|Written by Jeff Wood|
|Saturday, 10 March 2012 00:00|
The race for Town Council is heating up in Clarkdale.
One might characterize the political atmosphere for upcoming elections-by-mail as going from cool to lukewarm — in a good way.
Four years ago, incumbents Vice Mayor Richard Dehnert and Councilwoman Pat Williams cruised to unanimous victories, as both ran for their seats unopposed.
This year, things look a little different.
A challenger, Anita Simgen, entered the race.
In separate interviews before the Tuesday, March 13, ballot deadline, Dehnert and Simgen both said water and economic development were the most important issues currently facing the town.
Williams, also up for re-election, was not able to respond to requests for an interview by press time.
Dehnert and Simgen said they were far more interested in helping the town than engaging in any sort of factional discussions.
“I’m dedicated to public service. I don’t see it as politics,” Dehnert said.
“I am not doing it to be a local politician but to be a public servant,” Simgen said.
Both also said they initially entered the race at the urging of friends.
Dehnert, a Clarkdale resident for 10 years, former broadcaster and current director of communications for the Verde Valley Guidance Clinic, has been active on the Town Council for the last four years.
He said the most recent economic downturn has posed problems for municipalities across the state, including Clarkdale. The town has had to cut back on staff, with some staffers doing more than one job, and town employees taking a 10 percent furlough over the last two years.
Still, residents continue to work toward better economic conditions and improving the quality of life in the area.
One of Dehnert’s “pet projects” while on the council has been to open the Clarkdale pool.
“It is an important amenity for the town,” he said.
Dehnert said he helped the effort to raise $60,000 in private funds in order to keep the pool open three days a week.
Recent mechanical problems — water leaking from the pool — currently threaten its continued operation.
Dehnert hopes to “find out what’s wrong and fix it” if re-elected.
Dehnert also said current town projects such as Sustainable Clarkdale, the continued development of Verde River recreation, and the preservation and restoration of privately owned historic properties in downtown were of vital importance to the economic health of the town.
Sustainable Clarkdale, an idea that originally sprang from the Clarkdale Sustainability Park, is a general set of business practices and policies which seek to ensure that the resources currently enjoyed by town residents will be available to residents in the future.
The two-mile stretch of the Verde River which flows through town “currently isn’t being taken advantage of,” Dehnert said.
“Outdoor recreation is big in Arizona,” Dehnert said.
Dehnert would like Clarkdale to have more of the outdoor recreation pie.
However, lack of public access currently prohibits the town from taking full advantage of the the river as a resource.
“Access is a problem,” Dehnert said, because most of the river is “flanked by private land.”
Dehnert said access points such as Black Canyon or Beasley Flats, created in recent years, show that access can be expanded in the future.
He also said that the council has been working toward revitalizing vacant historical properties in the upper Clarkdale business district in order to generate revenue, but the process is slow-going because the buildings are privately owned.
Simgen, a former paralegal who has lived in Clarkdale for 12 years, described this election as “[her] first foray into politics,” though she has been interested since she attended law school in the early 1990s.
She also sees water and economic growth as the key issues facing Clarkdale, but she emphasized the town identity as being an important issue.
“Clarkdale is unique in that it … doesn’t want to become ‘generica,’” Simgen said.
She said it is important to keep the town “healthy and growing.” She would like to “monitor housing growth” and help “getting small business going.” Simgen said the question was “how to get train riders who drive through to Jerome to stay and spend money” and said hotels might be a way to keep money in town.
Another idea would be to create a sidewalk ordinance allowing cafés to put tables on the street.
The tables would act as a kind of “advertising,” letting tourists know there are places to stop and eat or drink on their way to Jerome.
As far as the Verde River is concerned, Simgen emphasized ecology. She said tailing from mining, water in general, and wastewater were all issues that needed attention.
Above all, Simgen emphasized the work she’s done informing herself about the issues facing the town and what the town in general thinks.
Simgen said she has been going to public meetings, educating herself on economics and ecology, as well as, “knocking on doors” to talk to residents. She said she will give a council position her “full attention” as a retiree, not treat it as “a part-time job.”
Because she doesn’t have all the answers, she said she “will talk to the people” about issues if elected.
Other ideas mentioned by Simgen included improving relations with the neighboring Yavapai-Apache Nation, possibly having a powwow in town, adding more valleywide events like the antique car show and concerts, creating an event around the history of Clarkdale and mining, and starting a farmers market in town.
While Dehnert and Simgen emphasized different aspects, they both essentially spoke to the same issues.
“When I had children, I wanted to raise them in a small town,” Simgen said. She chose Clarkdale for all that it had to offer.
“We’re a happy little town that wants to stay happy,” Dehnert said.
In a town where Mayor Doug Von Gausig is running unopposed for re-election, this kind of harmony is probably to be expected in Clarkdale.
The issues are clear — the question is who will take care of them.
“We’re really not contentious. We don’t agree on everything, but we’re generally on the same page,” Dehnert said of the Town Council.
He could have said the same of this election as well.
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