Sidney Young Professionals held a candidate forum on Thursday, Sept. 9 at the Sidney Elks Club for those running for office in Sidney’s November local election. Eight candidates attended the forum, including Frank Difonzo (Ward 3), Kali Godfrey (Ward 2), Ken Koffler (Ward 1), Rick Norby (Mayor), Kysa Rasmussen (Ward 2), Jason Schrader (Ward 1), Elaine Stedman (Ward 3) and Shawn Story (Ward 2).
Three of the races are for expiring terms and those elected will serve four-year terms. In Ward 1, incumbent Ken Koffler is being challenged by Jason Schrader. In Ward 2, incumbent Kysa Rasmussen will face off against Shawn Storm. In Ward 3, incumbent Janet Sergent did not file for another term but there is still competition for that seat. Elaine Stedman and Frank DiFonzo have filed to run for that seat.
Due to recent resignations, two seats are up for grabs and the winner of the election will serve the remainder of the unexpired term (two years).
In Ward 1, Joe Stevenson, who was recently selected by the council to serve after the resignation of Bryan Gartner, is unopposed and will continue to finish out the unexpired term.
In Ward 2, Kali Godfrey was chosen by council members to fill an empty seat after Dan Smith chose not to seek another term and no-one filed for that seat during the 2019 election. Because Godfrey was appointed and not elected, Montana law required that seat be placed on the 2021 ballot as well. Godfrey drew no opposition and will continue to serve out the remaining two years for the Ward 2 seat.
Mayor Rick Norby is also unopposed and will serve another term.
The first question asked if candidates thought the downtown/main street area was healthy and what changes they would like to see in that area.
Schrader said he would like to see cleaner streets city wide and possibly use inmate labor to accomplish this. Schrader also would like to see business owners improve their storefronts.
Norby said the city’s primary function was to provide residents/businesses with water, sewer and garbage. He also mentioned parks and streets. Norby said it was the function of economic development and the chamber to oversee growth and improvement of the downtown area. “Sidney is one of the best places to live in Montana. We just need to find a way to fill in the gaps and I think we’re on the right path,” said Norby.
Defonzo said sidewalks needed to be improved and said parking was also an issue that needed to be addressed.
Godfrey said there was a long list of things that could be done but said there was a fine line between where it is the private businesses’ responsibility and where local government can intervene. Godfrey said she would like to see beautification projects take place downtown but that infrastructure needs were also higher on her priority list at this time.
Koffler said the downtown area wasn’t bad but there was room for improvement. He said small communities have seen a decline in their downtown areas in the past few years.
Rasmussen also said she would like to see more beautification projects such as planters and trees. She suggested using civic or school groups to complete them.
Stedman said she agreed with most of the comments and said the city should support local businesses.
Storm said one issue that needed to be addressed is traffic control, including installing more road signs. He also suggested getting the community more involved as well.
Council members were then asked how the city can get local businesses to invest back into the the city.
Norby said a program called Main Street Montana that could help with this. Rasmussen said the city used to have a downtown board that oversaw many of these projects. Storm said much of what needed to be done will have to be done by local businesses but that the city must supply resources.
Candidates were then asked about the impact of the legalization of marijuana and its impact on the city.
Norby said he does not want marijuana sold in the city. “I have nothing against marijuana but I would like to see it sold outside the city limits,” he said. Norby said there were not very many locations within the city limits that are not near parks, schools or churches. He also said there was no current information on exactly how much money the city would receive and he was not speculating on any “windfall.” The mayor did say the marijuana issue would cause additional problems and costs for the city.
Difonzo said he was not a big fan of marijuana legalization and Schrader said marijuana should only be available via a prescription for medical use only.
According to Difonzo, the city will see the same problems with marijuana that are currently seen with alcohol. Difonzo also said he did not believe very many would set up a business, hire people and pay taxes in order to sell marijuana when they can do so illegally out the back door without the expenses and red tape. He also said he would not be a part of any hasty actions and even suggested the city may need to delay issuing licenses until a workable plan for it had been created.
The Sidney Herald will continue this story in Part 2, which will appear in Wednesday’s edition.