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Students grill Liberty Lake council, mayor candidates

Candidates running for office in the Valley area had their work cut out for them Monday at Central Valley High School.

The Rally in the Valley, a student-led exercise in grass-roots and local politics, featured a debate between candidates in Liberty Lake.

Moderated by CVHS students Tyler Herbst and Lucas Schneidmiller, candidates needed to bone up on their local issues, because the students certainly had.

The first debate was between Keith Kopelson and Shane Brickner for Liberty Lake City Council position 5. Each had a minute and a half to introduce themselves before answering questions from the students.

Kopelson, 46, said he has lived in Liberty Lake for seven years and spent 25 years working in retail sales. He is active in the Rotary Club and the Liberty Lake Merchants’ Association.

He said he is running for City Council because he recognizes the value of his community and wants to stand up and share his life’s experiences.

“The grass is always greener in Liberty Lake,” Kopelson said. “Let’s keep it that way.”

Brickner, 36, said it has always been his motto to be part of the solution, not the problem. When he first moved to Liberty Lake, there was no Little League and he helped start one. He also works as a volunteer police officer with the city.

“We’ve been blessed to live where we live and give back to the community,” he said.

The first round of questions involved Proposition 1, which is before the voters next month. The measure would change the form of government in Liberty Lake from a mayor/council system to a city manager/council form.

“I’m very much in favor of Proposition 1,” Kopelson said. He said it was important for the city to have someone with experience in running a city who can be removed by the City Council if need be. Brickner agreed with Kopelson, stating that he feels the city needs to be watched over.

Another question posed to the candidates was if the city should increase taxes on its residents or cut its services in these tough economic times.

Brickner said he understood the reasons behind the city’s decision to implement a 6 percent utility tax at the beginning of the year. “I don’t like it,” he added.

He said the city has been making decisions for the short term and hopes in the future they can reduce taxes.

Kopelson said he hopes to revisit the utility tax and to find a balance between what the community expects and what residents can afford.

The students asked if the candidates believed the 6 percent utility tax was driving away business in the Liberty Lake area.

“We would all like to see that end,” Brickner said of the tax.

Kopelson said he thought it was wrong to implement the tax without discussing it with the business community.

The second debate was between mayoral candidates Josh Beckett and Steve Peterson.

Peterson, 61, was introduced first. He moved to Liberty Lake in 1998 and has three children and four grandchildren.

“I truly love my community’s way of life,” he said.

He was the city’s first mayor and said he wants to provide a safe, clean and green community, bring in businesses and create jobs and restore the public’s trust.

Peterson said it is important for residents to get involved in their communities to make them a better place, “until you (youths) are ready to take over.”

“I’m ready to take over,” Beckett replied.

Beckett, 33, was elected to the City Council in 2009 and said he decided to run for the office when Mayor Wendy Van Orman decided not to run for re-election.

He said he was on the council to shake things up and wanted to improve “static conditions” and “stagnant leadership.”

When the students asked the candidates what they thought about Proposition 1, both opposed changing the city’s government.

“The problem isn’t the form of government,” Beckett said. “It’s the leadership we have there.”

Peterson said there is leadership missing from the council and government and said what the city really needs is a strong mayor with vision and experience.

Peterson said he was the only person to oppose the utility tax during the council meeting when the decision was made. He felt there was no reason for it and now the funds are sitting in the bank.

Beckett countered that the funds were being used to provide a high level of service to the city’s residents.

Peterson said the tax drives away business and it should not be extended. Beckett said the city has recently seen a new call center move to the area with 600 new jobs.

An audience member asked what they would do about discord and acrimony in the City Council.

Beckett admitted the meetings tend to be dysfunctional and said it could be frustrating. He said he didn’t know if the other members of the council feel that way.

Peterson said he wants to cure the dysfunction by making sure the council is on the same page in its vision for the city’s future by educating everyone on the needs of the community.

Another question was whether Liberty Lake should start its own school district.

Beckett said the idea of forming the city’s own school district was flawed – it would take an act of the Legislature to do that. He said overcrowding should be dealt with by working with the Central Valley School District. He has heard many people say they wouldn’t support a bond unless it builds a new school in the Liberty Lake area.

“We have to start passing bonds,” Beckett said.

Peterson said he supports the Central Valley School District and doesn’t believe Liberty Lake should form its own district.

Ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 8 and will be mailed to voters on Oct. 19.

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