Forest Hills mayor race down to the wire, but not in the way you might think
The clock was ticking. There were just two days to go for mayor candidates to step up to the plate in the small village of Forest Hills — and still no takers.
The first deadline had already come and gone without anyone offering their name — and with it their time and energy — to manage the day-to-day business of the primarily volunteer-run town.
So the sign-up period was extended for an extra week. But now it was Wednesday, and with the new deadline looming come noon on Friday, it wasn’t looking good. Would the tiny Jackson County town be left without a top leader come November’s election?
“I don’t know,” said Councilman Ron Mau, when asked last week who would be village’s next mayor. “Somebody asked if I was going to and I said ‘No, I’m busy enough doing what I’m doing.’”
And this time it didn’t look like the sitting mayor, Jim Wallace, would rescue the village at the last minute. In 2009, Wallace was hiking in the Swiss Alps and missed the filing deadline, only to return and run a write-in campaign, which he won.
This time, Wallace had already publicly announced he would not seek another term, and then promptly went AWOL during the filing period.
Second-hand reports pointed toward some sort of family vacation. One village council member confirmed by looking in his driveway that he had probably skipped town for the time being. Another said he didn’t think the mayor had been at church in the past few weeks.
Neither did Wallace return email messages or voicemail messages left by a reporter.
“I’m guessing he’s probably out of town,” Mau said.
Either way, his absence left the rest of the village councilmember’s staring blankly at each other.
It has been a challenge for Forest Hills, with just more than 300 registered voters, to fill up the ranks of its government, said Councilman Clark Corwin. From the planning board to mayor, the tasks are plenty, but the selection of warm bodies is small.
Originally a golf course development, Forest Hills incorporated as a town in the late 1990s, reputedly for the purpose of imposing zoning laws to keep out college student housing. Yet it still resembles a well-organized neighborhood association more than a town in some ways — though its affairs must be managed nonetheless.
And the mayor is the one always stuck with making the follow-up phone calls, doing background research on issues, fielding complaints from residents, the list goes on.
“It’s a job, and you’ve got a real small pool of people to draw from,” Corwin said. “It takes a lot of time — yes, it does.”
Corwin will also seek reelection for his board seat and, like Mau, will run unopposed.
Although he liked his spot on the council, he was in no way looking to be mayor.
“I would miss a lot of meetings and not be able to prepare well,” Corwin said. “It’s just not even possible.”
By Thursday morning, Forest Hills still didn’t have a mayor lined up. If Friday’s deadline came and went, Forest Hills’ mayor seat would then fall to a write-in candidate.
But, “If no one writes in…?” asked Jackson County Board of Elections Director Lisa Lovedahl. Well, she said, “there’s always a write-in.”
Lovedahl saw exactly that scenario play out in 2009 in Webster, another of Jackson County’s tiny towns. Only two candidates signed up to run for five open board seats. When Election Day rolled around, however, more than 20 write-in names appeared on ballots. As a side note, only 42 people actually voted.
It was late morning Thursday, when an answer materialized in the form of Kolleen Begley. As former Forest Hills clerk and finance officer, and current president of the local homeowners association, Begley is no stranger to village government.
If elected — and her chances look good since she is unopposed — she’s planning to take on village issues like maintaining good roads, public safety and working with surrounding communities.
But with her hands full as a marketing coordinator and controller in the real estate sector, even she was hesitant to take on the extra duties. She admitted she was waiting to see if anybody else committed to run and that the time commitment was on her mind.
“Yes,” she wrote in an email. “This is why I waited to see if others were going to run.”
For the record, a dispatch from soon-to-be former mayor Wallace arrived Tuesday just before press time. This candidate filing period, it wasn’t the Alps — it was a trip to Africa.