Two vie for Polson Ward 1 commissioner seat
POLSON — Two candidates are seeking to replace Ward 1 commissioner Lou Marchello, who is stepping down after a long tenure in public service, including stints as mayor and now commissioner. The district extends across the river to Rocky Point Rd., east to Fifth Street E., and north to 11th Avenue.
Background: Grew up in Sparks, Nevada, and moved to Washington state with his family when he was 14; earned a degree in English with emphasis on creative writing from Western Washington University; moved to Polson in 2016
Work and Community Service: Employed as a documentation specialist and technical writer at Black Mountain Software since 2016; worked his way through college as an evening custodian for a local elementary school; participates in community service events such as Clean Up Green Up and food and clothing drives
Since moving to Polson five years ago, Holley says he’s found a sense of community unrivaled by any other place he’s lived. His motivation for running for city commission is simple: “I really like this place and want to help be part of the solution – to help it grow and evolve but not sacrifice the sense of community and connection in the process.”
His employer, Black Mountain Software, makes accounting, payroll, utility and billing software for small cities, counties, schools and utility districts. As a technical writer for the company, he’s gained a firsthand appreciation of how different towns conduct their operations and how local, state, and federal governments interact.
“It’s contributed a lot to me wanting to get involved and run for office,” he says of his work experience.
As he’s learned from Black Mountain, maintaining infrastructure is crucial to communities. “These may seem like mundane things that most people don’t think about, but living here and being involved in a company that caters to that has been enlightening for sure.”
Holley and his coworkers often work remotely, and rely on fast internet service. “Especially with a lot of people working from home, it’s important to make sure our broadband infrastructure is up to snuff.”
He was able to purchase his own home in 2018 after the apartment he rented was turned into a condominium, and is well aware of the need for affordable housing. “We’re seeing how gnarly the market is right now – there’s a lot of demand but not a lot of supply.”
At the same time, he’d like to see the city find ways to encourage a diversified workforce and foster a vibrant economy “that keeps people shopping locally and contributing locally and offers a little more commercial variety to appeal to new people coming, local consumers and people looking for jobs.”
Appealing to more families and a younger demographic is also critical. “It’s important to give kids more to do and hopefully keep them out of trouble,” he says, mentioning the Polson Skatepark as an example.
Although at 31 he’s relatively young for a candidate, Holley says people in his neighborhood have been supportive of his decision to run. “I’m younger and there’s some experience I lack. But for my generation, it’s time put up or shut up, to get involved, to help take the reins and contribute back.”
“I seem to have a knack for working pretty well with a lot of different people, hearing them out and helping come up with solutions,” he adds. “I do it pretty well at work, so I figure I can make it work on a municipal government level too.”
Background: Originally from Texas, Jen and her husband, Donald, moved to Polson five years ago when she was hired to manage the Walgreens store
Work and Community Service: Employed by Walgreens for 25 years, she moved from assistant manager to store manager, and served as district photo supervisor of 40 stores for three years; has championed the Junior Diabetes Foundation’s Sneaker Campaign and Red Nose Day, which raises funds to fight childhood poverty
Ruggless credits Ward 1 Commissioner Jan Howlett with encouraging her to run for office. “We click well, think very openly, and we both want to see positive things come to Polson regardless of whose pocket it benefits.”
She and her husband moved here from Houston, and recently bought a house after their rental at Bear Harbor Condominiums went on the market and they had six weeks to move out. Fortunately, they found a home quickly and moved in Oct. 1. But the experience of suddenly scrambling to find a place to live gave her a firsthand look at the lack of affordable housing in Polson.
“My husband and I were talking about buying an RV – we had no place to go and there was no place to rent,” she says. “There needs be a place for people to live and grow and raise a family or live out their years in comfort and peace – that’s something Polson doesn’t offer right now.”
As a businessperson, the housing shortage also impacts her ability to hire qualified employees. “People want to move here but they can’t afford it.”
Ruggless believes “Polson needs a person who is geared to think of different ways to bring growth.” The community “either wants to stay a small tourist town or they want to grow – people need to make a decision because they can’t have both.”
“We need to think of different ways to get past barriers to growth and barriers to keeping people here who can contribute to the community by jobs, by their revenue and by purchasing things in the community.”
From sitting in on commission meetings in person or via Zoom, she perceives a lack of trust between citizens and local government. The commission has made what she perceives as “growth prohibitive” decisions, including voting against zoning variances for two businesses, and cancelling the concessionaire’s permit at Boettcher Park.
“I wasn’t on the other side of those decisions, but to me those people are being pushed out – why? If it’s logistics, let’s fix it and move on.”
She notes that the pandemic has impacted growth and the local economy, but advocates “taking COVID as a learning experience instead of an excuse – this is what the norm is going to be.”
After 25 years in the business sector, Ruggless says she looks forward to getting into “something completely different than what I’m used to doing. Here I listen to 15 other teammates, where I would be listening to several hundred if not a thousand people and trying to make them happy, and keep them living in Polson,” she says. “That’s a great opportunity for anyone.”