[Editor’s note: This week the Inter Lake will profile each of the candidates in the contested Republican primary election for Flathead County commissioner.]
New ideas, new energy, new vision. Those are the qualities Ronalee Skees said she’ll bring to the job of county commissioner.
Skees is one of three Republicans challenging incumbent Commissioner Gary Krueger for the District 3 commission seat. The winner of the June 5 primary election will face Democrat Tom Clark in the Nov. 6 general election.
Skees said her service through nonprofit work and volunteerism has given her a foundation that would help her lead the county into the future.
Her work with the Flathead Valley Community Drug Task Force has shown her that putting offenders in the county jail isn’t the only solution to dealing with crime.
“If you build a bigger jail, you’ll fill a bigger jail,” she said. “Right now we’re faced with a huge crisis that has a bigger solution ... we need bigger solutions such as drug prevention and education, rehabilitation, reintegration into society.”
Skees wants to review the county’s feasibility study for jail options, but noted that whatever is decided should be done with community support.
“If the report says we’re in immediate crisis [for more jail space] we need to step it up, but it’s a community discussion,” she said.
Her push for more community involvement in county government extends to the 911 dispatch center as well.
“Now that we have it, we have to fund it,” Skees said. “We can’t look backward. We need to have the communities tell us how we should do that.”
At issue is how to pay for the ongoing maintenance of the 911 center. Skees said it’s frustrating because she believes the decision to build the center without a long-term funding plan was made without community input.
“There are opportunities to find what’s necessary,” she said. “A bond is one option that should be considered,” but there could be other innovative ways of paying for long-term maintenance, she added.
Growth is a big topic for the candidates in this election cycle, given the Flathead’s red-hot economy right now.
“As Flathead County grows we need to maintain our individual identity, not allow the growth to redefine our values and aspirations,” Skees said.
She faulted the current commission for responding to growth by reacting instead of a proactive approach that matches the county’s mission statement of providing “responsive and accountable services to protect and enhance the Flathead community.”
“We don’t have a road map of what the full picture should look like,” she said. “It should reflect our values. If the commissioners had a true north those decisions would be reflected” with the mission statement in mind.
Skees said the ballot initiative on the proposed Egan Slough Zoning District expansion is “a reaction, not a solution.
Voters are being asked to support the zoning district expansion in an effort to stymie the construction of a water bottling plant near Creston, but Skees is opposed to the initiative as it is written.
“It’s the only action those citizens felt they had because they weren’t listened to,” she stated. “We’re in this because the commissioners didn’t do their due diligence. We’ve got to say where our values are ... you have to let the community tell us who you are. It’s having that bigger vision.”
The bigger vision in the water bottling plant is water rights, Skees said. She sees the bottling plant as a taking, just like the tribal water compact.
Skees has a bone to pick with the current commissioners’ public-comment process; she feels it short-changes public discussion. The commissioners have a 15-minute public comment period before their daily proceedings, but discussion usually is cut off promptly after 15 minutes. Sometimes public comments during hearings are kept to a short time-frame to keep the commission agenda on schedule.
“You deserve leadership that is respectful and responsive in communication and allows for sufficient time for public comment so that all are heard in the process of policy-making and growth decisions,” Skees said.
In making financial decisions for the county, Skees said the community deserves a good steward who is accountable for all resources, including taxes.
“It’s ensuring we’re stewards of tax dollars in a way that’s respectful of the sacrifice families are making” to pay their taxes.
Known for her high-energy personality, Skees said there’s a method to harnessing that energy.
“I save it for what’s important, what I’m passionate about.”
Her community involvement drove her to run for commissioner.
“How can I take my energy and leadership to grow into the future,” she contemplated. “I want to change the world. I want to fix something.”
The county commission seemed like an excellent place to start, she added.
Features Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze
Skees wants more community input in government
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