Contested Local Elections

Episode 82 | October 14, 2020



In pivotal times, we need good leaders. While the eyes of the masses are cast upon Capitol Hill, your community elections are arguably just as vital. The local Tahoe/Truckee boards and council dictate how and where your utilities come from, what priorities a town should have, and how your taxes are spent. The impact when checking those boxes on your ballot is significantly greater at a local level, where your voice is louder.

Becca Loux here, Moonshine Ink’s digital content editor. Welcome to Moonshine Minutes. Today’s episode is derived from reporting by me, Mayumi Elegado, and Alex Hoeft with the trends and perspectives of the contested local elections. 

A few of the local races on the ballot this year are contested, and while all deserve coverage, our bandwidth mandated we choose. We focus on two agencies that are in critical stages — Truckee Town Council and the Truckee Tahoe Airport Board, hearing directly from the candidates vying from your vote. We’ll wrap up the episode with a quick overview of other contested races and a list of the (considerable) uncontested local seats this election cycle. 


The town of Truckee, now 27 years old, is revisiting its general plan and developing measures for mitigating effects of climate change, as well as contending with the massive shifts in population, fire danger, housing affordability, and transportation. Yes, the whole region faces these issues, yet being the only municipality in our coverage area, the town is in a unique position of local governance.

In the candidates’ answers this year, affordable housing proved to be a dominant issue and relatedly, the need for a consistent vision to hold the community fabric together. It was universally pointed out that selecting only one “local business you couldn’t do without” was unfair — we think that’s a good point. 

There are seven candidates running for the Truckee Town Council’s full four-year term, for which residents can vote for two. In alphabetical order, your choices are Frank Bernhard, Dow Costa, Marcy Dolan, Jack Forbes, Courtney Henderson, Lindsay Romack, and Nicholas Sielchan. There is one two-year seat also available, for which Carla Embertson and Jan Zabriskie are running. 

We asked every candidate three questions, regarding what policies they would’ve changed that Truckee has enacted in the past, what leadership qualities they feel are important, and how the town should adjust now that it’s considered a “Zoom Town.” Visit the online versions of the stories, titled Keep It Together, All on Board, and Remaining Contested Elections, In Brief on to read all the candidates’ answers, and pick up a copy of our print edition for the full election spread and selected answers. 

The airport board has been quite contested the past few election cycles, and that is due largely to two factors — questions of noise abatement and where a bank of taxpayer money not needed for the airport’s operating budget should be spent. 

Incumbents Teresa O’Dette and Rick Stephens face challengers Ken Aronson, Leigh Golden, and David Diamond. Visit for all the candidates’ answers. Find the answers from all candidates online and in print as well. Your options are Ken Aronson, Leigh Golden, David Diamond, Teresa O’Dette, and Rick Stephens. 

Yet as this contested election heats up, one seat has just been filled as of Oct. 13. In a special board meeting over Zoom, the airport board interviewed five candidates for the open seat vacated by Jim Morisson. After discussing budget and special district collaboration (with a shoutout to Moonshine Ink’s article, available on our site, titled A Tale of Too Many Special Districts), the board voted on an appointee. Between applicants John Jones, Lisa Kreuger, Bill Quesnel, Kathryn Rohlf, and Andrew Terry, the airport board appointed Rohlf. All current board members besides Teresa O’Dette voted in favor of Rohlf, who was sworn in at the end of the special session.

Three other local governing boards are contested, and Moonshine Ink had the chance to speak with candidates in all of them during the community candidate forums we hosted with Tahoe Truckee Media. Check out the full videos on Channel 6 TTHS TV Station’sYouTube channel.

The Truckee-Donner Recreation & Park District candidates are Jason Hansford (incumbent), Lori Marquette, Mark Tanner, of which you can pick two. 

TDRPD candidates are looking to the future: Tanner said he’s running for reelection primarily to “revitalize the downtown community park that was taken on about a year-and-a-half ago” which he identified as a “huge need” in our community. Hansford, also running for reelection to the board, described the TDRPD as a “cornerstone” of our community and said his focus will be on “financial responsibility to sustain facilities and programming that our community has come to expect.”  

When asked about ideas for how to make facilities financially sustainable: Tanner discussed funding options via a donation system similar to the one that funds the bike park to be applied to the Donner Lake piers; Hansford stressed the importance of the private-public partnerships the TDRPD relies on for funding for these kinds of projects; Marquette, meanwhile, brought up the need for seeking outside resources, especially with the influx of new residents, stating that the agency should reach out to “foundations in the area … and also the other stakeholders” for collaboration.

The North Tahoe Public Utility District candidates are Sarah Coolidge (incumbent), Tim Ferrell (incumbent), Danielle Hughes, Phil Thompson (incumbent) 

We asked the candidates in the Sept. 10 candidate forum, for which Ferrell was not present, why it does not appear that the NTPUD will meet the mandate that all water purveyors in the state reduce water use per capita by 20%. Coolidge highlighted that in the last four or five years, this has been a top priority and cited success with projects blocking leaks in old pipes, of which she said more are needed, explaining that the “challenge is we have a huge population increase, especially in the summer [and] they use a lot of water.” Fellow incumbent Thompson went so far as to say that “it does not appear” the NTPUD will hit that mark, yet he said they are still “fighting hard” to do so. 

When we posed the question about a regional structure with numerous agencies that deal with wastewater, Thompson mentioned their partnership with the Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency and having a member representative on their board. Coolidge said that while NTPUD is not directly responsible for sewage once it leaves the district, TTSA and other agencies managing waste have a “direct impact on our rate payers” as well as on the board itself and called for “economies of scale” and “consistency across the board whenever we can have it.” Hughes brought up her background in water quality and hydrology and recommended that “with climate change and adaptation strategies in the Lake Tahoe Basin we actually need to look at alternative use of our wastewater.” 

The Truckee Donner Public Utility District is also contested. The candidates are Joseph R. Aguera, Jeff Bender, and Bob Ellis (incumbents); Kim Harris, Cathy Stewart. You can pick three.

On the TDPUD’s fire prevention budget, incumbent Aguera discussed the unprecedented need for an increase, though he stated the current is “probably not enough still,” while Bender concurred, stating that the extra half a million dollars meets their goals for this year but not beyond. Challenger Harris said the TDPUD has done a good job so far but “could reach out to the community” for better education opportunities, expanding into schools and collaborating with other fire districts. (Stewart was not present at the forum).

Regarding the energy mix for the TDPUD, Ellis noted that the district utilized over 70% renewables in the month of August, while Harris suggested looking for opportunities to move to 100% renewables and energy conservation techniques, and that the district should do better to reach out to the Hispanic community with regard to efficiency. Aguera and Bender are confident the TDPUD can hit state-mandated goals, with Bender projecting his wish of hitting 100% renewable energy at the 100-year anniversary of the TDPUD in 2027. 

So we have some heated local elections, but there are actually more uncontested races than contested for local boards. Pick up a copy of our print edition for the list. That’s all for today, thanks for listening and stay informed by subscribing to our emails, which give you access to our coverage first. Sign up at






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