In sync with this week’s Presidential Debate, local communities held Town Hall-style candidate’s forums where members of the public were allowed to ask questions of candidates via a moderator.
The first forum was held on Thursday, Oct. 11 in Mammoth Lakes. The Mammoth Chamber of Commerce hosted the event, which featured the two candidates for Mono County District 4 Supervisor, Bob Peters and Tim Fesko, as well as the Mammoth Unified School District Board candidates John Stavlo and Shana Stapp. The third candidate for the MUSD Board, Luis Villanueva, was unable to attend the forum.
The 90-minute forum was broken into two, 45-minute segments. The first was devoted to Peters and Fesko.
The District 4 race spilled over into the November election after neither Peters nor Fesko secured 50 percent plus one of the vote in June. The candidates have met in several public forums over the past few months, but last Thursday they aired their difference once again.
Fesko said he belives that the Board should not have such a “hands off” approach, citing his broad background and experience as good assets to the County to use in more ways than simply setting policy.
He used an example of a recent Board meeting he attended where the Board was considering purchasing two boilers for the old hospital building in Bridgeport at the tune of $125,000. Fesko suggested cheaper ways to get the job done to both staff and the BOS but was brushed off as not understanding the process.
Fesko, however, said that if a Board member has an idea on how to save the County money, he or she should voice it.
“Yes, the Board is responsible for setting policy and direction but you have to know how to get from A to B,” he elaborated.
Peters on the other hand stuck to the theory that the BOS should decide policy, “not how a rain gutter is constructed.
“Too many people are looking at the acorns, not the trees,” Peters said.
In closing statements Fesko pointed out that he has gone through county processes as a customer and therefore knows where there are strengths and weaknesses in the system.
“It’s important to have someone with passion,” he said. “I hear what people say and act on it.”
Peters closed by saying that he would support whatever the County has to do to grow its economy, whether it be support of an airline subsidy, expansion of fish enhancement, or simply protecting our biggest asset, the environment.
The forum then swung to the MUSD Board candidates.
Stapp and Stavlo discussed everything from what type of cuts they would make to balance the budget (Stavlo said teacher’s salaries, Stapp wasn’t sure how she would do it, but didn’t want to cut salaries), to what they felt was a Board member’s role in the day-to-day operations of the district (both stated “very little”).
There are two seats available on the MUSD School Board and three candidates. Stay tuned for Geisel’s interviews with each candidate one-on-one.
On Tuesday, Oct. 16, an Eastern Sierra Unified School District Board Candidates Forum, sponsored by the teacher’s union, competed with the second Presidential Debate. The crowd in the Lee Vining Elementary School gym was small, but their questions packed a punch and revealed much about the four candidates vying for two seats. Here’s a breakdown of what we heard.
Pam Haas-Duhart brings teaching experience to the table. She was an educator for 22 years and has taught in the Mono County area.
She felt that true decisions regarding budget cuts could not be made until after the election in November because of the measures on the ballot that would ultimately affect schools.
If elected, she promised to be at every school in the District at least once a month. She admitted this could be tough in the winter.
Haas-Duhart was asked if she was a California taxpayer since she has Nevada license plates on her vehicle. She said that she does pay California taxes.
“I am married to a Nevada resident, and he pays his taxes, too” she said. Her husband is a ranch hand in Smith Valley. She travels back and forth between Mono County and Nevada not only to see her husband but also to teach in Nevada at a California Charter School.
Arya Degenhardt brings youth to the table. She is currently the Communications Director for the Mono Lake Committee and stressed two main points throughout the evening:
1. Communication is critical between Board members and the community.
2. Schools are the heart of the communities in the Eastern Sierra Unified School District.
Her solutions for budget cuts included collaborating further with the Mono County Office of Education and raising revenue in new ways.
“Unique communities need unique solutions,” she said.
When it came time to discuss the district’s level of trust with the current superintendent, Don Clark, all of the other candidates wholeheartedly stated that the community did not trust Clark [because of the budget crisis that occurred within ESUSD in 2010], but Degenhardt danced around the issue.
“You always hear the bad things, so yes, I’ve heard there is a lack of trust, but time does heal and there is an earnest effort to rebuild trust,” she said.
John Peters, son of Bob Peters the District 4 candidate for Mono County Supervisor already mentioned, operates the Bridgeport Inn with his father and lives in Walker.
With his oscillating preacher’s voice, Peters demanded attention as he gave his answers.
In regard to budget cuts, he felt that budget management was in fact the real issue for the District at this time.
“The budget was reduced after the initial crisis  and is now seeing growth in the reserve,” he said. “Tightening it is not the issue right now, rebuilding is the issue.”
Peters believes that while kids need to be exposed to influences and cultures outside of the Eastern Sierra, they also need to be given the opportunity to experience what is in their own backyard.
“We need to emphasize learning,” he said.
Jimmy Little has four kids currently going through the ESUSD at different levels.
“I have a vested interest and will be living with the decisions made [within ESUSD] for at least the next decade,” he said.
He owns the Virginia Creek Settlement and got involved in District politics during the budget crisis of 2010.
He felt that the Board should work together to be more welcoming to the community, pointing out that Board meetings at this time have a negative atmosphere.
Little also stressed that kids in the ESUSD need to be prepared for the culture shock of the bigger world and stressed that there can be no cookie cutter approach in schools, as each student is unique.
Little strongly believed that the superintendent should pay close attention to the Board’s guidance.
“If the Superintendent doesn’t like the Board giving guidance then he shouldn’t work here,” Little said. He also added that in order for the community to have faith in the superintendent it needed to have faith in the Board.
Items the candidates agreed on
-The Edna Beaman Gym should be built
-Sports are an important part of education and should not be cut
-Teacher’s salaries were not known to any of them so they could not really comment on whether or not the pay was high enough
Closing statements that stuck
Little: “If I’m going to open my mouth, I’m going to step up.”
Peters: “We need to provide transparency to the taxpayers, even those without kids.”
Degenhardt: “Running is my way of saying I’m committed to our kids.”
Haas-Duhart: “Vote for me. If not I’m going to cry a lot.”