Coast Radio hosts Candidate Forum
Questions cover topics in advance of Nov. 8 General Election
Oct. 10, 2022 — Housing, taxes, tourism, climate change, partisanship and how elected officials interact with the public and each other were just some of the numerous topics covered during the Coast Radio Candidate Forum, held on Wednesday, Oct. 5, in front of a live audience at the Florence Events Center and available through KCST 106.9 FM as well as streamed through Facebook.
The nearly three-hour event welcomed a full slate of candidates for three separate races, Florence City Council, City of Florence Mayor and West Lane County Commissioner.
“Many of the questions that will be asked today will be directly from submissions done to our website, so thank you for that,” moderator and Coast Radio co-owner George Henry said while opening the forum.
The forum was broken into three, 45-55 minute segments, allowing for the diverse group of candidates to give their backgrounds and views. Each candidate was given one minute to respond to each question, with occasional follow ups by Henry, though candidates often went over the time limit.
The first section of the forum, devoted to the Florence City Council, included four candidates running for two open seats.
Robert Carp touted being a 37-year public servant, including a firefighter for 12 years and a police officer for 22 — “I know how to problem solve,” he said, noting the importance of teamwork.
Jo Beaudreau listed years of experience with governmental policy with the City of Florence, administrative experience, local volunteerism and her “current role in our community as a part of our workforce.”
Maggie Bagon leaned on 11 years of service to the region, as well as her experiences as a retired child welfare caseworker which brought together “a lot of different people who disagreed.”
Donna Cherryholmes started by saying she was not a politician, but she does “bring to the table 40-plus years of project management experience, as well as change management consultant experience.”
The second section of the forum found two West Lane County Commissioner candidates vying for one open seat.
Dawn Lesley is an environmental engineer with 27 years of experience, who also served on the Lane County Budget Committee, “So I have a strong understanding of the county budget,” she said.
Ryan Ceniga is currently a water distribution manager at Eugene Water & Electric Board, and sits on the Junction City School Board, where he “learned a lot throughout the years about the public and private sector.”
The final section of the evening was devoted to the City of Florence Mayor race, which has two candidates running for one seat.
Rob Ward touted over 30 years of community service, including being a former mayor of Florence. “I view this position as mayor [as] a position of responsibility, not a position of power,” Ward said. “And I've always operated that way.”
Joshua Greene listed 28 years of service in the community, including numerous years on the Florence City Council. “We need to listen, have open discussions and find compromise,” Greene said. “That's going to require collaboration work by the council, staff and volunteers.”
Below are highlights from the evening, while the full version can be found at www.facebook.com/CoastRadioKCSTKCFM.
Additionally, on Friday, Oct. 14, look for a special edition of Siuslaw News with comments by council and commissioner candidates, and a deeper look into the background and opinions of Ward and Greene.
Part I — Florence City Council
- Choose one priority that you would focus on if you became a city councilor.
Beaudreau: In order to be able to work functionally together, I would like to build camaraderie between council members, and also continue outreach to the community to strengthen that bond of trust that I feel that the community needs right now. … I think that the city councilors and myself can do more open houses and more community connections through forums like this in conversations with our local media such as yourself and the Siuslaw News. I think that there's a little bit of a separation on the connections that we have, as we would be councilors, and making us more human again.
Bagon: I feel that housing, especially housing for the people that live and work here, is my top priority. And I'm already working on that issue, serving on the Housing Implementation Plan Advisory Committee. … But along with our wonderful volunteers here, our workforce, the people that work here, that work in the restaurants, that clean the motel rooms, that do all the jobs that keep our city on task, we need to realize that we have people commuting from Coquille.
Cherryholmes: The one priority that I would choose is supporting our businesses, as they're coming out of this COVID pandemic that we've just experienced — all of us. And that includes housing, employee retention, and collaboration with the other community members and organizations within this community in order to make sure those things are looked at and that we're able to accomplish something with them.
Carp: Public safety. You don't want to defund our police department like other cities have. When you defund the police department, your quality of life will change dramatically. All you have to do is look at Newport right now. It's just an hour, 15 minutes north of us. They have a tent city on their front lawn. The first week of that tent city, they had a stabbing, because these people are mentally ill, or drug addicted and so forth. And they're fighting amongst each other. So maintaining public safety for you is the top priority for me.
- The moderator asked, “One of the people asked that if it was possible to purchase the bowling alley and turn it into a recreational center in order to have more activities, is that something that you would be in favor of and why? Or why not?”
