A few months ago, it seemed no one wanted to be the mayor of Latah or a member of the Town Council.
A May deadline came and went with no one filing to run for mayor or any of the four council positions that are up for election this year. Some residents, including a sitting councilman, suggested the town should disincorporate and ask the county to take over services such as road maintenance.
But a three-day special filing window gave residents a second chance – after the primary would have taken place – and 10 people stepped forward to represent the town of 200 in southern Spokane County. The candidates now are squaring off in the general election.
“The people responded to the need,” said Michael VanHeel, who’s running for Position 5 on the council. “Folks down here are very good at helping one another in times of need.”
VanHeel said he wasn’t aware of the looming government vacancies until he saw stories about the issue in The Spokesman-Review and the Inlander.
“That concerned me,” he said. “(Latah) is a great place to live, and I’d like to do my part to help keep it that way.”
VanHeel moved to Latah in 2004 after meeting his wife, who was a resident of the town. For a while, he split his time between Latah and Colbert, where he spent 36 years with Spokane County Fire District 9 before retiring in 2013 as a deputy chief. The 63-year-old has never run for office but said he’d be happy to keep watch over the town’s budget, which he noted is “extremely limited.”
“There’s just not a lot of money there to spread around, but it does get the job done,” he said. “We do have the town clerk, and we plow the streets, and we maintain the streets, and there’s grant funding … and there is an attempt to build the community with community meetings and get-togethers.”
VanHeel and Yvonne Warren, a former Latah councilwoman who’s running again for Position 4, said they value local governance and are staunchly opposed to disincorporation.
Warren, 59, worked as a disability advocate in Chico, California, before moving to Latah 12 years ago.
“It was a nice change of lifestyle,” she said. “I think it’s important to maintain this small community.”
The other Latah Town Council candidates are Carole Meissner, Patricia Neumann, Steve Leitz, Melanie Meagher, Dan Keller and Jennifer Embry. Embry’s husband, Chuck, is running for mayor against Teresa Galvin.
Ballots are due to the elections office Tuesday.