Approximately 75 people packed the Powell Butte Community Center on Tuesday night to hear the 10 Crook County Court candidates - three for judge and seven for commissioner - speak out on hot-button issues facing the county.
>Resorts, economic growth were two of many topics
The forum was hosted by the Powell Butte Farmers and Community Club and was the first of several public forums planned for the county before the May primary.
After brief opening statements, the candidates weighed in on three questions submitted by audience members beforehand, which probed the candidates' stance on budget priorities, destination resorts, and the form of county government.
Many of the candidates expressed interest in a more conservative budget for that county, and one that safeguards essential services. Also foremost on their minds was encouraging economic growth in Crook County and creating a stronger job base.
"Balance it," was Democratic commissioner hopeful Dick Brown's straightforward solution to the budget.
"Everybody needs to cut back, whatever is necessary," Brown said. "The only way to maintain the current level of service is to increase the tax base."
Commissioner candidate Arleen Curths, also a Democrat, stressed the importance of public services and economic growth.
"Every service is essential," she said. "You need to determine exactly what you can afford, and kick up the income base by encouraging economic development."
Democrat Newell Clarno, also running for commissioner, emphasized his desire for continued funding of public safety and education in the county.
"Children are our future," he said. "They are the ones who will replace us."
The candidates were more divided on the destination resort issue, which has fueled a political firestorm in Powell Butte, but they were almost unanimous on one aspect: the resort overlay map needs to be revised.
Kim Kambak, the lone Democrat running for Scott Cooper's judge position, supports the three existing resorts, but also supports the upcoming ballot measure to change the map, saying she has "valid concerns about how the overlay map was put together."
Republican commissioner hopeful Seth Crawford also supports the existing resorts, saying they "bring in lots of money" to the county tax base. However, he feels that the new ones should be looked at.
Most of the candidates expressed their opposition to a change to Crook County's form of government and were in agreement that the switch to a board of commissioners system will come at a high price to the county.
"It's hit or miss," Republican commissioner hopeful Ken Fahlgren said. "It's expensive, and we don't have the extra income."
County judge hopeful Walt Wager, a republican, maintained that his primary reason for running is a perceived conflict of interest by his opponent, Republican judge candidate Mike McCabe, and argued that McCabe should have avoiding voting on the change of government after announcing his candidacy.
"I'm running because my opponent filed before the vote - it's an ethics violation," he said.
McCabe disagreed, stating he "does not care" whether the form of government is changed or not.
"It's about what the people want," he said.
Republican commissioner candidate Frank Nicholson holds the view that there is no reason for the county to change its form of government.
"I am of the mindset that if it isn't broke, don't fix it," he said. "[The current form of government] has worked well for a long time."
Republican John Mitchell, also running for commissioner, feels that the county should wait before hiring an administrator.
"I've worked under five supervisors," he said. "Without an administrator things ran smoothly. With one, things didn't. It takes a lot more time and money."
The next county candidate forum, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, will take place April 24 at 6 to 8 p.m. at the Pine Theater.
Another, hosted by the Democratic Party of Crook County, will be held this Sunday at the Crook County Library at 3 p.m. in the Broughton Room. This is limited to local Democratic candidates for county court. Kim Kambak is running for judge and Arleen Curths is running for county commissioner. Newell Clarno and Dick Brown are also running for that same position.