ON THE COVER North Coast Journal Weekly

voting machine collage

Time to vote, again!

A tough but vital job

Between a rock and a hard place
The victors in the Eureka school board race will have a tough job

No holds barred
Sex-ed flap dominates Northern Humboldt school board race

Fresh face
18-year-old running for South Bay school district seat

A rift in Manila
Tim Dellas' indictment for growing pot adds spice to CSD race

Clashing visions
Harbor District races raise questions about Humboldt's future

Smooth sailing
No one's mad at anyone in McKinleyville CSD race

A tough but vital job


IT'S NOT EASY, IT'S NOT GLAMOROUS AND IT'S USUALLY NOT PAID -- BUT MEMBERSHIP IN A SCHOOL board is one of the most crucial roles a dedicated citizen can undertake. Even to run for the position shows a praiseworthy dedication to any community's most beloved -- and arguably most important -- institution.photo of Garry Eagles

That's doubly true at a time when the state budget crisis, declining enrollment and increasing federal regulation of local education is forcing school board members to make some extremely difficult choices.

Most local school budgets have stagnated or shrunk over the last few years. At the same time, new policies like the federal No Child Left Behind Act are burying school administrators under mountains of paperwork.

According to Humboldt County Superintendent of Schools Garry Eagles, now more than ever school districts must find creative ways to continue to finance important local programs.

"They have to look beyond the boundaries of the resources of their own districts," he says. "They have to look to other neighboring districts and say, `What can we share?'"

Some school districts in the Fortuna area, for example, are seriously considering what Eagles calls "the ultimate in partnership": unification, or consolidating several districts into one. That may impair the direct democratic process that smaller districts provide, but it should provide a substantial savings in administrative costs.

But Eagles said that school board members should do more than simply scrutinize budgets and think about the bottom line -- they should understand and advocate the values of the communities they represent.

To that end, Eagles strongly urged voters to spend some time studying local races.

"Step forward, investigate the visions that candidates are proposing and get out and support the candidate whose vision matches yours," he says.

Between a rock and a hard place
The victors in the Eureka school board race will have a tough job


WHAT WITH A REQUIREMENT TO improve academic performance or lose federal funding on the one hand, and shrinking state support due to California's budget crisis on the other, it's a wonder anyone is running for the Eureka school board.

Yet four brave candidates, including two incumbents, are vying for two seats on the policymaking body, known formally as the Eureka Unified School District Governing Board. The overriding reality for the victors, all agree, will be tough economic times.classroom photo

"There will definitely be some budget issues to look at," said Melinda Ciarabellini, president of Eureka High's Parent, Teacher and Student Association. Ciarabellini said she has no doubt that conflicts will arise as the board begins making funding decisions on local and federal programs in the district, the largest in Humboldt County.

"Will they have to make choices between programs and which ones to cut? Maybe. But, I hope that whoever is in this position considers all the issues and the effects of doing that," Ciarabellini said.

All four candidates expressed concern about the difficult choices presented by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which requires school districts to reach and maintain certain educational levels to receive federal funding.

It's not just the state budget deficit that could make it harder to achieve that goal; the ongoing trend of declining enrollment, both in Eureka and elsewhere in Humboldt County, is also reducing state revenues for education. (Eureka schools' enrollment plummeted almost 9 percent since 2001, from 5,519 students to 5,039 this year.)

"When it comes down to hard decisions about what you let go and what you keep, it's all about the kids. You have to base your priorities around them," said Lisa Ann Pace, the first-time appointed incumbent for Trustee Area Two.

However, the 41-year-old mother of three Eureka school students and co-owner of Pace Chem-Dry thinks the district must also continue studying how it can help prevent poor and disabled students from falling through the academic cracks while instituting the required federal programs.

Pace also said she's in a good position to represent parents because she has had kids of varying abilities, from a special-ed child to A students. "I'm not a politician, I'm a parent ... but I don't think you have to have a degree to have common sense."

The political newcomer and challenger in the Area Two race, Eva Lettnecker, said, "If [Eureka schools] had an even playing field, No Child Left Behind would be a great idea." But, she explained, Eureka students don't have the same educational opportunities as children in wealthier school districts, a situation that makes it harder for students to meet federal demands.

