners office,” he said.
What are the challenges are faced at the 911 Center, including dealing with the interlocal operating agreement, and what solutions would you propose for the operation of the 911 center?
Brodehl noted that two requests for funding were turned down and “voters are not satisfied with what we’re doing.”
He suggests that the 911 center remains on its current budget for the next two years until a plan can be put in place to move forward.
“We have the leadership in place to carry the 911 center on current budget,” he said. “We — the county, the municipalities, the sheriff — need to come back together working toward solutions.”
“I have the experience in public safety to help drive that,” he added, while noting that a plan needs to be in place before officials return to the voters seeking funding.
Skees says the 911 Center is a communication tool that provides a great opportunity in the community.
“I’m incredibly impressed by the work done by dispatchers there,” she said.
She said interlocal agreement is taking cost from each individual cities so they don’t need to have all the infrastructure to have 911 dispatch. She noted that a committee is currently looking at funding options and that the committee should be allowed to come up with solutions before a plan is put in place.
“We need to make sure part of the conversation is what do we loose, if we loose the 911 Center,” she said. “We have to remember what the center offers us in terms of our safety.”
Scott said he personally had to recently use the 911 Center after a vehicle accident and it is “second to none.”
The county needs to reallocate money in terms of the center and that it can be funded without raising taxes.
“We need to have a sufficient board to sit down and solve the problems,” he said.
Krueger says the 911 center is a very complex issue involving the 911 Center interlocal agreement between the county and the cities and the funding model is built out of that agreement.
“911 is meeting its obligations — the dispatchers and people running the center are doing their job,” he said.
He said there does need to be tweaking to the funding model that has been an ongoing discussion between the cities and the county. He proposed that the Center itself be under the county, and then the number of calls coming from the county or the cities then be “allotted to each entity.”
“It should be that the county does run the operations of the 911 Center and we can then bring the center’s capital improvement plan in to the county’s plan,” he said. “This is what we do in the county is making sure we are planning for the future and the center could benefit from that.”
What are the three biggest challenges the commissioners will face in the next three years? The question was only posed to Skees and Scott.
Skees says the top three issues are keeping the budget tight to not increase taxes, dealing with jail space, and communication.
On dealing with the jail, “a lot of great people in the community are looking at drug education and I’d like to see how that is going.” She also says there is a need for space for women’s detention and the biggest challenge will be bringing the juvenile detention center back to the community.
She said many in the community are not understanding the problems facing the county and they should also be involved in the solutions.
Scott listed the need for a new jail as a major issue, working on infrastructure and safety as issues facing the county.
He said the jail is a major issue that will cost a lot of money. He said one way to solve the issue may be to implement a drug court.
“Everyone says you can’t raise taxes,” he said. “It’s schools not so much the county [that are raising taxes]. I won’t go around making a bold statement that I won’t raise your taxes, but I will certainly resist raising taxes.”
He said the county needs to also work on infrastructure as the population continues to grow, and that the increase in people moving here is creating safety issues.
What is your closing statement?
Brodehl said given his eight years in the state Legislature he has a very proven track record of being a conservative and track record in how he votes.
“This experience along with my background as the Kalispell fire chief and owner/operator of a small business ranks me as the most qualified candidate for this position,” he said. “If I’m a new county commissioner, my focus will remain on public safety, personal property rights, and no new taxes.”
Krueger said as county commissioner for last five years he as worked hard for financial security and to not raise taxes.
“I don’t have to promise that I’m not going to raise taxes, I haven’t been raising taxes,” he said. “There is some really essential services that are being provided now that weren’t five years ago.”
Scott said he has a strong work ethic, is a good listener, and doesn’t make knee-jerk reactions. He said he would be a full-time county commissioner who would resist raising taxes.
“You have to be sure to negotiate and work together,” he said. “I’ve been a business owner. I’ve been a county employee. I’ve worked well with others.”
Skees says she deeply cares about the community and has taken the time to get to know the issues. She said she has enjoyed the time during her campaign listening to folks in the community. “Everybody has such fantastic ideas,” she said. “Ways we can curb government. Ways that we can be more involved. Ways that we can provide for the future — for safety, for families.”