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Local candidates put best foot forward in series of forums

Candidates for Colusa Unified School Board address voters at a candidate’s forum on Thursday, hosted by the Colusa County Chamber of Commerce. From left are incumbent Kelli Griffith-Garcia, incumbent Michael Phenicie, challenger Erin Steidlmayer, and incumbent Melissa Yerxa Ortiz.

The Colusa County Chamber of Commerce wrapped up its first week of hosting political forums for local candidates.

Candidates for Colusa City Council, District 2 Supervisor, and Colusa Unified School District Board of Trustees were hosted last week over three successive nights at the VFW Hall, in Colusa. A Candidate forum will be held tonight at the Education Village, in Williams, for the Williams City Council race.

The four candidates for the Colusa school board, including three incumbents and one challenger, drew the largest physically-distanced crowd of the three forums at the spacious VFW hall, and about 35 people watched live online on various streaming sites.

There are three seats on the school board in the Nov. 3 election with incumbents Kelli Griffith-Garcia, Melissa Yerxa Ortiz, and Michael Phenicie running for their second 4-year term. Erin Steidlmayer, a local attorney, is a newcomer vying for one of the seats.

“When someone asks me what is my agenda on the board, I say I have 1,400 – or how many students we have,” said Phenicie, a retired teacher, who taught music in Colusa schools for more than 20 years.

Chamber representative Valente Bailey, who gathered questions from the audience, said the school board forum was the most exciting of the three three forums because it was “more focused.”

All four candidates spoke passionately about one thing: student education, which was drastically interrupted when the coronavirus hit in March.

Despite the district’s heroic efforts to quickly shift to distance learning, all four candidates recognized that CUSD students have been greatly affected by the loss of the social and emotional connection they have with their teachers and peers, which is the foundation of in-person education.

They all believe there will be a lot of catching up to do when students do return to school.

“Returning to normal won’t be sufficient,” Griffith-Garcia predicted. “We have to concentrate on closing the gap.”

Griffith-Garcia, like Phenicie, has a lengthy background in education and is a current teacher at Pierce Joint Unified.

Current school board President Melissa Yerxa Ortiz is a fifth generation resident of Colusa, with a long community connection to Colusa Unified. Ortiz’ grandmother, Virgina Yerxa, served on the school board for 25 years and her uncle, Charles Yerxa, served 12.

“I am running for reelection because I am motivated by the belief that all kids can and should learn, should be challenged at whatever level they are at, and should be guided to develop their unique talents in a way that motivates them to learn and achieve all that they are capable of,” Ortiz said.

Steidlmayer, a relatively new Colusa resident with a relationship-focused law practice, brings unique skills to the board, including the ability to understand contracts, but said it is her vested interest in schools as the mother of three young children that has stirred her passion to see that Colusa Unified offers the best possible educational programs to its students.

“My heart is in the game,” Stedlymeyer said. “I have a sincere interest as a parent and a business owner, and I’m ready to serve and make the best decisions and provide a fresh perspective on our mission statement to make sure we are serving all kids.”

Another race that voters have their eye on is Colusa City Council.

Six candidates for the three open seats spoke to residents about their desire to be elected or reelected.

Former Mayor Greg Ponciano and Brent Nobles are the two incumbents in the race. Daniel Vaca, Matthew Reische, Denise Conrado, and Ryan Codorniz are hoping to pick up one of the open seats.

Each candidate brings a variety of skills to the table, and all six aptly fielded a number of questions before time was called at 8:30 PM, with three questions left unasked.

Candidates for Colusa Treasure Robin Rauch and Devin Kelly did not participate in the forum, but were allowed time for brief introductions.

There was less interest in the District 2 Supervisor race between run-off candidates Dave Markss and Daurice Kalfsbeek-Smith, who were the top two vote getters in the March primary. Their forum lasted just 30 minutes of the 90 minutes of time allotted for opening statements and questions.

Marks and Kalfsbeek-Smith are vying for the position that will be vacated on Dec. 31 by Supervisor John Loudon.

Markss is a retired Colusa County law enforcement officer and currently serves on the Colusa City Council. Kalfsbeek-Smith has a background in business management.

Both are active in local community-based organizations. ♣

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