Nine candidates mix it up at Waitsburg forum

Elections are just around the corner for the city; ballots go out Monday.

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WAITSBURG -- No matter who triumphs at the ballot box, the City Council will have a mix of new and experienced members, and possibly a new mayor.

Seven men are running for the five Council seats. Mayor Markeeta Little Wolf is challenged by retired Washington State Patrol Officer Walt Gobel.

The nine candidates each spoke Thursday during a forum sponsored by the Waitsburg Commercial Club.

Gobel told the audience of over 50 people that he and his wife Gwen have been involved in youth and service organizations in each of the communities where they lived during his career with the Washington State patrol.

He said he became interested in running for mayor because of some actions by the current council, including passing a real estate excise tax without a vote of citizens.

Gobel promised that as mayor, "I'll treat you with respect. I'll listen to you."

Little Wolf told the crowd "my administration has been open. It has been vibrant."

She alluded to dissent in the community, saying "we need to work together to get out of the shadows and stop sniping."

Accomplishment during her administration has included a fiscally sound city that provides utilities, law enforcement, pool, library, animal control and well-maintained streets.

After years of trying, the city was successful in dredging under the bridge on Coppei Avenue, she said. "Guess who got us in the creek. This little lady got us in the creek," she said.

In response to a question about what could be done to bring reconciliation and healing to the city, Little Wolf said "I don't think there's anything city government can do to make people get along."

Council candidates are incumbent Leroy Cunningham, William Potolicchio, who was appointed to fill a vacancy earlier this year, newcomers Scott Nettles, Kevin House and Karl Newell, and veteran members Orville Branson and Marty Dunn, who also has served as mayor.

Ballots will be mailed Monday to registered voters in the city of Waitsburg. Election day is April 5 and ballots must be returned or postmarked on that day to be counted.

Walla Walla County Commissioner Perry Dozier, a Waitsburg area resident, conducted the forum. Speeches were limited to five minutes, with another five minutes of questions from the audience.

Five council candidates and Gobel were nominated in a caucus process, while Little Wolf, Cunningham and Potolicchio applied directly to City Hall.

Retired journeyman electrician Karl Newell, 65, was nominated by the "Truth and Trust" caucus. He is running to answer some questions he has about getting help from Walla Walla County and the Port of Walla Walla for economic development, he said.

Newell also said he has question about how homes are placed on the historic register.

Citizens and public officials have to work together to make Waitsburg better, Newell said.

Fuel truck driver Orville Branson, 75, said he'd like to again have a voice in law enforcement issues in Waitsburg. Branson was a Council member until he resigned for health reasons.

Branson served on the county planning commission for six years. He and his family have lived in Waitsburg for 30 years.

During his previous time on the Council, decisions were made to eliminate the city treasurer position, saving the city about $40,000. Branson was instrumental in building a BMX track near the north end of Main Street.

"I will support anything that will help the kids," Branson said.

Leroy Cunningham, 56, is running for his fourth one-year term on the council. During his first three years he said he has learned "exciting lessons about city management."

Cunningham, a woodworker, said he envisions Waitsburg's future including attainment of local food production that brings "green" jobs to the community.

Former mayor Marty Dunn, 52, said he believes Waitsburg needs to continue to take care of the infrastructure.

An audience member asked Dunn to name three things he accomplished during his time as mayor.

Dunn said purchase of a street sweeper, the fairgrounds, and streamlining City Hall by eliminating the treasurer position were among actions the city took during his tenure.

When asked what businesses he would want to bring to Waitsburg, Dunn said they should work on bringing in businesses that pay family wages.

Dunn is a mechanic for the city of Walla Walla. He has lived in Waitsburg since 1996.

Lifelong resident Scott Nettles, 43, said he remembers walking past a drug store and a diner on his way home from school.

"There is no business here," he said of Waitsburg in 2010.

"This town was once a living, working town," he said.

"Tourism is great. We need to bring the payroll here," he said.

Nettles is a corrections officer at the Washington State Penitentiary.

The youngest candidate, 26-year-old William Potolicchio, said as an ambulance EMT, "I have proven time and again that I have sound judgment and make good decisions."

Potolicchio said the town needs to plan for making the fairgrounds more profitable to help the Days of Real Sport make up for lack of funding from the state.

The city also needs to focus on getting more young people involved, he said.

MacGregor Co. service manager Kevin House, 43, said he is interested in bringing money to town for development. He said he is interested in the potential of light industrial businesses to bring living wage jobs to Waitsburg.

House said he has had training and experience in consensus building.

Carrie Chicken can be reached at cec@innw.net or 522-5289.

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