Cherryholmes: I am in favor of doing more for the younger people of this community. Specifically for the fact that it would help us with employee retention. I think that we've lost some important people in this community, because we didn't have things for their families, or they didn't feel that our school system, for example, is strong enough to take care of the needs of their families. And we've lost some important people here, specifically doctors and folks that are important to the aging community. So we need to focus on that, and see what we can do. I do know that the city is working on, and just recently passed or was able to get a grant, to replace the play structure at Miller Park. And I think that's one thing that we need to assist with in order to make sure that that project goes through.
However, Henry asked, “But specifically, would you be in favor of taking the bowling alley and rehabbing it for recreational space?”
Cherryholmes: I would not be okay.
Carp: I would be in favor of that. Anything we can do to enhance things for the young people in this town would be great. I used to live in Bend, Ore., and that city has a recreation department. Florence does not have one; we have a Boys and Girls Club, but no rec department. The City of Bend allots 10% of their budget for recreation, and that enhances the city tremendously. I would be in favor of the city here allotting 1 or 2% of the budget for recreation, establishing the recreation department. And that would help fund that bowling alley, turn it into something fun.
Beaudreau: I believe that the city could focus some of our energies on a Parks and Recs department, which would be encompassing a lot of different aspects of desires by the community, which would include maybe that idea and other ideas. I also want to point out that our definitions of community centers, or getting together, all are vastly different. A community center can be completely different for somebody else than another point of view. And so it's important to recognize that definition. But bowling is a great activity.
Bagon: I'm not sure if it's in our city's budget to rehab the bowling alley. It would take more investigation to know if it was economically feasible. But I am in support of a community recreation program. I think separating old people and young people is unhealthy. I think we all need to have one community recreation center, so we can all get to know each other, instead of the young people going one way and the old people going the other way. I think it's healthy on both ends to get to know each other.
- Do you feel like the current Council is going in a direction that you could support? Or would you like to see changes and the direction that the city council has been taking?
Bagon: Well, I think they've done some really good things, as far as getting started on the housing issue. Personally, I think it hasn't moved quickly enough. I know that we talked about housing back in 2014 as being a top priority. We also had a Siuslaw Vision team talk about it, and had a big thing at the event center in 2016, where housing was the number one issue. And while these low income projects are great, not everybody that needs housing is low income. And so I think we need to think outside the box, like Robert said ...
Cherryholmes: I believe that what the city has attempted to do is all good. What I'm seeing, and my experience with change management, tells me that the pandemic that we just went through is going to slow things down. We started looking at affordable housing back in 2016. And then we were shut down for two years, almost three years. And my take on this is that we need to be patient. We need to have new ideas. And we need to work very, very hard to make sure we look at all of the pros and cons as we move forward in making these decisions so that they become sustainable over time.
Carp: There's always room for improvement. The council that we have right now has done what they could do with the pandemic that occurred and is trying to rebound from that. I work closely with Wendy FarleyCampbell from the Planning Department. The department in the last four years has quadrupled the permit process and the moving forward of development. So you're going to have three new people on the city council, a new mayor and two new city councilors, you're going to have to see what they want to do and how they can accomplish it. The city has a work plan, and they're going to be doing a new work plan with the new city council. And that's when we can put all these ideas together and move forward.
Beaudreau: Robert’s correct on that, the new work plan is going to be coming up. I think that all councils have an amazing legacy that they've left behind dating back to when the city started. So I think every council has left an impression on their community. And it's important to recognize the accomplishments that they and the city staff have done. I do believe that it is vital, and always important, to have self-reflection on what you can do better. How can this be improved? What are the unintended consequences of X, Y and Z? So I think that it is important to have that recognition, and there are things that we can always do to improve, moving forward.
Part II — County Commissioner
- If elected, explain how you intend to effectively represent our communities?
Lesley: I love that question. I intend to represent the community west of the tunnel by being here. By spending time here. I will have regular office hours west of the tunnel … because it's important. It's how I learn what's happening here, by being here on a regular basis. And also, since I'll be coming on a regular basis, bringing folks from the county with me. Can I rope someone in from the permit department? Can I rope someone in from public health? Who can I bring with me, each time I go. Over time, that will start to infuse more attention from the valley to here. You shouldn't have to go to the valley every time you want to see your county commissioner. So that's an important piece of it. I'm here already a lot, as many of you know, because I see lots of familiar faces in the audience. And I will just continue to be here on a regular basis. And when Florence doesn't feel represented, I would just say, for the last 12 years you haven't been, and so I'm hoping to change that.
