About 20 people turned out Wednesday, March 19, for a Dillon Town Council candidate forum at which questions about the search for a new town manager and a new police chief took center stage.
The discussion was guided by Mallorie Bruns, mediator and program associate for the Dillon-based Meridian Institute, who delivered questions from the audience to town council incumbent candidates Erik Jacobsen and Mark Nickel, and mayoral candidates Kevin Burns and Doug Roessel. Incumbent town council candidate Tim Westerberg was absent.
The campaign for mayor between Roessel and Burns is the only contested race in Dillon’s municipal election. Election day is Tuesday, April 1.
Following opening statements, the candidates fielded questions about their visions for an upgraded town core and a rehabilitated town park, but the focus quickly turned to Dillon’s future leadership in the aftermath of the recent departures of former town manager Joe Wray and former interim police chief Brian Brady.
“What the town of Dillon needs right now more than anything else is stability,” said Roessel, who served on town council in the past. “A lot of people feel like they are not being listened to.
“There’s a lot of frustration and embarrassment about what has been happening in the last year or two. We’re seeing it in the paper every other day and it keeps bumping us on the head.”
The candidates who have served on town council during the last couple of years didn’t shy away from the recent controversies and used words like “transparency” to describe Dillon’s leadership philosophy moving forward.
Jacobsen went so far as to say the events of the last several weeks have provided Dillon and the town council the opportunity to start fresh.
“Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward, and I think Dillon is in a unique position to hit the reset button,” he said. “I’m really excited about the prospects facing Dillon and I think we obviously need someone (a town manager) with management skills, but also someone who is going to listen to different viewpoints moving forward without sacrificing the flavor of Dillon.”
Burns used the word “temperament” in describing his ideal candidates for both a new town manager and a new police chief. Finding people with the right temperament, he said, is not only crucial to building a strong management team, but also in repairing relations between the police department and residents.
“We’re looking for a (police) chief who is going to be able to work well with others because they’re going to be a part of the management team,” Burns said. “We also need someone who is interested in community-focused policing because for a lot of people the police department represents the most visible department of our town.”
The night ended with moderator Bruns presenting the question, “who represents the citizens and what do you plan to do to ensure the public feels represented?”
Burns said the obvious answer is the town council represents the citizens, but conceded there’s always room for improvement in terms of making sure the lines of communication with the public remain open.
Nickel, on the other hand, took offense with the public’s impression that the town council is not representative or even approachable and challenged those residents in attendance to become more involved with their local government.
“I really believe we have an open door policy here and I’m kind of offended to hear that we don’t,” Nickel said. “I don’t think anyone on council has lost sight of the fact that we represent the citizens.
“And, I love that word ‘transparency,’ but (transparent) government only works when people come to meetings, listen to what we’re talking about and get involved. We had a great turnout for the marijuana forum and that’s a great example of what we can accomplish if we all work together.”