MARBLETON – The last of four political forums preceding today’s general election was held at the Southwest Sublette County Pioneers Senior Center in Marbleton last Tuesday evening, Aug. 30.
The forum, sponsored by the county’s news media, hosted five candidates for the Rural Health Care District (RHCD) and three candidates for Sublette County commissioner.
There are two open seats for the RHCD board as neither Cindy Van nor Jason Zakotnik sought re-election. Candidates for the two seats are Shannon Cave, Brent Fowler, Mandy Norris, Kris Roork and Donni Toth.
Democratic commissioner candidate Courtney Skinner faces Republican candidate Jim Latta in that race, with Republican incumbent Commissioner John Linn waging a write-in campaign.
The RHCD candidates took the stage first for Tuesday’s forum. The candidates wasted no time in presenting several strong and diverse opinions in response to questions from local media and the public.
Addressing a shrinking district budget with mill levy revenues expected to decrease in the near future, Toth and Roork took slightly different stances. Toth said budget cuts would need to be addressed collaboratively by the board, RHCD administrators and care providers. She also suggested that the RHCD seek additional revenue sources instead of focusing solely on where to make cuts.
Toth suggested the Rural Health Foundation could bring in grant funds as one source of additional revenue.
Roork responded by stating that she has a “pet peeve” with the Rural Health Foundation. She cited figures she had received from the RHCD showing it gave $230,000 to the foundation with just $20,000 returned in grants.
“If I’m elected, I’m going to propose that we give no more money to the foundation. They’ve had plenty of seed money; they’re very welcome to continue trying to write grants and to get money for health care in this county, but I don’t think we’ve gotten our money’s worth in the foundation,” Roork said.
Other candidates also identified problem areas they see with RHCD.
Cave, after stating that she too would look to the Rural Health Foundation for budget cuts, said outright that she would seek to remove RHCD CEO Rob Harding.
“My main concern is – who is controlling everything? … I would like to see the removal of CEO Rob Harding and I believe once that’s accomplished all the other issues will fall into place,” Cave said.
Norris also addressed Harding when asked whether the district’s CEO should be required to live in-county.
“I am very adamant that any administration in the clinic system needs to live in the county. When they are wanted and needed, they need to be there,” Norris said.
Norris and Roork also voiced their support for a transparent district. Both advocated publishing the RHCD budget and opening all meeting agenda topics for public comment except for necessary personnel discussions in executive session.
Fowler emphasized his familiarity with the Marbleton – Big Piney Clinic and spent a good deal of his allotted time drawing attention to the RHCD’s high turnover for doctors. The problem, Fowler said, was in the current administration, alluding several times to but not directly identifying Harding.
“I think the rift is between the new administration and the Big Piney Clinic,” Fowler said.
Fowler identified that problem as his main objective in running for the seat.
“I am by no means a politician, but something’s wrong here, and we need to get it straightened out,” Fowler said.
While others called themselves “concerned citizens,” Toth focused on her experience in the medical field. She holds a master’s degree, Ph. D. in medicine and served 23 years as a flight nurse in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.
“I’ve been a health care professional my whole adult life. … Health care is my profession and it’s my passion. I really care about maintaining the excellent health care that we have here,” Toth said.
Toth also spoke briefly about adding service mental health, child psychiatry and family planning services to the clinics.
Roork and Norris also have extensive medical experience, both having formerly worked for the RHCD.
Complete recordings of the candidates’ answers are at www.PinedaleOnline.com.
Commission candidates Latta, Skinner and Linn were next to take questions. As they were all introduced during primary election forums, they received limited time and questions at Tuesday’s forum.
In their closing statements, each reiterated their campaign sticking points.
Linn led off the closing statements, neatly summarizing his desire to run as a write-in candidate after failing to obtain the Republican nomination in the primary.
“No one has ever succeeded in this county by being timid. Hard work always pays off,” Linn said.
Linn also used his closing statement to reaffirm his support of multiple use public lands. Industry operators must comply with agencies to use the lands, he said, but land management should never restrict public access for recreation. Linn promised to continue to fight for public lands management that does not restrict access.
Linn also cited his experience as a self-employed businessman in the county and said he approaches all county projects with that frame of mind, trying to get the best job done for the money while using local contractors who take pride in their work.
Skinner was next to wrap up with his closing statement.
Taxes were his first topic, as taxes were mentioned in several facets during the question-and-answer period. Skinner made it clear that he does not support increasing taxes. In fact, he supports reducing or at least finding some form of tax relief for county residents, he said.
Skinner also emphasized his experience, briefly mentioning his business years but focusing more on the time he has spent “with my boots on the ground.” Skinner said he has visited the homes of the county’s many ranchers and knows their concerns. He also said he represents the entire county, not one end or the other, but the whole of Sublette.
“Sublette County is my passion and I want to serve you well,” Skinner said.
Latta gave the forum’s final closing statement.
“I’m running because I think my experience and education can aid Sublette County and sustain a viable future,” Latta began.
Latta also touched on the issues he felt will be most important going forward: maintaining a quality road system, caring for the elderly and young of the county, supporting multiple use of lands by maintaining a positive relationship with agencies, creating responsible budgets, finding tax relief for homeowners and promoting recreation and tourism.
Latta reiterated that he was the winner of the Republican primary, making him the Republican candidate for county commissioner. He also said he would keep office hours in both ends of the county and create advisory committees in both areas.
“It would be my privilege to serve as your county commissioner,” Latta concluded.
The Oct. 23 (Pinedale) and Oct. 30 (Marbleton) public forums were sponsored by KPIN-FM, Pinedale Online!, the Sublette Examiner and the Pinedale Roundup. Michael Noyes served as the Oct. 23 forum moderator in Pinedale and Betty Fear filled that role for the Oct. 30 forum at the Marbleton senior center, which provided cookies and water for those attending.
Full recordings of the commissioner candidates’ question-and-answer portion are available on www.PinedaleOnline.com.
For the complete article see the 11-06-2012 issue.
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