Ceniga: A lot of that is building relationships. A lot of you guys know Rep. Boomer Wright, he's kind of taken me under his wing. He explained it to me, and is taking me around the coast, the entire county. Meeting a lot of great people, building those relationships, giving them my cards with my cell phone on it. They call and I answered. Coming over, the Mapleton Water District called needing parts. I happen to know what those parts are, grabbed those parts, came over and help them get their water back on. I mean, doing those kinds of things, and being available whenever called, is how you how you heal that divide. I have heard a lot when I'm over here that people don't feel represented. I try and show up to different events, I made it to the Viking auction up the road. We went to a great Rotary Club event. Just being involved and answering anytime somebody calls coming over anytime somebody needs me.
Henry asked, “Just a quick follow up, because Dawn did mention it. Do you plan on having regular office hours here?”
Ceniga: I really haven't looked into it yet. I don't know what office spaces are available. But I mean, if that's something that the constituents are asking of, for sure. It's a beautiful drive.
- “Since our economy is fairly dependent on tourism, what are your thoughts regarding building a baseball stadium with tourism dollars?” Henry asked, regarding a recent Lane County Commission decision to approve an additional 2% transient lodging tax.
Lesley: So the Lane Event Center is a gem, and it's also struggled to fund itself. The folks that are attracted to the county by the events of the Lane Event Center benefit the whole county. … Folks come to Florence, they go to Oakridge, so it's a gem in the center of the county. And so, the reason this has come up recently is this question about the transient lodging tax. And what I like about the transient lodging tax and the way it's being structured, the request for an additional 2%, is that it's open. It could be structured to benefit Florence specifically, it can be used to benefit a stadium if determined to be the right approach. We don't know yet how stable the ends are and what the terms of that deal might be. So I'm not sure that the stadium itself is the right investment. But investing in Lane Event Center helps everybody and that 2% transient lodging tax is being deliberately, wisely, by the commissioners left open so that it can be purposed in various ways throughout the county, not just for that one project.
Ceniga: …When this first came up, I had nostalgia for the Em's like, "Yeah, we have to." And then you come over to Florence, and you talk to them, and you realize, how is this going to help Florence? We're taking 2% here to help Eugene more? Well, yeah, note taken. I went and started researching in Eugene with some hotel chains. And they were against it. And this is in Eugene. They showed me their books, what the Em's brought in. It's nothing from out of town; its people in Eugene, they want to go watch baseball. Well, that was before the Ducks had a team. Now the ducks have a team. So that splits it. Springfield has a team, that splits it even more. We have to listen. The thing that kept coming up was indoor track. We're known as Track City, Track Town, USA, this whole area. We saw what the World's brought in, what if we brought in more track? This is a topic that's going to have to go out and be discussed amongst everybody. And everybody's opinion is going to have to be brought in. It's a pretty complex decision to make. I mean, 2%, that's a lot.
- “…What we can see changes done to save further reducing the carbon footprint of the county?”
Lesley: The two largest greenhouse gas emitters that are under direct control of Lane County are the county fleet, and the landfill. The landfill actually has quite a bit — this is the largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions under direct control of the county. So when you put stuff in a hole in the ground, biological things happen in there, and you generate methane, which is a greenhouse gas that's 26 times as potent as carbon dioxide. There at the Short Mountain landfill, they do capture some of that methane and generate electricity with it. But right now, we're just about to move forward on an anaerobic digester that will divert material from ending up in that hole in the ground to begin with. Organic materials shouldn't be in a hole in the ground, randomly emitting methane and you're trying to catch it. It's a resource that we're not using, we're just throwing it in a hole in the ground. ...
Ceniga: Climate action is something everybody's got to look at. One thing I was looking at is the amount of smoke forest fires are putting out. A healthy forest isn't going to catch on fire. I was over here on the coast visiting, talking with constituents and the smoke from Waldo Lake was over here. What's the footprint on that? If we get in, make our forest healthy, now we also have natural resources. And now the county has more money in their general fund. It's a win win. Should we work on Short Mountain? Yeah. Is that a priority over burning our forest down every year, to me? No. This is a waste of resources.
Henry said, “Okay, a follow up on that is why does it have to be one or the other? Why can't it be both?”
Ceniga: Well, that's why I said, should we work on Short Mountain? Yes. But is it a priority over…? I mean, you have to prioritize, right? We can't do everything at the same time. We don't have the funds for it. We start with a forest that generates funds that allows more money for Short Mountain repairs.
