Like other races on the ballot this year in Deer Park, multiple candidates opted to challenge the incumbent in the race for City Council Position 3.
Incumbent Richard Schut, a small business owner, has served on the council for four years. One of his challengers, Mike Achurra, who moved to Deer Park four years ago and owns a lawn mowing business, is making his first run for elected office.
The other candidate, Heather Newsom, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview and has not filed any fundraising paperwork with the Public Disclosure Commission. Information submitted to the voters guide at votewa.gov lists her as a bartender for the Fraternal Order of Eagles for the last 11 years and includes this statement: “I believe in attempting to maintain the small town feel of Deer Park. Listening to citizens and making the best decisions possible for our town.”
Schut said he decided to run for City Council four years ago because he noticed incumbents often didn’t face challengers on the ballot. He filed for an empty seat.
“I wanted to offer people a choice,” he said. “Ironically, no one filed to run against me.”
He said he’s pleased to see so many people running for City Council and mayor this year.
“We have so many candidates running for each position,” Schut said. “I was so excited to see that. We need people to work at getting into these positions instead of just having it handed to them.”
Before he was elected he would occasionally attend City Council meetings to learn what he could about what was going on in the community.
“I’ve always tried to participate in City Council meetings as a resident and a voter,” he said. “I really believe in government being open and transparent and giving people open access to their elected officials.”
Schut grew up in Eastern Washington, spending time in Pateros, Deer Park, Loon Lake, Chewelah and Spokane. He was homeschooled and earned his GED in 1997. He attended Spokane Falls Community College to study graphic design but started working on movies and commercials before he finished school. He started his own business, called TrekPro, in 2002 that provides marketing and IT services to small business owners. He’s also done graphics work for local businesses, including KXLY and KHQ.
Schut said he decided to run for re-election because there’s more to do.
“There’s still a lot of things that are important that I want to get done,” he said. “There were a lot of things I’d hoped to accomplish on the City Council during my first term, but there was this little thing called a pandemic. We’ve been basically on hold for the last year and a half on many things.”
Before the pandemic hit, Schut said he was pushing to get city email accounts for all council members so citizens could contact them more easily.
“A lot of people, they would rather send an email or a text message,” he said.
The pandemic also showed that the city needs to upgrade technology, he said. Like other city councils during the pandemic, the Deer Park council met remotely. But they used a telephone system, complete with background noise from those attending that included televisions, barking dogs and yelling.
“Everybody did Zoom,” he said. “Not the Deer Park City Council.”
One of the key debates happening in Deer Park right now is whether the town needs its own police department. The city currently has a contract with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. Proponents of the idea argue that the city will get more dedicated law enforcement coverage while those with the opposing viewpoint are primarily concerned about the cost of setting up and running a police department.
Schut said he knows people aren’t happy, but he’s unsure whether a police department is the answer.
“We need to take a really close look at that and see what we can do,” he said. “That may be one of the possibilities. There needs to be a lot of work into investigating that.”
Achurra said he does not believe the city can afford its own police department, which would require the city to hire multiple officers as well as provide weapons, equipment and cars for each of them.
“A police department would bankrupt this town,” he said.
Deer Park has low violent crime numbers and primarily people have to worry about property crimes, Achurra said, which makes a police department unnecessary.
He said he’s lived in neighborhoods before where he was afraid to go outside at night, but Deer Park is safe.
“Here, I go take my dog for a walk at 11 o’clock at night and don’t have a problem,” he said.
Achurra grew up in Shoreline, Washington, where he earned his GED in 2001. He worked as a hod carrier for a while and also sold lawn mowers, among other jobs. He started his lawn mowing business, All Yards Matter, three years ago after he moved to Deer Park.
Among the reasons for his decision to run for City Council, Achurra points to a recent vote on whether to ban fireworks on the Fourth of July.
The fire chief explained why fireworks would be a bad idea in the current hot, dry conditions with a high fire danger and still two council members didn’t heed the warning and voted to allow fireworks, he said.
“There’s a fire risk like there’s never been before, in my opinion,” he said. “I feel like there are things that I would vote on differently than are being voted on now.”
Achurra said he likes raising his family in Deer Park and just wants to make the city a better place.
“I love this town,” he said. “I really don’t have an agenda. I just want to leave it better than I found it.”
Nina Culver can be reached at email@example.com.
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