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Forum canceled: Few candidates willing to participate

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | July 21, 2021 1:00 AM

MATTAWA — A forum designed to introduce Mattawa-area residents to candidates in elections for local offices was canceled due to lack of participation from candidates.

A candidate for Mattawa mayor said he couldn’t participate unless any questions were supplied in advance and answers prepared in advance of the forum, on the advice of the city’s attorney.

Offices up for election this year include the Mattawa mayor, four Mattawa City Council seats, two Wahluke School Board seats, and seats on the commissions guiding Grant County Fire District 8, Mattawa Community Clinic and Port of Mattawa.

The forum was scheduled for July 8. Organizer Lars Leland said he invited 18 people running for various offices to participate, and three agreed. Positive responses came from school board candidates Luke Jenne, Cynthia de Victoria and Nick Trejo. Incumbent Jesse Chiprez did not reply to Leland.

The current mayor, Maggie Celaya, and council members Tony Acosta, Wendy Lopez, Silvia Barajas and Vicente Acosta did not respond to Leland’s invitation. The four council members are running unopposed. Celaya is running for mayor and has a challenger in the race: Sun Hwang, currently a Mattawa council member.

Leland canceled the forum because he didn’t get enough response from candidates.

Hwang was among the people invited to participate. He responded to Leland by email.

“I was advised by the city of Mattawa attorney about the forum,” Hwang wrote to Leland. “And I agree with her concerns because my inadvertent comments may put the city of Mattawa at risk.”

Katherine Kenison is the city’s attorney.

Hwang said he could attend only if the forum organizers agreed to certain conditions.

“Candidates (should) be allowed to present prepared statements introducing themselves and addressing their goals for the city,” Hwang wrote. “Candidates may provide prepared answers to previously provided questions from the moderator. No moderator or public questions shall be permitted.”

Hwang did not state how questions and answers at a candidate forum could put the city at risk. Kenison, when contacted by phone by the Herald for comment, declined to answer over the phone but instead asked for questions about her advice to Hwang to be sent to her by email and said she would see if she could answer them. She did not respond to the emailed questions from the Herald.

(This story has been edited with corrected information since it was posted.)