Lettnecker, 41, who works as a donor development coordinator at HSU, said she's experienced in long-range planning, analysis, accounting and administrative work. She said she believes it is important to educate students and parents on the financial importance of working within the federally mandated programs in partnership with community businesses and groups to achieve educational goals.

According to Judy Anderson, Governing Board clerk and Trustee Area Four incumbent, "It's a tough time for education nationwide."

"We have always tried, and I have supported, making cuts as far away from the classroom as possible," said the 52-year-old community volunteer who has served on the board since 1997.

Anderson, whose son attends Eureka High School, said that increased state and federal student testing coupled with federal qualification thresholds for teachers -- both areas on which district funding hinges -- are important issues she thinks the board will face.

She also said that she has the knowledge and expertise to do the job well. Not only has she served on the board, but she's been active on the PTA executive board and the school site council.

Susan L. Murman, the challenger in Area Four and first-time candidate for public office, said, "Accomplishing all the parameters of what's required [by the federal legislation] is just a huge endeavor." The 52-year-old pharmacy clerk and mother of two Eureka High School students said she thinks a balance must be struck on implementation of certain components within the legislation.

And she complained about plans now being discussed to potentially offer contraceptives at the Eureka High health clinic -- which she said undermines parental authority.

As to her qualifications, Murman said she's invested "thousands of hours" as a school volunteer, including work with the ROTC group to which her kids belong.

David Haas-Baum is a senior in HSU's journalism program.

photos of Jim Athing, Cathy Minkema, Jim Welsh, Kathy Marshall

No holds barred
Sex-ed flap dominates Northern Humboldt school board race


School board races in small communities are generally sedate affairs. Even if candidates disagree on issues, they generally respect each other's commitment to their schools and their communities.

However, in the Northern Humboldt Unified High School District, which encompasses Arcata and McKinleyville high schools, mutual respect has been stretched to the breaking point. The cause of the contention? An AHS sex education flap that flared up last year but has come to dominate the battle this fall for two seats on the district's school board.

According to challengers Jim Athing, a chiropractor and yoga instructor, and Kathy Marshall, a registered nurse, the race is about the community values they hold dear, and which they feel are not represented by the current board.

"There are large numbers of progressives in the community who are not represented on the school board," said Marshall during a campaign appearance earlier this week.

"The school board has been very conservative for all the years I've been in town," added Athing.

It's a claim that incumbents Cathy Minkema, a businesswoman, and Jim Welsh, a retired biology teacher, vigorously deny. Minkema and Welsh hold that they are there to represent all students and parents in the district -- Arcata and McKinleyville, progressive and non-progressive alike.

"I believe [the challengers] are running on a politically motivated agenda, and not on an agenda to provide a safe and wholesome environment for students," Welsh said last week.

The rift between the candidates follows directly from last year's controversy over the Spare Change Theater Troupe, a student drama club that had been scheduled to perform a show with sex education themes at Arcata High. (See Journal cover story, "Too sexy for this school!" Feb. 21, 2002.)

Problems arose when Principal Bob Wallace saw the show when it was performed at Eureka High School. He thought that some aspects of the production -- particularly skits on homosexuality, teen pregnancy and masturbation -- were "not appropriate for many members of the student population." He canceled the AHS performance.

Around 200 parents showed up at the next meeting of the school board to protest the decision. Nevertheless, the school board voted to support Wallace's decision. (At the request of the administration and the board, Spare Change later agreed to revise the play. The revised version was presented at a voluntary AHS assembly.)

Both Marshall and Athing said the episode led them to challenge Minkema and Welsh.

"In my opinion, the board was not receptive," Marshall said. "It was like talking to a brick wall."

Welsh said he believed it was unfortunate that the challengers' "political agenda" has come to dominate discussion about the race, and cited his experience as a teacher and four-year veteran of the board as reasons why he should be re-elected.

"Even though we are probably the best-run and the most well-off district in the county, we're still going to face difficult decisions in the next two years," Welsh said. "I think that my judgment will help us get through that without having to disrupt excellent programs, or without having attrition in the excellent staff we have put together."

Minkema -- who, because of a scheduling conflict, could not be reached by the Journal for an interview -- said in a written statement, "The education of our children is more important than politics." She charged that Athing and Marshall have not put in the time to become acquainted with existing programs in the schools.

