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Future of downtown Shelton among topics at debate

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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City, port, school board candidates square off at chamber forum

Graduation rates, downtown Shelton improvements and transparency with the public were among the topics tackled by candidates at a forum Oct. 15 at Shelton High School.

About 60 people attended the debate, which was hosted by the Shelton Mason County Chamber of Commerce, Hood Canal Communications and Mason WebTV.


Marilyn Vogler is challenging Mayor Gary Cronce for a term on the Shelton City Commission, and incumbent Commissioner Mike Olsen is competing against Kathy McDowell.

In her opening statement, Vogler said she is concerned so much of the discussion has focused on the city's utility rates.

"Don't let this race be a one-issue race," Vogler said. "There's so much more. You are so much more than the ratepayers."

During his opening statement, Cronce touted upcoming projects in the city, including the new mill being built by Sierra Pacific Industries on the Shelton waterfront, the recently released visioning plan for the downtown, and the Shelton Hills development. He said he helped bring millions of dollars worth of grants to Shelton to pay for infrastructure.

Olsen stressed his involvement with boards outside the city commission. He is chairman of both the Mason County Board of Health Board of Directors and the Mason Transit Authority Board of Directors. He is also a member of the Mason County Substance Abuse and Mental Health Advisory Board.

McDowell said she is a common-sense person who will listen to people and represent their interests on the commission.

The two mayoral candidates were asked to pick a top priority from the city's recent downtown vision plan.

Vogler said it's important for the city to accomplish something quickly because the city has a reputation for conducting studies and then shelving them for lack of money. She suggested the city reconfigure and restripe Railroad Avenue, which would be inexpensive and increase parking spots.

Cronce agreed such a project would be a good start. The residents will tell the city which projects to tackle, he said.

Olsen and McDowell were asked about Shelton being the only town in Washington governed by a three-member commission.

McDowell said the system "works OK" With a five-person commission, the city would have to pay two more salaries, she said.

"You would still have the same personality problems you have with three people," she said.

Olsen said he would like to see the commission expanded to a seven-member council. He said he will pursue the city making the change whether he is elected or not.

"With three people, we can't (legally) talk to each other" outside meetings, he said. "We have a quorum when it's two of us."

All four commission candidates were asked to name an ordinance they would set in place, or revoke.

Vogler said she favors the commission changing its procedures to those conducted by the Mason County Commission, which has open discussions with staff members and the public at Monday meetings, and then make decisions at Tuesday meetings.

"There's more give-and-take," she said.

Cronce said he would put a moratorium on many of the fees required of developers in the city.

Olsen said he would make it easier for developers to build smaller units in Shelton, such as duplexes, for millennials and seniors. He said he also favors waiving the demolition fees for developers to level dilapidated houses.

McDowell said she would make changes at the city's building department to cut regulations and lower expenses for developers.

"It's gotten to be too hard to build here in Shelton," she said.


Challenger Sue Patterson and incumbent Tom Wallitner are competing for a seat on the Port of Shelton Commission.

"I think the communication between the port and the public has been appalling," Patterson said during her opening comments.

Patterson said she wants to see the commission conduct more open meetings, including its work sessions. The two opportunities for the public to speak at port meetings are inadequate, because they occur before and after business is conducted, she said.

Wallitner said the residents have opportunities at the meetings to comment.

Anyone can also call him with questions, he said.

"I don't believe we're not transparent.... Come on, ask anything you want," he said.

Wallitner said the current commission is a successful group. About 18,000 people attended the recent OysterFest as it debuted on the Portowned Sanderson Field, and sales by vendors were up by about 30 percent, he said.

"They're very pleased with the venue," he said of the festival organizers.


Incumbents Sandy Tarzwell and Cheryl Williams are competing for a four-year term representing District 1. Terry C. Miller and Keri Davidson are competing for a four-year term for position 2 on the board. Sally Brown-field and Bill Shanahan are competing for a two-year unexpired term for position 1 on the board. Ross Gallagher and Ginger Seslar are competing for a four-year term representing District 2.

Brownfield was the only candidate who did not to attend the forum.

Tarzwell, who was appointed by the board to fill an unexpired term, said she wants the district to achieve "a higher level of unity and communication."

She pointed out recent successes in the district, including the construction of the Teresa Johnson Trail (Shelton Creek Trail) and the joint agreement by the district and Mason General Hospital & Family of Clinics to save the swimming pool from closure.

Williams is seeking a second term.

"We've made some hard decisions over my four years on the board," she said. "Hopefully, we've made the right ones, and I think we have."

Williams said she enjoys engaging with the public on school matters, including on her trips into Fred Meyer.

"I like the questions," she said. "I like to debate."

Miller said students graduating from the district need to "be prepared to move onto the next aspect of their life," whether it's college or into the work force.

Adequate facilities, the safety of the students and high educational standards are the district's top priorities, Miller said.

Davidson said the district's top priorities include addressing overspending and aging facilities, and improving relationships with the community.

The relationship between the board and the residents has been strained for a few years, and can be improved through better communication, she said.

Davidson said the increase in the district's graduation rate from 69 percent in 2009 to 80 percent in 2014 is nice, but it should be higher, she said.

"You have to strive for excellence," she said.

Shanahan, who works as a substitute teacher in the Shelton School District, said investing in preschool and kindergarten programs will help raise the graduation rate in the district.

"Studies show Early Childhood Education is crucial," he said.

Teachers are handicapped by the amount of time needed for standardized tests, and it takes away from their creativity, Shanahan said.

"I haven't met a teacher yet who is in favor of standardized tests," he said.

The top priorities in the district include having 21st century technology for students, establishing program partnerships in the community and keeping students in school, Shanahan said.

Gallagher stressed the success of the district during his three terms on the school board. The district passed all its levies during that period, he said.

Gallagher said he is involved with helping local children through his work with the Kiwanis Club.

"The board has to be engaged in the community," he said.

Seslar pointed out that she knows CHOICE Alternative School students through her job as the farm and garden education manager at the HOPE Garden Project, and teachers and principals as a member of the PTSO at Evergreen Elementary and Olympic Middle School.

"I keep up to date with their thoughts and feelings," she said.

Board members should show up to district events and be accessible to the public, Seslar said.

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Original Publication Date: October 22, 2015

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