(Wright, Wyo.) If there's one thing all the current candidates for Wright's Town Council can agree upon, it's that the people of Wright are irreplaceable.
Councilman Nelson Litaba, along with candidates Cindy Arndt, Michael Phipps, and Doug Schrader (left to right, above) answered questions Tuesday night at Wright's Town Hall, part of a candidate forum put together by Nolene Wright, whose great-grandfather helped form the town.
There are two council seats up for grabs in the upcoming election. Litaba is an incumbent, but Councilwoman Lori Gilbertson is not running for re-election. Four others are also vying for a spot on the council. (Justin Robb was unavailable to make it to Tuesday night's forum as he was out of town.)
Questions were submitted mostly by members of the Senior Center, since -- according to Nolene -- seniors always come up with the best questions. One such question was pretty easy for everyone to answer: What they liked best about Wright. And that's when unanimously all candidates present said the town, and the relationships they've built within the community of Wright, is like a family.
Phipps said that he decided not to take a buyout and move, because after living 10 years in Wright, there's no where else he'd like to raise his kids. He also thinks that for a small town, Wright has a lot of "big city" amenities. Schrader agreed and added that: "We have a super bunch of great facilities. Not a lot of towns our size has the things we have."
In addition to being asked whether or not the 2% lodging tax is too high (everyone agreed that it was just right and valuable to bringing money in to the town,) candidates were asked about parks beautification, where they'd make cuts to the budget, and how they would prioritize contracting work outside of town versus relying on local labor.
Volunteers lined up in front of the panel with the subjects "Town Buildings," "Roads," "Staffing," "Ag complex," "Parks," and "Golf Course," with each candidate being asked to arrange the topics by order of importance to them.
Right away Litaba grouped projects like the new agricultural complex, parks, and the golf course at the bottom, with "Staffing, infrastructure, and road maintenance" being his top three priorities. Arndt agreed she'd pick that same order, but Phipps said he would prioritize the golf course over parks, because the former could bring in more money to the economy than the latter if given the proper attention.
Schrader admitted that he doesn't know enough about each project to feel qualified to rank them, it would depend on how much money each one brings in.
"If the ag complex brings in enough money to support itself, then its priority would get moved to the bottom," he explained.
One cost-saving measure that is of particular concern, especially considering Tatanka Park was just stopped up again on Monday with mud shoved in to the bathroom facilities, is park vandalism. The money spent to clean up graffiti and replace broken sinks and other items that have been repeatedly destroyed by unknown persons has become a real problem.
Schrader was the first person asked the question of how to decrease vandalism in town, and he suggested both increased patrols from Sheriff's deputies, and community members speaking up when they see something happening.
Litaba pointed out that the council has already begun discussing whether or not surveillance cameras should be added to the parks. He admitted that it would take away some privacy from citizens, but they would also be able to find out who keeps vandalizing public property, and hold them accountable for the costs.
Arndt and Phipps agreed that the cameras are an excellent deterrent and are glad the council is already talking about installing something. "Like a trail camera that could send footage to an email address," said Phipps.
When asked how they were prepping for office, most said that in addition to talking to the community and asking people what they want or need from their Town Council, they are also attending council meetings. In Arndt's case she is "taking a personal inventory" of her talents and abilities, to see what best will serve Wright.
Litaba said that when he first joined the council, there were projects on the schedule, and "2 or 3" of them are still left unfinished. He wants to continue to be a part of that growth.
"Since I was here for the fat times, I'll stay for the lean times, too."