Editorial: Election- Deep, qualified field makes City Council choices difficult

Sweet Home has a deep field of candidates for City Council this year.

But with our ballots in hand – or already on their way to the county clerk’s office, we have eight choices for the Nov. 8 election (seven candidates ran in 2014). It’s a good day for Sweet Home.

The top four candidates in the election will serve terms beginning Jan. 1. The top three will serve four-year terms. The fourth-place candidate will serve a two-year term.

Generally, in recent years The New Era has not actually endorsed candidates, but we would like to point out things we like about the candidates drawn from their answers to our questionnaire, a candidate forum and what we’ve observed from their work in the community.

An almost universal issue for voters in any election is ignorance. It’s hard for Joe Average to learn enough about candidates – at any level other than, perhaps, the presidential race – to be able to really vote intelligently. And, frankly, how many of us really want to devote the time and effort necessary to figure out who we like?

So many citizens depend on spin-loaded TV commercials, websites and mailers. It’s a jungle out there, and a lot of time we end up voting for Tarzan because we recognize his name.

We’ve made an effort this year to provide Sweet Home citizens with a little more. We’ve posted an 18-question survey of candidates at sweethomenews.com on the Politics/Government page under the News/Photos tab. We’ve also posted a video of the candidates forum, to which all eight candidates turned out, on the website. We strongly urge readers who weren’t there to view it – despite the sometimes poor camera work. The sound is clearly audible.

This year, it’s a hard choice – not because we don’t like the candidates, but because we do. So here’s some of our analysis of the field, in alphabetical order:

Andrew Allen, 34, brings experience in business and in advisory committee service to his candidacy.

Allen, a 2001 Sweet Home High School graduate, earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Boise State University. He has worked in the banking industry and currently owns a local wholesale bakery which, until recently, also had a retail presence in town. He has served as a local sports coach and as a member of the city Budget Committee and Parks Board.

Allen is well-versed in business practices and a strong advocate of planning and establishing processes for community initiatives. He has demonstrated over the last several years a strong interest in community development and has been involved in a number of grass-roots fund-raising efforts for various local efforts, including youth sports programs.

We appreciate his optimism, “doing with what we have” rather than “talking about what we’d like,” forming a basic foundation where people can “grow their ideas.” And we appreciate his comment that the City Council cannot directly create new businesses.

We look forward to a City Council that will take the initiative to partner with the voluntary efforts, mentioned by Allen, that are already under way in Sweet Home, working better to create systems and solutions that enable ideas to develop past the brainstorming stage.

We also like that Allen is concerned about the city overstepping its bounds with regard to lower-income residents with the proposed livability code, and he would prefer first to focus on community improvement without changes to the code, such as hiring an economic development director.

Allen is critical of the how the council handled its decision with the city manager.

(We should note here that we are interested in what candidates have to say about this issue because it represents a turning point in our city’s history and there were issues of transparency and apparent lack of direction that more than a few residents have told us they’ve found troubling. It is an important question, whether candidates appreciate it or not, though we by no means encourage voters to base their decisions on that point alone despite our emphasis on it here.)

Susan Coleman, 44, has, by her own admission, little experience in the political process, but she has been involved in women’s organizations and as an organizer for cooperative efforts between area churches – particularly Mid-Valley Women of Christ and the HOPE Center.

She has volunteered at Sweet Home Junior High, Oak Heights, East Linn Christian Academy and at Hillside Fellowship church, where her husband is the pastor. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in Christian education and a master of arts degree in intercultural studies.

Coleman is articulate and, although she has declined to comment on the council’s city manager decision, she clearly understands many of the issues facing the city.

We appreciate the view she has expressed regarding the role of government, as “overseeing the proper use of resources,” which includes administering justice, law and order and providing certain public services, like sewer, water and transportation infrastructure.

We appreciate her relatively hands-off, non-legislative approaches to problems. We think that’s a healthy view of the proper scope and role of government.

Diane Gerson, 80, is a retired school administrator and an incumbent after being appointed in July to replace Bruce Hobbs.

A former school principal, whose late husband Gus was director of the Pasadena, Calif. Parks and Recreation Department, Gerson has a bachelor of arts degree from Whittier College and master’s and doctoral degrees from Brigham Young University.

Gerson’s involvement in the community is second to none. She has served on the Sweet Home School District Board of Directors, the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and currently sits on the Sweet Home Economic Development Group Board of Directors, where she has been one of the primary participants in drafting a new policies and procedures manual for SHEDG.

She is the former president of the KidCo Head Start Board of Directors and former chairwoman of the Linn County Commission on Children and Families.

She is the president of the local FA Chapter of the PEO and a member of the Sweet Home Economic Development Group Board of Directors. She also is involved in the Friends of the Library. She is a member of the Library Board and chairwoman of the Budget Committee.

Gerson is articulate and is very experienced in both supervision and working in collaboration with others. She’s also not afraid to clearly state her position.

She clearly sees Sweet Home’s problems with poverty and the need for economic development and believes it’s the council’s role to take leadership in addressing those.

Her attention to detail and her unwillingness to go along with anything until she understands the issue and the implications of possible decisions make her a worthy candidate.

Her criticism of the council over the past year is spot-on. She has described its decision regarding the city manager as ill-timed, noting that the council has not been focused, had not set goals and thus had no direction.

We will only say this: Do not let her age be a factor in this decision.

James Goble, 42, is also an incumbent, appointed last spring to the council to replace Marybeth Angulo. Goble studied criminal justice at Linn-Benton Community College and is a production manager with a local company.

