McKenzie County Commissioner Candidates Eager To Serve The Public


October 24, 2018 | View PDF

Four candidates are on the ballot for McKenzie County Commissioner. Two are incumbents, and two are challengers. All four spoke to the Roundup about their desire to serve McKenzie County as a commissioner.

John Rolfsrud, who is vying for a commissioner position with McKenzie County, first spoke with the Roundup. Rolfsrud explained his background and experience that is pertinent to the position.

“I’m a longtime McKenzie County resident. I was born here, and after college I went to work for a manufacturing firm in Montana and moved back here more than 20 years ago and have been farming since. Currently, I’m on a township board in Blue Buttes. I’ve been on the McKenzie County Rural Fire Department for more than 20 years, with more than 16 years as the chief. I’ve been a member of the local Lutheran Church board for more years than I can remember.”

When asked why voters should cast their ballot for him, Rolfsrud answered “I do have a mechanical engineering background. That gives me some idea of how to deal with documents, contracts and bids. I have a background in unpaid public service.”

Asked if the county was currently run well by the sitting commissioners, Rolfsrud explained graciously, “Every county has its issues. Some things could be done differently. Recently, there’ve been lots of improvements to the county that have made a real difference. I don’t understand how certain things have cost a certain amount, and yet I can’t judge the current commissioners because I don’t have the data to work with.”

The Roundup also spoke with Howdy Lawlar, a longtime resident of McKenzie County who is also running for McKenzie County Commissioner.

Lawlar explained his time in the area, saying, “I’m the fifth generation on our farm and ranch. I went to college and then I taught school for two years and I’ve been home ever since. So, for all my years, I’ve been in McKenzie County all but seven.”

According to Lawlar, he believes there is a communication problem between commissioners and the public and he hopes to fix it.

Lawler said, “I think the need that needs to be met is that we should work on our communication with the public. That’s why I’m running, to be honest. The commissioners should be the ears for other people. That’s how I got into this. The current commissioners aren’t really telling us what’s going on with the county. Our county is huge and we don’t know what’s going on.”

When asked why there was, in his opinion, a communication problem, Lawlar responded, “I don’t know why. I think part of it is we think everybody can get on a computer and research but that’s not the case. Why aren’t our minutes published in more places? We’ve got to take the whole county and think about how we can communicate better with everybody.”

“I’m going to listen to what voters have to say,” Lawlar added, “and I’m going to be the voice for the citizens of McKenzie County. We have to look down the road. We have to look ten years down the road and see if something is going to backfire. I’m looking out for the betterment of my kids and grandkids.”

Current McKenzie County Commissioner, Vawnita Best, also spoke to the Roundup about her aspirations to continue in the office should the voters give her another term. Best, who has been in the area for all but ten years of her life, is finishing her first term as a commissioner. Best has been raising an Angus herd with her husband since 2006. She feels that good work has been accomplished in her term as commissioner.

Best said, “A lot of what we do in McKenzie County requires revenue that’s collected by the state and redistributed to McKenzie County. I think we’ve been working really hard at using those dollars wisely and establishing a capital improvement plan for the future that focuses on quality of life, community, and on a reliable industrial transportation grid on the county level.”

When asked what she would work on in the future, Best answered, “I think the theme should be ‘more of the same.’ We rely strongly on our gross production tax and every two years that formula comes up and the legislature establishes a new formula. In the last two years we’ve been working on providing a lot of analytical data the legislature can use to determine our future needs. We definitely have established the fact that over the next twenty years we have over 475 million in roads and bridge needs. It’s the highest in the state by far. We need to work with our legislative partners on the state level to get those dollars back here.”

Best also argued that commissioners should work on making family housing more available. Speaking of those needs, Best said, “At some level the county is going to have to get involved in the process of how we get single family housing units online. We have to double our single family housing capacity in the next twenty years, and probably more quickly than that because of our growing area and thirty thousand laborers. That figure will probably double.”

When asked how the county can help facilitate additional housing, Best answered, “We need to research that. We need to make this a competitive place to build single family housing and to make housing go vertical.”

Best continued, “We’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and research that but it’s definitely a problem we’ll have to solve in the near future because people need quality housing and a quality community.”

Finally, the Roundup spoke to Kathy Skarda, who also explained her longtime history in McKenzie County.

Skarda said, “I’m a lifelong resident of McKenzie County. I’m originally from the Squaw Gap area. I married my college sweetheart and we farm and ranch by Johnson’s Corner, with three kids and two grandkids. I’ve worked in banking for thirty-plus years.”

Skarda said of her last term, “I think it’s been very interesting and a learning experience. We’ve had lots of different issues with the oilfield and different contentious matters.”

She continued, “Each situation is unique, and I always try to visit with our citizens regarding each situation and voice our citizen’s concerns. We try to work together to make sure we come out with a solution.”

Regarding positive changes made during her last term, Skarda said, “In my opinion I think it’s good that we have now approved making the videos [of the meetings] available. That way there’s more transparency in regard to why we make decisions we’ve made.”

Skarda also spoke of infrastructure needs, saying, “We do have a lot of infrastructure that needs addressed. I’d like to see us keep funding to make McKenzie County a better place to live. We would like to see counseling services available and affordable housing. The commissioners should look for solutions, but the county can’t fully fund these things. We need to pay down our jail loan and things like that, but ultimately it all depends on what we receive from the gross production tax.”

Skarda finished her comments with an encouragement to vote.

“I would like to encourage everyone,” Skarda said, “to get out to vote. If they select me as their next commissioner I will do my very best to make sure I’m listening to McKenzie County citizens so they have a voice.”


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