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Mattawa council member, incumbent running for mayor

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | October 27, 2021 1:00 AM

MATTAWA — Incumbent Mayor Maria Celaya is facing a challenge from city council member Sun Hwang in the general election Tuesday for Mattawa mayor.

Celaya was appointed as mayor in November 2020 after the resignation of former mayor Scott Hyndman. Tuesday’s winner will finish the remaining two years of the term.

The Herald emailed questions to both candidates last week, but Celaya didn’t respond to them.

“I appreciate you reaching out to me for an interview,” she wrote in a text Friday. “I hope you understand that my time is currently taken by my job as a mayor, teacher, community volunteer and parent. For the past weeks, I have been working with staff on the 2022 city budget. This week I have been busy with continuing to work on the budget, parent teacher conferences and planning upcoming community events. Our council meeting ended late last night (Thursday). I truly hope you understand.”

Sun Hwang

Q: Why did you decide to run for mayor?

A: Over the last 26 years Mattawa has been my home. A place where I started out as the manager of a trailer park only to grow that experience into the owner/operator of four successful businesses.

But more than just businesses, over those years I have fallen in love with the people, community and its values. I have been able to cultivate strong relationships with local businesses, community members, city officials, non-profits, council members, city workers and have turned many of those relationships into lifelong friendships as we continue to live life together.

My desire has always been to give back and serve this community. Running for mayor was an opportunity for me to actively listen to the needs of the community and then roll up my sleeves and provide the same American dream that was afforded to me over these last 26 years.

In this election, I’m not here to do battle, my main goal is to shine a positive light on our city, and I can’t wait to move past this election process and roll up my sleeves for the important work at hand.

Q: You’ve been on the council about five years. What are some of the things you think the city has accomplished during your time on the council?

As a business owner in Mattawa, I was asked to join the council five years ago. The intent was for me to add my business experience along with a business point of view to current discussions and initiatives. Last year, at the peak of the pandemic, like the rest of the country, small businesses in Mattawa were hit hard. The (city council’s) Cares Act Committee realized that only one out of 60 qualified businesses applied for the available grant intended to support them through this troubling time.

As you know, we are a small town, and posting an available grant on our website is not the best way to promote and create engagement.

I took the initiative and met one on one with each of our 60 qualified business owners. In each meeting, I took the time to present the options available to them, answer their questions and show them how to apply. Through this effort over 40 businesses received a grant and more importantly the effort and care cultivated a deeper relationship between our city government and our small businesses.

Q: The city is in the process of selecting a new police chief. What qualities are you looking for in a new chief? Given the instability and controversy in the department over the last year, how do you plan to promote stability? The former interim chief referred to a “toxic relationship” between city officials and the police department. How do you plan to address that?

A: Our police provide a sense of security in our community which is of utmost importance. For our officers, it is important that we provide the resources, training and support needed while removing any roadblocks in their way. For us to give our full support and backing to our force so they can protect us and the city we love.

With that said, in choosing the new chief, it is not solely my decision. My job as mayor is not to pick who I want, but to listen and learn the needs and qualities that the community and our current officers want in their new chief. Once I fully understand that, then my job is to identify that candidate, make sure everyone is aligned and then welcome and support our new force.

With the new chief, once hired, we need to work together hand in hand, removing any roadblocks and creating a strong, transparent relationship. If elected mayor, that will be my job and the buck will stop with me. For Mattawa, it is important that we learn from our mistakes, take ownership where needed but most important focus on the future!

Q: The town of Mattawa and the Mattawa area are growing, and one of the effects of that will be the need for more housing. How does the city attract more housing development, and what’s the role of city government in that process?

A: To create more single-family homes for residents of all ages, abilities, and incomes is important for the growth of this community. As mayor it is important to lead a community effort working together with our city officials and builders to create more single-family housing so that every local family has the opportunity to have a safe place to call home. Currently I have been meeting with contractors from Mattawa and Royal City who are excited for the opportunity, so the desire is there! When it comes to the role of the government, it is simply to work and collaborate with the various pieces to create a successful outcome in a manner that is transparent and beneficial to the community.

Q: Accommodating growth, when it comes, will require upgrades to the city’s water and sewer systems. What’s the plan for paying for the upgrades?

A: It will be important to assess, identify and prioritize upgrades needed and the costs associated with them. Then create a realistic budget and forecast that fits. Once we are confident in our numbers, we will then be able to create an action plan.

In parallel to work with the team to work within the grant cycles to identify grants available and create a work ethic of persistence to aggressively bring in usable funds for growth, upkeep and expansion.

Q: How does Mattawa attract more business development, and what is the city government’s role in that? The Mattawa area depends heavily on agriculture. What is the role of the city in attracting new and diversified economic opportunities?

A: Growth is more than just expansion. Growth is thriving. Growth is flourishing. While protecting our city’s current values, it is important for us to consistently identify areas of growth, investment, and job creation. This is a pivotal area where I will be able to utilize my experience and expertise to create a fertile landscape of opportunity and growth for our city!

It will be an effort to identify business we currently need but do not have. Event centers, franchise opportunities, truck stops, hotels, develop the port of Mattawa, the opportunities are there, it’s just a matter of creating an attractive landscape to start building up.

Agriculture is the heart of Mattawa and Mattawa has some of the best in the world. It will be important for us to support the industry and understand their needs and identify how we can support them.

In all these questions, as we solve these issues, they will start to support and strengthen the other areas of needs. There is a lot of work ahead of us, but I am confident that we can build a better future together.