After a departure and the primary election defeat of two incumbents, Kalama voters are choosing among six candidates to fill three City Council seats.
And with the August appointment of Jon Stanfill to a vacant seat, the five-member council will have four new members.
The crowded field of contenders is a result of the controversy over how to pay for and build the new $2.7 million police station, which opened at Maruhn Park in the spring.
It was largely over those decisions — which also gave rise to complaints that the council didn’t listen to citizens — that incumbents Rosemary Siipola and Mary Putka were voted out of office in the August primary.
Here’s a look at the three contested races.
Position 3: Wendy Conradi v. Sara Hutchinson
Conradi and Hutchinson are vying for the seat of Councilman Mike Dennis-Langham, who is not seeking re-election.
Hutchinson, owner of Better Health Massage, touts her 12 years of community involvement, most recently as an ardent opponent of locating the police station at Maruhn Park. She said she would favor giving Kalama citizens the right to petition and referendum if elected, which opponents wanted to use to block the station decision.
“The citizens thought they had that right and it was turned down. That needs to be done,” she said.
Conradi, a nurse at PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center, said she will bring a fresh perspective to the council. She said she’s used to a high-stress job and working with others to overcome differences of opinion.
“I don’t have a personal agenda. I want what’s best for Kalama,” she said. “A new council will be an opportunity to build trust back with the citizens.”
Both Conradi and Hutchinson oppose new or increased taxes on residents. Hutchinson said she still needs a better understanding of how the city can bring in revenue but would encourage the staff to pursue any grants they can.
Conradi said tax increases take a toll on those on fixed income and even routine increases need explanation and review.
Position 4: Steve Kallio v. John Flynn
Flynn and Kallio are competing for Siipola’s seat,
Kallio, a WestRock millwright and wrestling coach, has lived in Kalama almost his entire life, and he wants to see it thrive.
Flynn moved to town about nine years ago after retiring. He said he began attending council meetings and becoming involved in area environmental groups about four years ago. He said his work history with Union Pacific Railroad makes him a good candidate because he worked with public agencies and a variety of people and personalities.
“I think I’m able to listen and take contributions before making a decision,” he said.
Flynn said the city has limited revenue sources, and the council needs to make it clear to the citizens that if they want improved or increased services they need to make that choice and pay for them.
Kallio said he doesn’t want to raise taxes, but he said the council will need to work out a way to fund street repairs if the Initiative 976 to decrease car tab fees statewide passes.
Both agree that communication with the citizens needs to improve.
“The vast majority of people feel ignored,” Kallio said. “Hopefully the council can do something to get away from that and rebuild that bridge.”
Position 5: Tanaja Gravina v. Matthew Merz
Merz and Gravina are facing off for Councilwoman Mary Putka’s seat.
As a homeowner with two young children, Gravina said her long-term vested interest in Kalama makes her the best candidate. She said she hopes voters can set aside partisan leanings and choose the candidate who would best address the issues that face the town.
Merz, who has lived in Kalama for about two years after moving back and forth through the area, said the difference between candidates comes down to what they consider to be in the best interest of Kalama.
“Kalama as a community raises very good people that care about their community,” he said. “They deserve representation that has great regard for them and their tax dollars.”
Merz, like most of the other council candidates, said he would like to decrease the city’s budget by reviewing expenditures and cutting spending where possible. But neither he nor the others targeted any specific cuts.
Gravina said the council’s biggest challenge is communicating better and needs to be more proactive in getting information to residents who don’t attend council meetings.
Amalak and the League of Women Voters will be holding a candidate forum for City Council and Port of Kalama candidates at 7 p.m. Monday at the Community Building.
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