November 11, 2012 by wcobserver
West Fork 2012 Election Recap
By Steve Winkler
There are plenty of people a lot smarter than we are here at the Observer, who will analyze, dissect and explain what last week’s election means. But no media, other than the Observer, will attempt to make some sense out of the West Fork election results.
The City Clerk and all four Position 1 seats on the city council were voted on. Also, for the first time in memory, voters were presented a ballot initiative which asked whether the autonomous water and sewer commission should be dissolved and the utility become part of city government.
The two open seats were in Ward 3 and Ward 4 and the city clerk. Wards 1 and 2 saw incumbents defending their seats.
In Ward 3, a veteran of city government, former city clerk, Susan Cooney was defeated by newcomer Shane Donahue. Cooney is an outspoken proponent of open government and the development of standard operating procedures and policies that she feels will move city hall politics away from what she has called a “family business.” She campaigned hard on the Facebook group page, “West Fork Politics” for establishing a city controlled water department. Cooney received 372 of the 847 votes cast for that seat, 43.9%. Winning 56% of the vote, with 475 votes was twenty-nine year old Shane Donahue, a long time resident of the area but politically unknown. He only occasionally commented on the facebook group. He told voters he wanted a more progressive city government but was non committal on the water and sewer issue.
Twenty year police Chief Michael Nelson, who had announced his retirement effective December 31, ran against planning commission member Robert Staats. Nelson won handily with 528 of the 841 votes cast (62.3%) for that seat which represented the lowest number of votes cast for a particular candidate. Staats was a supporter of the water and Sewer initiative, Nelson appeared noncommittal.
Sarah Setzer, a two year resident of the city, narrowly defeated incumbent Rodney Drymon in a race that reflected clearly the water and sewer divide among voters. Drymon campaigned emphasizing his support for defeating the ballot imitative. Seltzer, currently serving as City Clerk, supported the initiative and also spoke out about what she called Drymon’s disrespect for citizens that come before the council. The vote tally was Sarah Setzer, 429 (50.47%) to Drymon’s 421 (49.53%).
Incumbent Misty Caudle took a low key approach to campaigning. She didn’t use yard signs, comment on Facebook or participate in the “Meet and Greet the Candidates” event at the community center weeks before the election. One of her opponents in the three way race, Bill Sergeant, took the same approach, eschewing active campaigning. Sergeant is a volunteer fireman and served on the city council several years ago. The third candidate for the Ward 2 seat was Fred Robinson, a two year resident of the town with the highest education level among the candidates, military service and state political experience. Robinson made minimal use of yard signs and Facebook commentary. He received 209 (24.6%) of the votes for that seat. Caudle got 304 (35.8%) and Sergeant received 336 (39.5%). In that no candidate received a majority of the votes cast there will be a runoff election November 27.
The open city clerk position brought two people into that race. Lillian Winkler [daughter of Observer editor/publisher Steve Winkler] and long time resident Marsha Hungate. The twenty three year old Winkler used Facebook primarily to link voters to her website which presented her approach to digital record keeping for the city clerk’s office. She avoided involvement in the water and sewer debate and other political issues. Marsha Hungate was a vocal participant on the “West Fork Politics” page and offered opinions on a variety of topics. She supported the water and sewer initiative as well as open government. The clerk’s race brought the second most votes, 870. Hungate’s deep roots in the town and willingness to insert herself into city politics evidently appealed to voters who gave her 65% (566) of the vote over Winkler’s 34.9% (304 votes).
The clearest message sent by West Fork voters last Tuesday was a 63.3% approval of a ballot initiative to dissolve the water commission and establish a water department under city control. The largest number of voters, 908, voted for this ballot item with 575 “for” and 333 “against.” The ballot initiative was presented to voters verbally uncluttered and void of the legal jargon and ambiguity that often characterizes initiatives and referendums. The city council, whose responsibility it is to legislate, was given the task of drafting an ordinance that would reflect the voter’s instructions.
Our brief recap looks like this: The largest percentage of votes (65%) in any given contest was won by Marsha Hungate, a known figure in the community who supported the water and sewer initiative. The contest receiving the most votes (904) with the second highest percentage (63.3%) was for approval of the initiative. Seltzer, a candidate committed to dissolving the water commission, beat an incumbent who strongly opposed dissolving the commission. This upset was probably the loudest indication, other than the Initiative vote itself, that West Fork citizens want a basic change in city government. Staat’s loss to Nelson probably had more to do with name familiarity than the water /sewer initiative. Shawn Donahue’s personable style and youthful enthusiasm evidently won out over Susan Cooney’s technical knowledge of public administration, idealism and fearlessness in the face of the towns “old guard.”
The make-up of the city council won’t be known until after the runoff election which will pit two candidates already familiar to voters. Bill Sergeant, who has come riding out of the town’s past and supports the water commission and all it represents , and Misty Caudle, a supporter of dissolving the commission and who has sometimes cast rebellious, controversial votes on the council.
What’s this all mean? Our guess is no better than yours. Crawling around inside the heads of voters, speculating on motive and meaning is not something we aspire to at the Observer. Other than writing a vindictive, confrontational, searing, corrosive editorial opinion piece occasionally, we mostly just observe.