July 9, 2009 in Washington Voices

Four vie for Medical Lake mayor

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Candidate forum

The Friends of the Library in Medical Lake will have a Primary Candidate Forum on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of City Hall, 124 S. Lefevre St. For more information, call Judy Abbott at (509) 299-3965.

Primary ballots will be mailed starting July 29 and must be postmarked by Aug. 18.

During the primary election, voters will be asked to whittle their choices for mayor down to two candidates out of the four that are running for the office – Tony Harbolt, John Higgins, Laura Parsons and Mikeal Suniga.

The office of mayor pays a monthly stipend of $700.

In city council races, incumbents Brenda Redell, Shirley Maike and Jeffry King are running unopposed. Incumbent Arthur “AJ” Burton and his opponent, Angie M. Keith, will both move on to the general election.

Tony Harbolt: The former chief of police in Medical Lake is running for mayor. Harbolt, 43, was police chief for five years before he left to work as a corrections officer for the state Department of Corrections.

“(I wanted to) find a way to serve in a different capacity,” he said of his decision to seek elected office.

Harbolt said that firefighting, emergency medical services and law enforcement need to be priorities, as well as Medical Lake’s downtown

“There needs to be some revitalization effort in downtown Medical Lake,” he said.

He said he would like to host public forums to encourage community involvement, especially from military residents who may have different perspectives on how a city should operate because they lived in other communities before coming to Medical Lake.

Harbolt said he has experience in crisis management, has attended three years of college, obtained certificates in emergency management, preparedness and response and one day hopes to earn a degree in education to teach elementary school children.

If elected, he said that he would have an open door policy.

“As their mayor, I want their help in city management,” he said.

John Higgins: The incumbent, John Higgins, 62, said he is proud of what he has accomplished during his first term as mayor.

He said that he and city staff have worked to secure grants for street improvements, have started installing solar-powered aerators in Medical Lake to keep oxygen circulating in the lake water and have worked hard to establish the new State Veterans Cemetery – a $9 million project – in Medical Lake. The city is also in negotiations with the city of Spokane to have emergency access to the new well on Craig Road.

“I think I’ve done the best job that I can do,” Higgins said.

Higgins said the city must decide soon whether to hire a police chief or contract with the county for policing services. The city has been without a police chief for more than a year and a half and Higgins cited what happened with Sgt. Joe Mehrens as an example of what happens to a department when there is no supervision.

“(I have to) protect the city, liability-wise,” Higgins said.

Mehrens resigned June 5 as the city’s interim police chief after entering an Alford plea in April to fourth-degree assault against a female city worker who claimed he touched her breast at work. Under an Alford plea, a defendant admits no guilt but acknowledges prosecutors have enough evidence to convict.

During the search for a police chief, the city has received four applications and Higgins even offered the job to one of them. Unfortunately, that applicant immediately asked for a raise, so Higgins couldn’t hire him.

He said that if the city decides to seek a contract with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, he will work hard to make sure the city’s police officers still have jobs.

Higgins would like more businesses and community investment in Medical Lake.

Higgins retired from the Medical Lake School District and Eastern State Hospital. He also served in the military.

“When I was a kid, (Medical Lake) was a great place to grow up,” he said. Higgins is a third generation resident. He said that, in his first term, Medical Lake built a skate park for kids, and he would like to use a second term to find more youth-oriented activities.

He credits much of the city’s efficiencies to its staff, who juggle multiple duties.

“There are a lot of good people here.”

Laura Parsons: Former council member Laura Parsons, 48, says she’s ready for the top job.

“It seemed like the time was right,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed public service.”

Parsons, a home health care worker, served on the council from 1998 through 2005 and resigned to care for her parents.

She said she has served on the Solid Waste Liaison Board, the Spokane Transit Council and is a certified union civil leader with the Association of Washington Cities.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology, a master’s degree in public administration and is currently working on a master’s degree in urban and regional planning.

She feels that the city should contract with Spokane County for policing services and wants to have a full-time fire department.

“Having a fire department is really important,” she said.

Parsons also wants to bring more visitors and money to Medical Lake by nurturing its art community. She said there are already some events that attract visitors, such as Founder’s Day, a bluegrass festival and mini-triathlon, but the city could do more to bring in visitors.

Parsons has lived in Medical Lake for 21 years. She first moved to town when she was married and raising her two children.

“It’s a really good place to raise families,” she said.

Mikeal Suniga: The youngest candidate for the mayor’s office is 27-year-old Mikeal Suniga, a police officer in Airway Heights.

If elected, Suniga said he would hold a town hall meeting to find out what the concerns of the community members are.

“I think our city’s great, but I think there are things that need to be changed,” he said.

Among them is greater service and cooperation, he said, explaining that he would like to enable residents to pay their bills with the city online, work with the surrounding communities of Four Lakes, Airway Heights and Cheney to discuss water issues, improve communication throughout the city and strengthen the relationships with neighboring communities.

Suniga served as a volunteer police officer in Medical Lake, and is in the Air National Guard. He will be deployed to Southeast Asia soon for about six months and, if elected, the current mayor of the city would stay in office until his return. He is restricted from giving too many specifics about his deployment.

He moved to Medical Lake as a fifth-grader, when his father was in the military. He said he likes the small town feel of the city and its feeling of safety. He also enjoys the community spirit during events such as Founder’s Day.

“I love that we can come out here and do stuff like this (Founder’s Day),” he said.


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