The challengers said that their candidacies are not about implementing a radical agenda, and both promised to tackle nuts-and-bolts issues like the district's budget and expressed interest in saving costs through the sharing of some administrative functions with other school districts.

Nevertheless, they said, it is appropriate for school board members to be engaged with the concerns of their constituents. Marshall said that while California's education code regulates what schools must offer, it allows for tremendous latitude in how those requirements are met.

"Our responsibility is not to run the schools, but to see that the schools are well-run," Athing added.

Fresh face
18-year-old running for South Bay school district seat


photo of Morgana ManningMorgana Manning has been hearing the same thing ever since she was in fifth grade at South Bay Elementary. "Many of my teachers have made comments about how it would be neat if I came back and sat on the board," Manning said.

This year, she finally turned old enough to try. Manning, 18, is running for a two-year seat on the South Bay Union School District, just four months after graduating from high school. She is the youngest candidate, as far as the Journal has found, running for the dozens of open school district and special district seats in the Nov. 4 election in Humboldt County.

A full-time student at College of the Redwoods, Manning still lives at her parents' home in Humboldt Hill. She said her teachers gave her the motivation and encouragement to run for a school board seat, and her main reason for wanting to serve is to get people talking.

"I want to promote open communication between teachers, students, parents and board members," she said. "I feel like [board members] have been more than willing to talk, but not as willing to listen."

She said the recent departure of board member Gay Hylton, who was charged with embezzling $10,000 from the district's parents club, made her think there is a lack of oversight on some level.

Political activity is nothing new to Manning. Both her parents are progressive activists. Her mother, Pamela Manning, has been involved in peace and justice issues since the Vietnam War. Her father, Jim Edman, is a Safeway truck driver and an active Teamsters member. Manning herself is a member of Communities for Peace and an associate member of Veterans for Peace.

If she doesn't get elected, Manning said, she'll pursue her long-range plan: to study trombone at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

A rift in Manila
Tim Dellas' indictment for growing pot adds spice to CSD race


Ask some Manila residents, and they'll say they're surprised that Tim Dellas is seeking another term on the Community Services District.

Ask others, and they'll say it's no big deal.

Dellas, 47, was indicted on federal pot-growing charges after Humboldt County Sheriff's deputies allegedly found him in June at a sophisticated grow in Briceland, with some 5,600 marijuana plants and 21 pounds of packaged weed.

"It's a major commercial marijuana grow," said Sgt. Wayne Hanson of the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office. "It's a major case."photos of Michael Fennell and Dendra Dengler

Dellas pleaded not guilty and has yet to be tried on the charges. He's now seeking another four-year term on the district's board, after serving six. In years past, he also served as the district's general manager.

Fellow board member Nancy Ihara, who is running unopposed for a two-year seat, said that the pot charges might be "problematic" for the board. But in terms of how she's going to vote, it's not a major concern. "That hasn't really entered into my thinking," she said, indicating that her decision will be based on "what works best for Manila."

Others said it just doesn't look good. "Decorum almost dictates that you step aside until the charges have cleared," said Sharon Fennell, whose husband, Michael, is also running for one of the three open four-year positions, along with landscaper Violet Glass and preschool teacher Dendra Dengler.

The split opinion about Dellas is emblematic of Manila, a poor community of 1,000 where recent changes have brought both better services for residents and more tension. The town has seen a huge infusion of much-needed public funds, in the form of grants from the Coastal Conservancy, the Environmental Protection Agency and others. The money has turned the old elementary school into the community center, built an award-winning chemical-free marsh sewer system similar to Arcata's, and allowed the district to acquire land for parks and the coastal access.

But the improvements have not come as quickly as they should have, given the cash flow, and charges have been flying for years about corruption, cronyism and mismanagement.

"Manila's still kind of inventing government out here," said one long-time resident who asked to remain anonymous. There are alliances "between people who want to keep progressives out of government, especially smart East Coast progressives like Michael [Fennell] and people who want to cooperate with the old-timers and want to run things at the community center," the source said.

Fennell, a 52-year-old building contractor who has lived in town for 16 years, said he has heard many people express "great surprise" that Dellas would run for reelection when he's under federal indictment.

