First-time candidate sees room for new blood

Audrey Caro

Stephanie Newton, 28, decided to run for the open seat on the Linn County Board of Commissioners at the encouragement of Albany Mayor Sharon Kanopa, she said.

Newton regularly attends different city meetings and is vice chair of Albany’s Human Relations Commission.

“I really enjoy it,” she said. “It’s been a great way for me to make an impact.”

She has been attending County Commission meetings since February and thinks the meetings go quickly. There is little to no discussion before approving agenda items, she said.

“My biggest bone to pick – I think that it’s not very transparent,” Newton said. “The meetings are recorded, they aren’t posted online, you can’t listen to the audio and you can’t find the past agendas. You have to email them for it.”

She said that is a hindrance for citizens getting information from the county because people don’t always email if the information is not readily available.

That’s one of the things she would like to change if elected.

“We have not had a woman or a Democrat on the commission in 20 years,” Newton said. “I think I would bring a different perspective. I’m a working mom. I know what it costs to put your kid in daycare.”

She can relate to struggles, such as buying a house, that people go through.

“I think that (the struggles are) different than they were 20 or 30 years ago,” Newton said. “I want to give my generation that voice. I want to be (part of) a new generation of public service and fiscal responsibility.”

Newton requested the county budget from Linn County Treasurer Michelle Hawkins and met with her.

Newton also has been making an effort to meet citizens.

“I haven’t met every single person in Linn County yet, but I’m trying,” Newton said. “I’m knocking on doors.”

So far, she has canvassed in Albany, Brownsville, Lebanon and Sweet Home. She said she plans to visit other communities in “:the coming days and weeks.”

Newton has lived in the area for four years, the last year and half in Albany where she and her husband, Scott Azorr, bought a home in the Monteith Historic District.

They were previously required to live on campus at Oregon State University where Azorr works.

“We bought our house right before things went a little crazy,” Newton said. “I can’t imagine buying a house right now.”

While there are homes being built in the area, she thinks Linn County needs different types of housing.

“Our neighbors in North Albany are building a lot of those really cool big houses that are $450,000 and you can wave at your neighbor out your bathroom while you’re brushing your teeth.”

Newton thinks there is a need for more affordable housing and homes for smaller families.

She attended a recent Linn-Benton Housing Authority meeting and is excited about a project for low-income for which that entity is seeking a grant.

“It would be true affordable housing for low-income seniors,” Newton said. “I love these kinds of projects and I think that we have a community that needs affordable housing.”

Sometimes people need a helping hand, she said.

“The reality is, how many people are a few paychecks from absolute devastation,” Newton said. “I want to support and be that helping hand.”

Newton said she has heard a lot of people say they are against the transient lodging tax but she prefers that to raising property taxes.

“We have a growing population,” Newton said. “We have a lot of needs and I think it’s a more creative way of earning revenue for the county instead of increasing property tax which I know can be devastating for a lot of families.”

In March of 2016, the Linn County Commissioners filed a $1.4 billion class action lawsuit against the State of Oregon and the State Forestry Department for failure to properly manage forest policy and promote timber harvests on forest trust land.

“I disagree with the actions the Linn County Commissioners have initiated,” Newton said.

“This lawsuit is a gamble and – even if it is won – it is untenable to expect that the state will have the means to pay out such a large settlement. This is not a good use of county resources, which should be utilized bettering the lives of residents.”

In November of 2016, Linn County filed a claim with eight other counties against state-mandated paid sick leave because the state did not provide “adequate reimbursement.”

“There is room for improvement when it comes to addressing paid sick leave for Oregon’s working,” Newton said. “This should be addressed in the legislature rather than engage in yet another expensive lawsuit. Our commissioners would have been better served by taking the opportunity to lead and create solutions that would benefit employees, employers and Linn County.”

Newton grew up in Redlands, Calif. and went to school in Utah, where she met Azorr, an Oregon native. Newton first fell in love with the state when he brought her here to meet his parents, she said.

Newton earned a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from the University of Utah. She took prerequisites in line with a path toward becoming a physician but decided not pursue that path.

She enjoys her career as a marketing consultant and also did not want to add to her student loan debt with the four to six additional years medical school would require.

“That’s a big hindrance for people and it was for me,” Newton said.

As a marketing consultant, Newton works with small business owners and startups.

“My dad is a small businessman so I’ve always been really passionate about people pursuing their dreams, people having an idea and doing something with it,” she said.

Newton likens working with businesses in this way to a “choose-your-own-adventure” book.

“Every day it’s a different problem,” she said.

That experience will be an asset to her as a county commissioner, she said.

“I know how to connect with people. I know how to listen to people. I know I do not have all the answers and I know I have not lived in each person’s experience. I’ve always wanted to hear all sides. Naturally I’m a listener and I’m a problem solver.”

Newton has some experience with rural life as well. Her grandfather was a hog farmer.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a hog farm, but they smell so bad,” Newton said.

There are regulations for how close a hog farm can be to other farms and residences, she noted.

As more land use applications for marijuana are submitted to the Linn County Planning Department, one of the most common concerns is odor.

“I have only driven by them,” Newton said. “They’re skunky, I’ve smelled it before.”

She said while she supported the legalization of marijuana, “it’s just not my thing.”

She thinks maybe some sort of a buffer could be explored to alleviate the concerns of neighboring farmers.

If she is elected, Newton said she will focus on her job as commissioner and not continue her marketing consultant career.

“I think Linn County deserves that focus,” she said.

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