Two more Republicans file for commission
by Brent Shrum, Kootenai Valley Record
March 4, 2008
Two more Republicans have filed as candidates for Lincoln County commissioner, bringing the total number seeking the GOP nomination for the post to five.
Dennis Souther, owner of Souther Construction, and forestry consultant Jerry Okonski have joined Libby Mayor Tony Berget, restaurant owner Mike Munro and retired chiropractor Don Cox in the hotly contested primary race.
Souther, who grew up in North Dakota, holds an associate’s degree from a community college in Walla Walla, Wash., and served in the U.S. Navy Seabees in Vietnam. After leaving the Navy in 1972, he moved to Libby, where his father was a school teacher. He worked at the mill and owned and operated his own auto body shops over the years until starting Souther Construction 12 years ago. The business currently employs 11 people and handles residential and small commercial projects.
“I have a good background as far as management goes, I believe,” Souther said.
Souther is the owner of the building at 614 California Ave. occupied by Rivermist Home Decor, in which his wife Val is a partner. His company also remodeled the building.
Souther said he became well-versed in local government elected to a two-year term on a study commission assigned to analyze Lincoln County’s system of government in the mid-1980s. He said he’s long had an interest in running for office.
“The time has just never been right for me to do it,” he said.
Souther describes himself as “a very conservative Republican.” With talk of a recession and the accompanying financial uncertainties, it will be necessary to take a close look at the county budget, he said.
Subdivisions are also taking up a considerable amount of county officials’ time and need to be addressed, Souther said.
“I think that has to be looked at fairly close, because county services can only go so far,” he said.
Okonski served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1972 and holds a master’s degree in forestry. He and his wife, Mary Ann, have been married nearly 40 years and have raised three daughters.
Since 1975, Okonski has operated businesses around northwest Montana and northern Idaho as well as British Columbia, Virginia and Chile. The various business ventures have all involved forest resources while dabbling in technologies including lasers, global positioning, mapping and satellite communications, Okonski said.
Okonski helped establish best management practices for forest lands in Montana and did the same for Chile during his nine years there. After returning to the United States, he worked for 3 ˝ years in Virginia setting up low-impact skyline logging operations. He came back to Libby in 2005 and has been working as a consultant on forest management projects on private land in the Flathead Valley. He recently opened a pulp wood yard on the former Stimson mill site now managed by the Kootenai Business Park Industrial District.
“I’ve been over most of the acres in this county over the years,” Okonski said. “Some of it on my hands and knees, some of it way up high, 20 or 30 feet.”
If elected, Okonski said his focus would be on long-term economic viability and financial stability without raising taxes.
“We already have people on fixed incomes, and when we talk about raising taxes even more to support the services people demand, it will cause a lot of financial hardship,” he said. “And I think we need to think about that.”
Okonski said he would look for ways to create wealth to reduce Lincoln County’s dependency on unreliable funding from the federal and state governments.
“We need to put our collective heads together here,” he said. “We need to draw all the talented people out of the woodwork.”
Candidates may file for the June 3 primary through March 20.
Editor’s Note: See the March 3, 2008 edition of the Kootenai Valley Record for the printed version of this story. The Kootenai Valley Record publishes once a week, on Monday, in Libby, Montana. They are a locally owned community newspaper, located at 403 Mineral Avenue in Libby. For in-county and out-of-county subscription information, call 406-293-2424, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.