The rift between the water and sewer portion of the district, and the staff and supporters of the community center -- which houses a Head Start preschool, a dunes restoration group, a teen program and Placebo, the youth music group -- seems much more important to Manilans. The fact that the community center ran up a $12,000 deficit last year, out of a total budget of $42,000, and has yet to repay the district, has only made matters more tense.

Funding priorities are another issue.

"We spent $90,000 on that bathroom right there," said community center employee Jenny Wilhelm, 28, pointing to a concrete structure near the parking lot, "and where's our basketball court for the kids?" She supports Dellas, who is "innocent until proven guilty."

Fennell will not get her vote, Wilhelm said. He has a "college education and money -- [he's] the white European male," one who does not support or listen to "the minority group of the poor."

Fennell said he would not "dignify" Wilhelm's statement with a response. He said his main priority is fiscal responsibility. "We've had some budgetary problems, he said, referring to the deficit at the community center. "It's vitally important to rein in those deficit budgets so we don't threaten the entire program here."

The dysfunction at the district and community center was outlined in a summer report by professional mediation consultant Elizabeth Watson. She wrote that there was a lack of supervision at the community center, both of children and staff; that the staff inappropriately gets involved at the board level; that there do not appear to be clear boundaries between employees, the board and the community members; there there is a lack of proper tracking of grants; and that the center activities seem more driven by grant availability than by need.

Glass, a 41-year-old single mother who works as a landscaper at the community center, said she wants to be a "voice of the people" and is a firm backer of Dellas. And Dengler, 55, a preschool teacher, also plans to support him over Fennell. "He's been a very fair board member, open-minded, respectful to the community, very concerned about having a balanced budget," she said. Her own priorities include a balanced budget for the district.

Dellas himself said that there are no "hot-button issues" in the race. He said there was "nothing really noteworthy" to correct, but that he would support fiscal responsibility and oversight.

About the charges: "I've been here 25 years, and I think that my record as a community member and as a citizen speaks for itself. I'm happy to let the voters decide."

Another community member, who asked to remain nameless, put it bluntly. "That's his own private business," she said. "People out here are more open-minded. This is Humboldt County."

Clashing visions
Harbor District races raise questions about Humboldt's future


Two seats are up grabs on the five-member governing board of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District, a county agency charged with developing and protecting the tidelands, harbors, bays and estuaries of Humboldt County.

In Division One, which encompasses southern Eureka, Loleta and the Ferndale area, Ronnie Pellegrini is facing two challengers Melvin McKinney, an environmentalist and ex-mill worker, and Charles Day, a retired Caltrans engineer. In Division Five, which covers the northern part of the county, incumbent Charles Ollivier is competing with David Elsebusch, an insurance adjuster who lost to Ollivier four years ago.

At issue in the both races are conflicting visions of the future of the county's centerpiece -- Humboldt Bay. Should the bay be preserved to maintain its conservation values, or should it be developed to provide for enhanced economic opportunity? Or is there a way to do both?photos of Ronnie Pellegrini, Melvin McKinney, David Elsebusch, Charles Ollivier, Charles Day

Division One

Above all else, Harbor District Commissioner Ronnie Pellegrini is known as a strong advocate for the commercial fishing industry.

In part, that's simply because she's married to Paul Pellegrini, president of the Humboldt Fishermen's Marketing Association. But she has proven over the years, both as an organizer and lobbyist for the fishing industry in the late `80s and early `90s, and as an aide to former Congressman Frank Riggs from 1995 to 1999, that she's a force in her own right.

Perhaps that explains why, in 2001, this personable and young-looking mother of two beat out 10 other competitors to fill the Division 1 seat vacated by Jimmy Smith, who left the commission to join the Board of Supervisors.

Like her colleague on the commission, Charles Ollivier, Pellegrini is enthused about the possibility of a partnership with the Port of Oakland. She said it could lead to an increase in shipping activity in Humboldt Bay in as little as six months.

While the talks with Port of Oakland officials wouldn't be taking place at all were it not for the fact that Humboldt Bay has been dredged to the point that it can finally be considered a deep channel port, she acknowledged the existence of other problems -- notably the lack of rail service and Highway 299's limited capacity to carry truck traffic.

Pellegrini rejected the notion that protecting and developing the bay are mutually exclusive. "I think we can have commerce co-existing with our natural resources. They have for the past 100 years."

