Candidate forum in Richland County

written for the Sidney Herald, published on October 26, 2014

Richland County residents were able to get to know their candidates for the Richland County elected officials at a forum, held Thursday evening at the MSU Extension conference room in Sidney. The forum was moderated by Patrick Hackley, vice president of the Richland County Farm Bureau. Katherine Bidegaray, candidate for Richland County District Judge, was unable to attend, due to an unnamed emergency, and her statement was read to a packed house by Thomas Irigoin at the opening of the event.

Richland County Sheriff candidates, John Dynneson and Joe Renders received questions about the staff and housing shortages, drug and alcohol programs, and whether or not they believe officers should be trained in emotional intelligence.

Both candidates stressed education as an imperative element to the sheriff department’s involvement in drugs and alcohol.

“We need to support [drug and alcohol] education,” Candidate Dynneson said, “but I want to emphasize that the sheriff’s department can’t run the programs, we’re there for support.”

The sheriff candidates also agreed on the need for training and acknowledged that the majority of the department is young.

“That’s what we’re there for,” Candidate Renders said. “We need to treat everyone from all walks of life the same and have accountability.”

Dynneson stressed the need for a sheriff who understands the community and instills compassion for county citizens in the rest of the department. Renders agreed and both candidates promised extensive training sessions if they are elected.

The two candidates for State Representative, Scott Staffanson and Rob Knotts received questions related to the cost of infrastructure, the regulations of the EPA, and school funding.  Both candidates pledged to revisit the Montana House Bill 281, which would bring financial assistance to Eastern Montana residents. They agreed that the concentric circle state fund program is beneficial to area schools and that clean air and water is important to the community.

“We don’t need someone from the city where all the smog telling us that what we’re doing is polluting the environment,” Candidate Staffanson said.

The candidates for State Representative differed on their approach to the oil and gas tax holiday.

“I don’t see that we have a need for [the tax holiday],” Candidate Knotts said. “These people are pounding our roads to dust, they’re plugging our infrastructure and they’re skating across the boarder with bucket-loads of cash while we’re struggling just to meet our basic needs.They need to shoulder their fair share of the tax burden.”

Candidate Staffanson said he believes that increasing the tax on Montana’s natural resources limits the ability to use those resources.

“I think the level of oil development that we’ve got here is essential to funding our state government and I don’t know where that point is when you start increasing taxes when you drop the production,” Staffanson said. “We’ll have more oil development the lower our tax rates are on that.”

Loren Young, who is running unopposed as Richland County Commissioner, gave a report on county spending and said he will do what he can to increase funds coming into the city of Sidney.

“We don’t have a legal obligation to help the city,” Young said, “but we do have a moral obligation. We’re all in this together.”

Current Richland County Attorney, Mike Webber, who is also running unopposed said his goal for the upcoming term is to be more of a manager.

“I like being in the pits, so to speak,” Webber said, “but I need to be more of an administrator.”

Gail Staffanson, who is running unopposed as Richland County Superintendent of Schools, said she believes that Montana has a high standard for education.

“I think we’re fourth in the nation,” Staffanson said. “If the nation wants to raise its standards, they should take a look at our curriculum.”

Staffanson responded to questions about the new common core standards, and said that she’s unsure how accurate the results will be from this year’s testing.

“The whole thing is done on the computer,” Staffanson explained. “Some kids are having trouble finding the ‘s’ on the keyboard instead of trying to answer the question.”

Current Justice of the Peace, Greg Mohr, who is running for the position again this year, and Candidate for District Judge Janet Christoffersen answered questions about drug and alcohol related cases as well as the way the courts currently handle their case loads. Both candidates said that their case loads have increased significantly and incarceration is not necessarily the best option in every case.

“We can’t lock everybody up,” Christoffersen said. “My commitment is to make sure that violent criminals are going to hopefully be locked up and rehabilitated and those people who are less likely to recommit those crimes are the ones that are out on suspended sentences.”

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