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Busy ballot awaits Wilkeson voters

Wilkeson voters will decide four Town Council races when they head to the general election polls Nov. 4.

Council Position No. 1

James Walker

Walker keeps coming back to serve the city. He has been on the Town Council before, and was appointed earlier this year to fill a vacant seat. "I like the town of Wilkeson," he said, explaining he has lived in town since 1957, raised a family and has enjoyed the experience. Over the years, he's worked on behalf of the Booster Club, Eagles Club and PTA.

Walker is satisfied with the way the town has been governed and hasn't set his sights on making any major changes. "I'll do my part to keep it going," he said, adding, "we don't have the room to do much expanding." If the council can do one thing to help citizens, he said, it should continue looking for ways to lower sewer rates.

Becky Gilbert

One of three candidates running on a common theme - the town government needs to change - Gilbert claims she's tired of citizens' voices not being heard. She complains that city leaders didn't fight hard enough to keep the Pierce County branch library in town, and feels local officials kept the public in the dark when the nearby quarry was formulating plans to increase truck traffic through town.

"I feel our council is not allowing citizens to be heard," Gilbert said.

She appreciates Wilkeson's small-town charm, but feels that can be protected while also actively courting development. "We can have growth and we can have business," she said, stating her view that Wilkeson should use its position as a gateway to Mount Rainier to cater to tourists. She also is a Rails To Trails booster and believes the town would benefit if the trail led visitors directly into downtown Wilkeson.

Council Position No. 2

Janet Kepka

A resident of Wilkeson since 1978, Kepka has served three terms on the Board of Adjusters and was a town councilwoman in 1996 and 1997.

She said the first thing Wilkeson needs is to continue rebuilding its infrastructure. A second goal is to "Just continue trying to have our business and professional meetings that will attract citizens to attend."

Kepka feels one of the things lacking on the current council is an unwillingness to listen to people. "It' s not that it can't be done, it's just that they've made up their mind and they won't listen," she said.

Kepka said more needs to be done to attract new business to Wilkeson, while managing the growth of the town.

"We have a nice little community here, it's like a bedroom community, and more needs to be done for it," she said.

Darla McQueen

McQueen, a seven-year resident of Wilkeson, said she decided to run for council to get more involved in what is happening in town. She's been active, through volunteer work for the Booster Club and the Wilkeson Eagles. "I guess I just got the nerve to (run) this time," McQueen said.

She said she and her family like the family atmosphere in Wilkeson, and feel the town has lots of potential.

"Wilkeson, as a town, needs to definitely find more ways to increase revenue and bring in people to the town," she said.

McQueen feels there needs to be better communication between the Town Council and the people. She said more needs to be done to address transportation issues, a need for a shuttle service, "and just to make Wilkeson a more user friendly community."

McQueen, the director of marketing and case management at the Live Care Center of Puyallup, also said more needs to be done to provide for the health and well-being of the senior residents in Wilkeson by enhancing resources available to them. Also, she would like to see if something can be done about utility costs.

Council Position No. 4

Joan Miller

Miller, a resident for seven years, feels her experience working with the historical society and the Foothills Trail would be an asset to the Town Council.

"I've been highly involved in the community and attend all the council meetings and feel the current council doesn't represent the majority of the residents in Wilkeson," she said.

She thinks the town needs to fix its infrastructure, lower sewer rates and work on the survival of the small businesses. She would also like to see the town grow by bringing in more small business.

Miller said the cultural and historical heritage needs to be preserved in Wilkeson and, if elected, she will do more to raise money and find grants for the town.

Ben Odanovich

Odanovich, a resident for more than 35 years, said he decided to run for council because he has more time to devote to the town and would like to do what's best for the town.

"I'd just like to see the city working together a little bit better," he said.

Odanovich said his experience as the chairman of the board of the Carbonado Community Church for 14 years, running and working with the business and financial aspects, in addition to the spiritual aspects of the church, would help him as a councilman.

"I'm kind of familiar with that aspect, and it wouldn't take me long to pick up the rest," he said.

He said sewer and water rates are pretty high in town, and if he was elected, he would work, if at all possible, to lower them. He would also like to see more activities for younger kids in town and more of a community atmosphere in Wilkeson.

"There was a time when everybody in town knew everybody, and I think we need to encourage that again."

Council Position No. 5

Jean Finney

Born in Seattle and a former resident of Kent, Finney appreciates the size and pace of the community she has called home the past four years. "I want Wilkeson to stay like Wilkeson," she said, explaining her desire for "a small-town, down-to-earth feel."

Currently on the Town Council, Finney points out some of the town's perceived troubles simply have no immediate answer. Utility rates are high, she agrees, but with a limited population the cost of operating the system cannot be spread very far. "We are really limited in our growth potential," she said.

Finney recognizes the appeal of nearby Mount Rainier and that Wilkeson is well positioned as a gateway town. "We want to capitalize on that," she said, but there aren't financial resources available to turn some ideas to reality.

On the subject of the Foothills Trail, Finney is ambivalent. She sees the appeal of the trail, but is a strong believer in property rights and wouldn't support development of the trail if it came into conflict with property owners.

Candi Ritting

Ritting is among those who believe current Town Council members are less than willing to accept input from their constituents. She claims she has offered to work on projects for the town, volunteering her own time and energy, only to be rebuffed.

"We have a world of opportunity available to us," she said. "There's a quaint feel to this town that's just wonderful."

She complains that current leadership is unwilling to work for change. An example, she said, is the proposed Foothills Trail. "If you bring that trail right into downtown," she said, everyone would benefit. The trail would provide a safe place for kids and out-of-towners who use the trail would undoubtedly leave some of their money in the community.

Ritting ran for office four years ago, but an injury kept her on the sidelines during the campaign season. This time she's ready, arguing the town deserves a council "willing to listen to the views and concerns of the town. It's been too negative a town for too long."

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