His volunteer activities include the city’s Adopt-a-Park program. He has personally adopted Upper Sankey Park and the BMX track, and has plans for future improvements there. Goble has vision and energy.

He has publicly stated that he’s in agreement with the council’s decision to discharge longtime City Manager Craig Martin, which occurred before he was appointed.

We appreciate his concern about the impact a livability code may have on lower-income residents. We also like his enthusiasm for the Sweet Home community and deeply respect the time he has given to the community over the years as a volunteer.

We agree that the council should make the best decisions in service to the community regardless of how it makes a council member look in the eyes of others. If followed, it shows a commitment to doing what is right.

At the same time, he believes that a good leader must listen and learn and always be open and honest while acting in the best interest of the ones they serve.

Lisa Gourley, 55, is a special education assistant at Sweet Home High School. She is a graduate of Sweet Home High School, with various additional training.

Gourley has been married for 35 years to current Mayor Jim Gourley, who is leaving the council.

She has been very involved in the community over the years in multiple capacities and demonstrates extensive understanding of local issues.

As president of the Linn-Benton-Lincoln Central Labor Council and correlation chairwoman for the Councils for the State of Oregon, she coordinates communications and community outreach among a variety of volunteers and organizations, including the annual “Easter Egg Hunt and Breakfast” at the Corvallis Outreach Center and the annual “Turkey Run” in Albany.

She also was a co-organizer of the “First Book” event in Sweet Home. As Zone III director for the Oregon School Employees Association, she works with staff from 21 different school districts throughout the Willamette Valley.

We have found her explanation and support for purchasing the new City Hall to be the most persuasive single statement on the subject, although Dave Trask and others have iterated some of the same points. She articulated it the best in the candidates forum.

We appreciate her emphasis on retaining existing businesses as we look for ways to improve the local economy. It’s not something many candidates have mentioned recently.

She thought mediation might have resolved possible issues between the former city manager and council. Maybe. It would have been nice to try something. Otherwise her position on the subject seems non-committal.

Theresa Howard, 65, has been a fairly faithful attendee at City Council meetings this year. Howard attended one semester of junior college and is involved in the Fair Share Gleaners and Sweet Home Area Voters Alliance.

Howard brings a grassroots-level view of Sweet Home’s needs, coupled with a blunt assessment of issues.

We like her style. She doesn’t know a lot about how local government works, but she knows what it ought to do. She doesn’t like high water rates or taxes. She’s critical of the excuse council gave for its decision on the city manager and is “still waiting for the answer.”

She really likes to save money. We would expect her to be conservative on spending, taxes and utility rates.

We also believe she would be consistently open to the public, perhaps one of the most important traits in a councilor.

Some council candidates found a question about whether they’ll vote to legalize the sale of marijuana in Sweet Home “inappropriate.” For some reason they were reluctant to admit publicly how they feel on a subject where their viewpoints have been pretty obvious already.

She didn’t care. She answered it. In fact, she was the only one to answer the question straight up; and then she said she had smoked some that morning for medicinal purposes.

(We don’t like recreational pot, and we consider those trumpeting extreme medical benefits and how it can be the ultimate economic development package annoying, if not worse.)

We like Howard. We like her no-nonsense honesty. We find her refreshing.

Lisa Pye, 47, is volunteer executive director of Sweet Home Gleaners.

She lists a bachelor of science in business administration from California State University Bakersfield, with specializations in human resource management and marketing, a master of arts in education specialization from the University of Pheonix, and is working on a doctorate in business administration from Walden University.

Based on what she has stated in response to questions from The New Era and at the candidates forum, Pye clearly understands issues of poverty in Sweet Home.

She did not offer an opinion on the former city manager but said that it was necessary if change was needed to get the city going the direction citizens want.

Dave Trask, 66, is the candidate with the most experience at the City Council level, having served a full four-year term since he was elected in 2012. A retired CenturyLink installer, he’s a 1968 graduate of Sweet Home High School.

Trask has volunteered as a firefighter with what is now the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District for 44 years and is very involved in that organization, appearing at many public events – community fairs, visits to schools, etc. He also has coached youth sports.

Trask has openly stated that he supported the council decision that resulted in Martin’s departure as city manager. He is the only candidate who actually participated in the decision.

He is well-versed in city issues – finance, facilities, staffing and other issues – and brings a fiscally conservative approach to those.

Notable have been his efforts in the search for a new manager, including making a road trip to finalist Raymond Towry’s hometown of Ephrata, Wash., prior to the council’s vote to hire Towry, to do his own research into Towry’s qualifications.

Also to his credit, Trask has openly acknowledged complaints from the public that council members have been no-shows at important community events and has said he plans to improve in that area.

We appreciate his flat rejection of the idea that Sweet Home is too far from the interstate to attract new business and jobs, his belief that Sweet Home’s economy can grow.

Trask also hates high taxes and utility rates. But he’s also concerned about future expenses and requirements in the utilities. We can trust that he will pursue the lowest rates he can.

We aren’t convinced – at all – that the council made a good move in removing Martin. But that’s water under the bridge now and although we are concerned about the reasoning behind that decision, we think Trask’s strong points are worth considering.

Eight quality candidates are seeking four seats. There will be difficult choices here and the answer may come down to the reservations we might have about each candidate, because for us, at least, there’s a lot to like in this group.

We will give this advice: Don’t vote for someone just because you know their name.