She added that only 15 percent of Humboldt Bay's 33 miles of shoreline is appropriate for industrial development. "I'm not interested in developing areas that have been previously undeveloped. We have facilities that have been used historically that would be completely appropriate for industrial use."


Melvin McKinney is a funny sort of environmentalist. The 70-year-old doesn't look the part, for one thing -- he comes across more like a working-class outdoorsman than someone who gets concerned about the decline of species. For another, he's an ex-timber industry worker. How many of those spend their retirement fighting for the environment?

McKinney has an impressive track record when it comes to conserving Humboldt Bay. He played a key role, along with then-harbor Commissioner Smith and others, in stopping the environmentally destructive trawling of the bay by the oyster industry. He also was instrumental, perhaps more than anyone else, in persuading the powers-that-be to establish a wildlife sanctuary at the mouth of the Elk River, in the southern part of the bay. Finally, he has been a thorn in the side of the city of Eureka over its long-stalled effort to restore another bayside habitat, the Eureka Marsh.

The thrust of his campaign to unseat Pellegrini is clear enough: He doesn't think she cares about the environment.

"She has never made an environmental vote since she's been on the board," McKinney charged. What's more, she is completely out of touch with local environmental organizations. "She doesn't interact with them," McKinney said.

To an extent, he finds that puzzling. A plan that came before the board to restore habitat for salmon and steelhead, for example, did not attract her support, McKinney said.

The plan was "trying to restore habitat for commercial fishing and she didn't know anything about it."

It's not just Pellegrini who's "anti-environmental," McKinney said -- it's the entire board. "They are anti-Coastal Commission, anti-Fish and Game [Department] and anti-Fish and Wildlife [Service]," McKinney said. When asked for an example, he pointed to the commission's opposition, which it eventually backed down from, to having state marine biologists serve on an advisory committee.

McKinney charged that the harbor district's plan to develop the port has not undergone legally required environmental reviews. And he also asserted that the district is ignoring the economic value of restoration and conservation jobs.

"Right now that's a growing [economic sector} that provides for cleaning up and balancing the ecosystem. Sound environmental protection is good for tourism and for quality of life."


Charles Day, 73, is old-time Eureka; he's lived here 50 years. Perhaps that explains his polite, almost courtly, attitude toward Pellegrini.

"A lot of good things have been done [since she's been on the board]," said Day, a retired Caltrans engineer. "She's a very decent, very good person. She has worked really hard."

Why not, then, just go out and vote for Pellegrini on Nov. 4? "I think I could do something more in the job market than her," Day explained. "She's more oriented to the fishing industry."

Day, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Harbor District board "10 or 15 years ago," said his top priority, "more or less," is job creation.

Of the five candidates, he was the only one who said he would welcome Calpine, the San Jose energy company that is exploring the possibility of building a liquefied natural gas terminal on Humboldt Bay.

He said the project would have a spin-off effect. "If Eureka could get Calpine to locate here, then other businesses would come here to take advantage of cheaper natural gas," Day said.

Environmentalists are already preparing to fight the project if the company decides to go forward with it. But Day said it's possible -- in fact, he said it's necessary -- to have both a healthy bay and a healthy local economy. "We need a good [physical] environment and we need a good [economic] environment," Day said.

Division Five

It was last Friday afternoon and harbor district commissioner Charles Ollivier was, in his words, "totally pumped up and elated."

The cause of his excitement? The prospect of a partnership with the Port of Oakland that, potentially, could be a much needed shot in the arm to the Port of Humboldt Bay. Back in its heyday, in the `50s and `60s, Humboldt Bay was a thriving port for lumber export. But when the timber industry began to decline in the early `70s, the port declined with it. Neither has ever recovered.

But things may change, for the port at least. Under the proposal that was discussed last week when Port of Oakland officials were up for a visit, Humboldt Bay would serve as a "satellite port," as Ollivier put it, a place to which container truck traffic could be diverted and relieve traffic congestion in the gridlocked Bay Area. Noting that the volume of cargo going in and out of West Coast ports is predicted to triple in the next 10 years, Ollivier, a 67-year-old former longshoremen, said that small ports would have to take up the slack.

"It will end up in [the smaller] ports that have done their homework, that have dredged and modernized."

