Scrumptious hot dogs and political banter went hand in hand during a “meet and greet” in which high country voters were able to come face to face with seven of the eight candidates running for seats on the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District governing board.
Candidate Don Smith, a longtime dentist who previously served two terms on the PSWID board, could not attend the April 19 meeting due to other obligations.
The meet and greet unfolded in the shade of the Pine Senior Center ramada where candidates Tom Weeks, Sam Schwalm, Trent McNeeley, Paul Randall, Richard James, Larry Bagshaw and Rus Brock listened patiently to water users’ concerns.
Organizers didn’t offer attendance numbers, but Ric Hawthorne of the high country water advocacy group Moving PSWID Forward, turned to hot dogs to estimate attendance. “We served over 200 so it is a good turnout” Hawthorne said at midday.
Schwalm called attendance “decent” saying “It’s always hard to anticipate how many will show up on a Saturday in April.”
Pam Mason, also a member of Moving PSWID Forward is confident the meet and greet was beneficial and productive for both candidates and voters.
“Members of the public seemed pleased to be able to meet and talk to the candidates face to face,” she said. “The candidates were busy answering questions, listening hard and explaining their ideas.”
As voters strolled from candidate to candidate during the four-hour get-together, the contenders — who were stationed at various tables under the ramada — listened carefully, some penning notes on legal pads.
Schwalm, a member of the previous governing board that was dissolved last fall when five members resigned while facing recall, said those he talked to “were interested in knowing where PSWID needs to go in the future.”
Also, he added, “Some folks were concerned about the current costs of water service and whether there is anything that can be done about that.”
The meet and greet was a culmination of sorts for the recall movement that began last year against four board members. Five board members eventually resigned. Most of the current board candidates were among those set to run in the recall election had it been held.
Brock, a Vietnam veteran who worked for Salt River Project for 23 years, says the controversy surrounding some previous board members was his motivation to throw his hat in the ring.
“One of the biggest reasons I am running is because of the lack of trust and confidence in the previous board, brought on, in my opinion, largely by their own actions,” he said. “During my attendance at board meetings, I saw members who were defensive, anything but transparent and in some cases disrespectful to the constituents they were elected to serve. That is not what the rate and taxpayers of the district expect or deserve.”
Just three months ago the Gila County Board of Supervisors ordered a five-year audit of PSWID’s finances.
It has yet to be completed.
The special election to select the new board will be held on May 20. The county recorder’s office began mailing out special election ballots yesterday, April 24.
For those who misplace their ballots or have questions, the recorder’s office will set up a “replacement site” from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 20 at the First Baptist Church of Pine. Also, the recorder’s office will have a replacement site open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 24 to May 20 at their office located at 201 W. Frontier in Payson.
For further information, call Gila County at 1-800-304-4452.