Longtime Deer Park City Councilwoman Dee Cragun says her experience will help finish important projects and mentor new members. Her opponent in November’s election, Carla Phillips, argues it’s time for a new voice.
Cragun served on the city’s planning commission before being appointed to the City Council to fill a vacant seat in 1998. She’s been on the council ever since with the exception of one year when she lost an election by 32 votes but then ran for another seat the following year and won.
Phillips, who used to live in Stevens County, hasn’t served on a City Council before but she does have some elected experience as a precinct committee officer when she lived in Loon Lake.
Cragun grew up in Seattle and visited her grandparents in Deer Park every summer starting when she was 6. She and her husband, Gale, moved to Deer Park in 1969 to help take care of her grandparents. She had a series of jobs, including seamstress and furniture store clerk, before taking a job taping sticks of dynamite to detonation cords at the Oriard Powder Co. She worked there for 20 years, retiring as the safety and compliance officer in 1995. She said she had to retire after developing severe carpal tunnel syndrome.
“I thoroughly enjoyed that job,” she said. “I really did.”
It was her retirement that helped push her into city politics. “I’m not a homemaker, per se,” she said. “I have to be involved in something outside the home.”
Phillips grew up in Florida and lived in California for many years before moving to Loon Lake in 1992 and then to Deer Park several years ago.
She began working as a licensed practical nurse at a veterans hospital in Florida before being recruited to join the Army in 1968. She served for two years and took care of soldiers returning from Vietnam.
“I thought I would be traveling the world, and they put me in New Jersey,” she said.
After her husband died she went back to school and earned an associate’s degree in business from Pasadena City College in California in the early 1970s. Shortly before she graduated she got a job offer from the U.S. Postal Service and accepted it. She worked as a mail carrier in California for 20 years and then worked out of the post office on Riverside Avenue in downtown Spokane for 10 years before she retired in 2002. Phillips then worked at the Deer Park Senior Center for four years beginning in 2005.
Phillips said she was motivated to run for the City Council after construction began on a new housing development near her home. She said she hadn’t heard anything about the proposal before then and when she tried to complain to the City Council she was told the decision to build had been made long before.
“Citizens should have a say,” she said. “I decided I’m going to start participating more. It’s upsetting because you want smart growth.”
Cragun said she’s enjoyed her time on the council and hopes to continue her work. This year she led the charge to create an ordinance to limit the use of fireworks in the city limits after years of Deer Park being one of the few areas in Spokane County that didn’t limit fireworks.
Cragun said the fireworks would go on for weeks and were disruptive. The council would discuss the issue every year and then not do anything, she said, so that’s why she pushed the issue this year. The council voted to limit the amount of time during which people can legally use fireworks. The new rule takes effect next year.
“It was like a war zone out here,” she said. “At least we did something. We’ll see what happens.”
Cragun said she thinks the council has worked well together. “You cannot have your own agenda,” she said. “It doesn’t work. The council is a whole body. You can’t do anything by yourself. We don’t see things the same way. We don’t always agree, but we sit down and talk about it.”
The key issue facing Deer Park right now is growth and maintaining and creating the infrastructure needed for that growth, Cragun said. She said it’s important to her that the community retains its small-town feel.
“Our growth has just been exploding,” she said. “We should be able to do it, at least for the next few years.”
Phillips said she agrees that growth is the biggest issue facing the small city and said she wants to focus on that. But she’d also like to work to bring in more activities for kids and would like to explore having skiing on the golf course in the winter.
She said she’d also like to see more beautification efforts around town. “We need things,” she said. “This is the only city where I don’t see flowers hanging up.”
Cragun said she wants to serve at least one more term so she can finish up a project she’s been working on for two years that may be able to get funding next year. “I committed to getting a splash pad for kids,” she said.
Overall Cragun said she’s happy to see several young people running for City Council seats this year and said she’d like to be on the council to mentor them. “I’m experienced,” she said.
Phillips said she chose to run against Cragun because she knows and supports two other people running for seats on the council, Caleb Stapp and Ron Scholz.
“She’s been on the council for 20 years,” she said of Cragun. “That’s a long time. I care about the community. I want something different for a change.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.