Speaking of dredging, Ollivier listed the dredging of Humboldt Bay, a recently completed project that was begun the same year he became a commissioner -- 1991 -- as a major accomplishment. "Now that we have the bay dredged, we have a future," Ollivier said.

He listed as another achievement the Humboldt Bay harbor "revitalization plan," which identified the barging of containerized cargo as a type of shipping that would be feasible for the area.

As for modernization, Ollivier did not deny the obvious -- many of Humboldt Bay's port facilities have fallen into decrepitude. Saying, "Modernization is the next project," he commented that for starters the port could use a movable, dockside crane. "That would help us load barges with containers," he said.

As for the rap that he gives short shrift to environmental matters, Ollivier said that "all of the south bay and all of the north bay" is already reserved for conservation. And he dismissed the notion touted by some that the bay should be protected to increase its appeal as an eco-tourism destination. "If you go that route, you're just creating low-paying service jobs. We need $20- to $25-per-hour jobs to sustain the economy here and prevent it from just turning into a tourist haven."


McKinleyville resident David Elsebusch first learned about the harbor district 10 years ago, not long after he had moved to Humboldt from Southern California. He was serving on the Grand Jury, and part of the job entailed reviewing the agency's performance.

"The more I learned, the more interest I had. I've been to lots of their meetings, looked at board packets, seen the budget, looked at fiscal areas and management and operation areas."

If it sounds like Elsebusch is a gadfly, he is. But he's a smart and well-spoken one. Consider this summation of the board's sensitivity, or lack thereof, on environmental and recreation matters.

"It seems to me that as an insular body they have a negative view of things environmental and even recreational. All they do is pay lip service [to those issues] and don't do anything about them."

And how do the commissioners treat members of the public concerned about conservation? "They disrespect those who approach them, who present things they'd like to see them consider [on environmental protection]."

Such disrespect is communicated either through simply ignoring the person, stonewalling them, or attacking them, Elsebusch said. "People get asked, `Why are you saying this? Are you against jobs?'

"I've seen Charles Ollivier say that," Elsebusch added.

If Elsebusch has heard taunts from the pro-jobs lobby, it hasn't cowed him. He recently came out strongly in opposition to the Calpine project.

There is no love lost between Ollivier and Elsebusch. Ollivier refused to say anything about his opponent publicly. "I don't want to advertise him," he said tersely. Elsebusch, who lost to Ollivier in the Division 5 race four years ago, said the incumbent has been ineffective. "Charles has said that jobs is his big priority. Well, he's been [on the board] since 1991 and [during that time] the harbor district as far as I can tell has never created one job."

Elsebusch, a fifty-something insurance claims adjuster with expertise in insurance fraud and internal audits, said the harbor district is not managing its financial house properly. He said that the Woodley Island marina is losing money, and that the boat repair yard at Fields Landing -- which hasn't had a tenant in three years -- is also a drain. And he pointed out that the district is currently running a deficit of $838,000.

"If they keep going at this rate," Elsebusch said, "they'll be broke."

Smooth sailing
No one's mad at anyone in McKinleyville CSD race


With seven people running for three seats on the McKinleyville Community Services District board, you'd think there was some juicy controversy brewing.

But to a one, the candidates maintain that things in the water, sewer and recreation district are going along just fine, thank you. They simply want to make a contribution. And if they're not elected, the next guy will do a good job, too.

"This is so unusual," said 5th District Supervisor Jill Geist. "The races that I can recall have been -- I don't want to say hotly contested -- but they've been pretty high-profile."photos of James Fritz, Paul Trepanier, Robert Johnson, John Corbett, Kevin Masters, Dennis Mayo, Donald Dodd

Candidate James Fritz, echoing the comments of several of his fellow candidates, said he figured "it's my turn in the barrel to see if I can help out." Fritz, 69, a retired highway patrolman, added, "I don't have any complaints of the board or anything like that." The 30-year McKinleyville resident is vying for the two-year term on the board.

The all-male slate includes two other men running for one two-year seat and four vying for two four-year terms. Director Javan Reid did not seek reelection.

The district manages a $3.8 million operating budget, providing water and sewer services for 5,000 customers and recreational amenities for the 14,000 residents of this community, one of the fastest growing of Humboldt County. It is also responsible for street lighting and maintenance of the public library's McKinleyville building.

