By Chris Henderson
Gold Bar voters will have two mayoral candidates to choose between in November’s election.
Elizabeth LaZella, 63, and Linda Loen, 57, both filed for candidacy during Snohomish County’s special three-day filing session held in August, after no candidates had stepped forward during the regular filing period.
Another resident, Larry Dum, also filed during the special session but has since decided not to run. His name will appear on the ballot because it was too late to withdraw when he made his decision, but he is no longer seeking office.
Both candidates were recently given the opportunity to discuss what their priorities would be if they were elected to office. The priorities of both were strikingly similar: settle current litigation against the city; analyze the city water system; and restore good financial standing to the city of Gold Bar.
Elizabeth LaZella comes from a military family, and has a background working for the federal government in the medical field. She is retired and has lived in Gold Bar for nearly twenty years. She served briefly on the city council before resigning in February of this year. LaZella cited health issues as the reason for her resignation, as well as her dissatisfaction with the state of Gold Bar’s city government. She feels that she could be more effective as mayor than a city councilperson.
LaZella stated that her top priorities are centered on issues which affect the safety, health and well-being of the citizens. At the top of that list is Gold Bar’s city water system. LaZella wants to make sure that the water system gets careful attention along with any necessary repairs and upgrades.
“Right now the wells are the main priority,” said LaZella. “I want to make sure that the wells are well-maintained.”
LaZella’s concerns with the finances stem partly from theft that occurred last year, in which more than $400,000 was stolen from the bank accounts via fraudulent wire transfers, some of which has been recovered.
She hopes to determine from which city fund the money was taken. She is concerned that water fund monies have been incorrectly added to the city’s general fund.
“Did the money that was recovered go back into the right place? My goal is to find out where the money was taken from and put it back,” said LaZella.
LaZella also hopes to institute new policy to help the city save money. During her time on council, she said, she was instrumental in lowering the cost of the city’s cell phone plan, and also lowering operating costs within one of city’s public park areas.
LaZella wants to resolve the litigation faced by the city, primarily concerning the release of public records requested by Gold Bar resident Anne Block. These issues began in 2009 after the city water system was shut down by a disgruntled ex-employee, and Block requested public records pertaining to the incident. The employee had been placed on leave while the city investigated misuse of his city credit card when the incident with the wells occurred.
Block has yet to receive what she alleges are additional public records to which she is entitled.
In 2010 the city of Gold Bar spent approximately $70,000 responding to public records requests.
“I don’t care if it takes me 18 months to read them all,” said LaZella, referring to the alleged public records in question. “Every single one of them is going to be turned over to her.”
If the city gives them to her, she’s got no reason to continue suing the city, said LaZella.
However, with the litigation already pending in court, it may not be up to any one individual to turn over the records in question. A judge has recently granted Block an in-camera review, meaning the judge will review all the records the city is withholding on grounds of legal privilege or other exemptions. Block alleges the city has been trying to request that no in-camera review be done.
The judge will make an official determination over what can be released to the public and what cannot.
LaZella hopes that the litigation can be resolved and that the city can move forward. She is quick to deny that she sides with either of the parties involved in the litigation, and said that this is the primary reason she wants to be mayor.
“Everybody thinks that because I like Anne Block and Susan Forbes and Joan Amenn, that I’m their shoe-in,” said LaZella. “They didn’t put me up to this. I thought about this a long time.”
NEW PUBLIC RECORDS PROCEDURE
LaZella supports transparent government and would work to streamline access to public records should anyone request them. She stressed the importance of compliance to the public records act.
“That is federal law. That is not state law; that’s federal law,” said LaZella. “The reason they do that is they don’t want people going around and doing sneaky stuff under the citizens’ noses.”
LaZella discussed incorporating a policy in which public records such as emails or other correspondence would be copied to her at all times and printed out at the end of each day with the hard-copies permanently filed.
Ideas that LaZella has for the city include seeking a part-time grant writer, working with the Sheriff’s Department to ensure stronger code enforcement policy, cutting back hours at City Hall, reviewing the pay structure of city employees and most of all, working with the citizens of Gold Bar.
“I like to listen to people. I would love to have citizens email me. I would love to have citizens call me on the phone and ask questions,” said LaZella. “To me, that’s important. I work for them.”
On being mayor, LaZella stated, “I view it as a great adventure and a full time job.”