Lesley: Note that I said greenhouse gas emissions that are under direct control of the county. As a county commissioner, my authority is with county stuff. There is no department of forestry at the county, there is no department of timber at the county. And we do need to have healthier forests, we do need to do a better job of managing our forests. And that happens at the federal and state level. And it's really important for somebody sitting in the seat in this role to understand what the county does and what the county doesn't do.
PART III — Mayor of Florence
- Henry asked Greene, “Joshua, one of the comments you've made in your videos is ‘Renew Florence.’ What do you mean, by Renew Florence?”
Greene: Be willing to look at change that makes common sense. In every aspect of whatever code, practice or tradition becomes a reason for keeping it the same way. That's really what I mean. Now, in the particular video that you're referring to, I think that was in reference to the volunteer selection process. And we will get to that later. So what I really mean is be willing to look at everything objectively, and listen, learn from each other, get all the stakeholders involved, and try to find a way to do it better.
Ward: Personally, I like the way the direction Florence is headed. And I think a lot of people in this community do also, that's why they're here. In the 30 years of serving on commissions and the port, I've always been involved, personally, with a group of people on a commission and council that I've been very proud to be part of. And I've liked that direction. And I think a lot of it goes back to — it's okay to attack an issue, it's not okay to attack a person. And the other thing that I realized, and it was something that a former attorney general for the State of Oregon who was also the president of the University of Oregon for a number of years, said, “You know what separates the United States from a third world country is our ability to compromise.” And that's so important, and we are as a country, we need to be reminded of that.
Greene: May I add one more thing to this question? There was a time on the council when we were all working together. And that's where the ‘City in Motion’ came from. And it was about alignment. It was about compromise. That's exactly what we did. And we got all the work done: the new city hall, the Public Works building — all that came from alignment in a good positive way. That's what I really want to get back. Because otherwise, we're not going to succeed in making the changes that are needed.
When Henry asked if he wanted more time, Ward declined.
- Regarding adjusting building codes, “Do you think enough is being done to make the process easier for contractors? Or would you like to see more done?”
Ward: Well, it's work in progress. I mean, it hasn't been completed yet. The HIP plan is a work in progress, and one part of that plan is to address some of those codes. The city has made changes in how they can increase the density for housing. I'm anxious to see what the results are. And then we always need to look at our codes and say, 'Well, are the codes still meeting the needs of what needs to happen here in Florence in terms of construction?' And housing is a big issue. There's so many different levels of housing. And we don't want to exclude any level of housing, but we want to make sure that all of the opportunities for the housing to be where the needs are, that the housing has been constructed. And those programs are in place.
Greene: I think everything Rob said is absolutely accurate and true. And there's been a lot done compared to when we first started doing the changes of the codes back in 2015 or 2016. A lot of things got changed. But we didn't get all the way in focusing, or insisting, or considering that we change our code where a developer wants to build, and you sit them down and say 'Okay, you want to put up 120 places?' 25% of them have to be workforce housing. It's not negotiable. We can work with giving you certain incentives, like the tax break or hookup charges, or permitting costs. But you've got to open the door to the reality that certain people will do it because they believe in what you're doing as a community, and other people won't do it, because they're not making the profit. And quite frankly, you don't want those people, because they're not going to take care of the property. They're not going to go back and take care of their tenants well. ...
- “Florence City Charter says the mayor sets the meeting agendas. How would you work with the councilors who may not share your same philosophy when it comes to placing items on the agenda for council discussion and possible action?”
Ward: Well, first of all, as a former mayor of Florence, that was never an issue. We would always talk about the agenda, and if somebody had something they wanted to have brought forward on the agenda, so it could be discussed, we would vote on it, and we probably put it on there. ... As a mayor, you're a member of a five-person body. And when you're a part of that, you know, there are some times when you could be in the minority vote. Not everybody votes “yes” or not everybody votes “no.” And so my commitment, and always has been, is that if I find myself in the minority vote of something that the council voted they wanted to do, my job is still to do the very best to make whatever that was voted on, successful. And I have always done that. And I will continue to always do that.
Greene: Yes, we should include all our fellow counselors and have an open door policy where everybody can discuss what goes on the agenda. The real issue is the mayor who does have the final voice should not use the agenda to control keeping issues out or not allow them to come out for open discussion. That's the deeper part of it.
As he closed up this segment of the forum, Henry said, “I’m going to say something controversial here, which I don’t normally do. But I hope you folks take it the right way — I would be honored to have both of you as mayor of Florence.”
For more information on the Nov. 8 General Election, visit lanecounty.org/elections and sos.oregon.gov/voting-elections/. People should register to vote by Oct. 18, and ballots will go in the mail on Oct. 20.