OMAK — Four years ago, city councilman Dale Sparber challenged 12-year incumbent mayor Walt Smith over local economic issues, and became mayor.
Now, it’s Sparber’s turn to be challenged, this time by former Omak police reserve officer Brett Klimek, who says the current mayor hasn’t done enough to help the local economy.
Omak’s school district is losing students, and officials are still trying to attract a new industry — or lots of little ones — to fill the void left by shrinking timber and orchard industries.
Klimek was fired in 2003 from Omak’s reserve force after raising issues with Police Chief Larry Schreckengast, including allegations of unethical and immoral conduct.
Klimek sued the city, its police department, and Schreckengast. A judge ruled in favor of Omak in July, dismissing the case.
Q: Challenger Brett Klimek, in a complaint and lawsuit against the city, raised a number of ethical issues against the police chief, including use of the city’s computer at work for personal reasons. What’s your position on this, and if elected, will you keep Larry Schreckengast as chief of police?
Klimek: I really don’t know, but that’s not why I’m running. It’s in the past for me. I’ve put it behind me. It is what opened my eyes to the lack of leadership at the mayoral level. I saw it firsthand. But it’s not an issue with me any more. I’m not even thinking about it … Anything that’s happened in the past, it’s gone. My focus is on what’s best for the community, and what’s going to help it grow. There is no vendetta.
Sparber: Larry is still here. Yes, I would keep him as chief. Everyone has a right to file a lawsuit. I investigated it (the initial complaint), and I couldn’t find any proof or cause for me to fire Larry. The insurance investigator, he said we have one of the best small (police) departments he’s ever seen. One of the best equipped and best run departments … Our department heads are at will employees. You don’t have to have a reason to fire them. But your conscience makes you have a reason.
Q: In the last five years, the Omak School District has lost almost 400 students. Is this a concern to the city, and if so, what can the city do to help reverse this trend?
Klimek: When people want to move here and they’ve got kids, where do they look first? The school. We need to see what the problems are and do what it takes to change it. If we continue on the way we are, we’re going to be a retirement community with nobody to support it. There are ways to make it grow, but stay a small town … My big issue is the airport. I’ll be going gangbusters on that. Three hundred feet is all we need (added to the runway) and then we can start having charter flights … Right now, because there’s been no leadership, a lot of the department heads are saying, ‘We can’t do this.’ Instead, we should be saying, ‘If we can’t do it this way, how can we do it?’
Sparber: They were leaving for jobs. But we have done some things to turn that around. The Economic Alliance has attracted some small businesses. We have Kettle Valley Dried Fruits. Wal-Mart (Super Center) has been a large boost … Places are selling, mostly to retired people. The retired people are coming because we are set up with a good hospital, great weather, and a way of life that they like … I think you’ll see some of them (families) trying to come back if jobs open up. I think any business or manufacturing firm that comes in will bring young people with it. I’m really proud of my city staff. When someone contacts us, they do a feasibility study. They answer five or six pages of questions. They have it completely together in a database.
Address: 819 Vista Place
Occupation: Retired supervisor at Omak Wood Products and former manager of Mountain View Racquet Club
Education: Cashmere High School graduate, attended Wenatchee Valley college and University of Montana at Missoula.
Experience: Omak mayor, four years; Omak City Council, six years, former chairman of Omak High School Vo-Ag Committee; held offices in the Okanogan Valley Bass Club and Okanogan Men’s Slow Pitch League; former sports coach
Address: 730 E. Ridge Drive
Occupation: Xerox customer service engineer
Education: Graduated from Omak High School, attended J. M. Perry Technical Institute in Yakima
Experience: Omak Police Department reserve officer, four years; currently is a reserve deputy for the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office; former youth sports coach