Woodland council, school district candidates face off in forum


Candidates for one Woodland City Council seat and one Woodland Public Schools seat made their cases for why they should be elected last week during the first of a series of candidate forums ahead of the November general election.

The League of Women Voters of Clark County hosted the first candidate forum, Sept. 25. Only two races were covered. Candidates for five more seats, including Woodland City Council and mayor, Ridgefield City Council and the Ridgefield School District, did not attend.

Woodland school board

For Woodland Public Schools District 1, incumbent Sarah Stuart faces challenger Katie Nichols.

Stuart has served on the board for eight years. She was born and raised in Woodland and graduated from Woodland High School in 2000. She said her experience on the board gave her a deep understanding of the challenges in public education.

An 18-year Woodland resident, Nichols has three children in the district. She said she is running because she “wanted to help make a change” in the district because she’s heard concerns from district stakeholders.

Nichols’ priorities are the district budget, making sure the district has “the best and most appropriate” curriculum, and keeping sports as a focus in the district, which cut middle school and C-team sports following failed local replacement levies in February and April.

“I believe that sports bring so much to students, and if we’re taking that away, we’re taking so much away from the kids,” Nichols said.

Stuart’s primary concern is the wellbeing of the district’s youth, including academic success, physical health, safety, and social and emotional health, she said. She acknowledged the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on that wellbeing.

“We need to work hard to meet the needs of students where they are at in order to accelerate their learning so that they can reach their potential,” Stuart said.

Stuart also mentioned the impacts of the levy failure. She said passing the local levy again was a priority to reduce class sizes.

On the topic of book bans, Stuart said such actions “have never really benefited society.”

“It’s always in the name of safety that people would like to ban books, but, in fact, it’s actually the exact opposite,” Stuart said. “It’s a matter of safety that not a single person or a small group of people say what people can or can’t read.”

Stuart acknowledged that not all literature was created equally, but that it is the district’s job to introduce students to “rich, time-tested works of literature.”

Nichols said she would take a request to ban a book into consideration.

“I do believe that there are some values that should not be taught in school, and that those should be left to parents,” Nichols said.

She said she would do more outreach into the community to make sure it wasn’t a single individual leading a book-banning effort.

“We should be listening to the people around us and their concerns about the things that we’re teaching our children,” Nichols said.

When asked about implementing a “parents advisory council,” Nichols believed that is a good idea. She said the board needs to be more prompt in its responses to parent concerns.

“I believe that the community and our parents are a huge part of what helps our school district run,” Nichols said. “They hear a lot more than board members a lot of times because their kids are in it.”

Stuart also agreed an advisory council is a good idea. She suggested board “listening tours” may be another option, where members would go into the community outside of regular business meetings to hear concerns.

Stuart said the board could do more to encourage parents to take part in curriculum and safety committees.

“I think there’s more opportunities to encourage parent and community involvement, and I would like to see more of that,” Stuart said.

Woodland City Council

For Woodland City Council Position 5, incumbent DeeAnna Holland faces challenger Gabe Huston.

After years of attending council meetings, Holland was elected in 2019. She is seeking re-election because she feels the COVID-19 pandemic, which started only a few months into her term, prevented her from accomplishing much.

An elevator mechanic by trade, with experience in underground utilities and real estate, Huston said he is running to make a difference in the city.

“I’ve lived in Woodland my whole life, and I don’t really like the direction that the city has been going,” Huston said.

Making sure needed infrastructure to support city development is in place is a priority for Huston. He wasn’t in favor of the city annexing any more land until the infrastructure is there.

“No more growing until we can actually sustain the traffic and the people,” Huston said.

Holland said most of the development happening in the area is outside of city limits, in Cowlitz County. She believes all Woodlanders can agree on the need for infrastructure first.

Holland mentioned the city’s southern interchange with Interstate 5 specifically, where the effort to improve the exit has been a collaboration between the city, Cowlitz County and the state.

“The longer it’s went on, the more expensive it gets,” Holland said. “There’s no good answer except to continually beg and plead with folks in Olympia and folks in D.C. to help alleviate an issue that is just being compounded year after year in our town.”

Huston had issues about the city’s current personnel.

“I think the city spends a lot of money on employees,” Huston said.

In addition to department head salaries, he took shots at spending on studies for work that could be done in-house.

“I just think they need to do their job a little better,” Huston said.

Holland rebutted, saying specifically for one position, that of Woodland Public Works Director Tracy Coleman, the department head has brought in multiple multi-million dollar grants through her work.

Holland said, in the past few years, city staff have been good at working with prospective businesses to move into Woodland. Huston disagreed, saying the city could be more business-friendly.

Huston said the city shouldn’t focus as much on revitalization of its downtown and look at other areas for where new businesses can make an appearance.

“They should want new businesses in town, and I don’t think they’re doing a very good job attracting new businesses in town that I see,” Huston said.