The district is operating in the black, and new projects -- including two soccer fields, three baseball fields, a skateboard park and marsh-based sewage treatment plant -- are moving along. Several candidates credited general manager Tom Marking and his staff for their professionalism and savvy management.

Improvements have come in other areas, too. In earlier years, the board caught flak for having what some said was a less-than-receptive demeanor.

"For some reason the public didn't feel so welcome to participate," said appointed incumbent and former North Coast Co-op General Manager John W. Corbett. They should be "free to make comments, be listened to and respected. I feel we've arrived at that environment."

Corbett, 55, works as a civil law attorney. He serves on the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and tried unsuccessfully for the 5th District seat on the Board of Supervisors in the March 2002 primary.

He said he wants to keep the lines of communication open and develop McKinleyville's recreational offerings. "The county won't and can't provide urban services," he said. Though unincorporated, "McKinleyville is really a city. So if we don't develop our recreational facilities now, develop our bike and hiking trails and playing fields now, it will be too late by the time it's incorporated. It will all be filled with houses."

Corbett's interest in issues close to the board goes back to his days at the University of Stockholm School of Law in Sweden, where he studied water quality regulations and sewage treatment. He's also written state and federal legislation on water quality standards.

The other incumbent in the race, McKinleyville Office Supply owner Paul Trepanier, is finishing up his first four-year term on the board. The father of a 10-year-old girl, he said he wants to maintain the district's financial health, see the Hiller sports fields completed and make sure the sewer and water rates -- which he said are among the lowest in the region -- remain so.

"Our challenge is to make sure that we have our services and infrastructure in place to accommodate future growth," said Trepanier, 45. "So far, I think we've done a very good job of that."

Also vying for the two-year seat, along with Fritz, are political neophytes Kevin Masters, a city of Arcata utility crew leader; and Don Dodd, an electronic systems analyst at the National Weather Service office on Woodley Island.

Fritz, who has also worked for the Coast Guard reserve and currently substitute teaches at local high schools, said he's never held public office. But he's been involved in Kiwanis for more than 25 years and has volunteered for a number of community projects, such as painting for elderly residents and the building of handicapped ramps. He's the father of two grown sons.

As for his platform, Fritz was a man of few words. "There are a few things I'd like to see improved, but I don't want to talk about them yet."

Dodd, a father of five, described himself as "a family guy."

"I want to make it a family-oriented community and I think we're headed in the right direction. I just wanted to help." The 46-year-old, who has lived in McKinleyville six years, said he also wants to make sure that when people have business or disputes with the district, they are treated fairly.

Masters, 38, graduated from McKinleyville High School and attended College of the Redwoods before deciding that "school wasn't paying as much as a job." He said he has experience through his Arcata job with sewer and water systems, and has done installation, repair and cleaning of water and sewer lines.

He'd like to see the street lighting improved in some areas, and, with a son in kindergarten, he appreciates the recreation programs, he said. "I just thought I could help McKinleyville out," he said.

Masters got a boost recently from Humboldt County Republican Party chair Mike Harvey, who endorsed both him and Rob W. Johnson, a candidate for a four-year term.

At 37, Johnson is the race's youngest candidate, who promises to bring a "great business sense and a younger perspective" to the board. The father of two children, ages 17 and 2, he graduated from McKinleyville High and is the founder and co-owner with his wife, Chrissy, of Humboldt Alarm Co.

It was his 2-year-old son who led him to run for the seat and try to "shape the future of the community and the recreation department," Johnson said. "I would like to see responsible growth in our private and business sectors, while continuing on the path of parks and recreation for our children." He has not held office before.

Rancher Dennis Mayo, also vying for a four-year seat, said that every other candidate is "smarter than me, prettier than me, has more money than me." But, he added, "Nobody that's running will work harder than me."

Mayo, 52, has never held elective office but has been active in giving kids horseback-riding lessons, working with 4-H groups and keeping beaches open to horse-riders. He said his campaign slogan is, "I'll squeeze a nickel so hard it'll scream, so you won't have to when you pay your bills."

The rancher and horse-breeder, who has two grown children, said he wants to make a contribution to the community. "People helped me all the time when I was a kid, so you just gotta do all of that back."




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