She is interested in promoting growth within the community, but growth that is feasible for a city like Gold Bar; a coffee shop, a bakery, or a fast-food restaurant, any of which she feels would be a viable goal for the city to work towards.
“Every town has to grow. If you don’t, you’re going to slowly but surely die,” said LaZella.
Loen, 57, has lived in Gold Bar for six years and in Washington for approximately 10 years. Loen served over 12 years in the Air Force, and after her service graduated from the University of Las Vegas with an accounting degree. She feels that her background in accounting can be greatly beneficial to the city, and she hopes to help the city regain the trust and contentment of the citizens. She feels that she can bring to the government of Gold Bar a fresh outlook, as someone who has not been entrenched in any of the past conflict within the city.
It is Loen’s love for the forest, mountains and outdoors that led her to Gold Bar.
Loen’s partner, Tom Palmer, is running for a seat on the city council.
Loen feels that upgrades to Gold Bar’s water system are critical. She is currently researching what types of maintenance have been done recently, if any.
If elected mayor, she also plans to examine the city water billing system thoroughly, in order to better understand how residents are billed and how the water funds are managed.
“Water is Gold Bar’s only real source of revenue,” said Loen.
Loen has committed herself to analyzing the state auditor reports which examine all aspects of the city’s budget. She stated that she will make sure that basic accounting principles are reestablished in the city of Gold Bar.
Every penny of taxpayer money needs to be accounted for and backed up by the appropriate documentation, said Loen. As mayor, Loen would strongly enforce all methods of accountability; all city projects would be outlined by specific contracts, additional expenditures would require purchase orders, and she would require receipts to back up all incidental expenses.
“Any kind of expenditure, I need to have receipts,” said Loen. “You have to have the receipts.”
Loen is aware of the fraudulent expenditures which occurred on the city credit card in 2009, which led to the alleged well tampering, and would take additional precautions to ensure that nothing like that could ever happen again.
“If they have a gas card, I want to see gas receipts,” said Loen.
Loen wishes to resolve the current litigation against the city of Gold Bar, and feels that being an outsider, stepping in, just may work in her favor. She has become familiar with the issues that occurred when the city’s water system was shut down, and has concerns about the way things were handled at that time.
An 11-year Gold Bar city employee allegedly tampered with the wells, causing a shutdown, after he was placed on leave. Although the employee was being investigated at the time for unauthorized use of his city credit card when the alleged tampering occurred, Snohomish County prosecutors declined to file charges.
Anne Block has alleged that the city did not inform either the citizens or the health department in a timely manner after discovering the wells had been tampered with, and feels that the city potentially risked the safety of the community.
Loen listened to a recording of a February 2009 Gold Bar city council meeting in which Block and other residents stated their concerns.
“Right now, everyone thinks Anne Block is the enemy. I don’t know. Maybe she’s not,” said Loen.
Loen has resolved to research and attempt to learn how far the public records act extends, acknowledging that not all records can be disclosed.
Loen’s goal is to work towards discovering the truth, and to seek amenable resolution for all sides of the issue, she said. She wants to do her best to maintain an open government and hopes that the citizens will be willing to give her the opportunity to get Gold Bar back on its feet.
“There’s so much more Gold Bar can do with the money than litigation,” said Loen.
NEW PUBLIC RECORDS PROCEDURE
Loen has ideas in regards to incorporating new policies and procedures surrounding public records, disclosure of documents, and keeping government open.
She discussed taking public records, emails and other correspondence and utilizing a computer program which would upload everything to the internet on a daily basis. The documents would be available to anybody who had access to a computer.
“The best I can do is open up everything and let the chips fall,” said Loen.
Loen wants to work to find ways to enhance the natural beauty of the city and want to learn more about developing the recreational aspects of the area while preserving Gold Bar’s small town appeal.
“The very nature of what it is and where it is, is why Gold Bar is such a great place,” said Loen. “It’s small, it’s quaint… It’s the gateway to the Cascades.”
She also wishes to work with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office to strengthen code enforcement policy and to work with the local business owners, to seek ways to make the city better for both residents and tourists who come through.
Clearing away the gossip and the “drama” are important to Loen. She feels that being elected will give her the opportunity to create positive change.
“Until I actually get into the office, all I have is this word-salad that’s being thrown out there to everybody, and hardly any facts to go by,” said Loen.