Sept. 30, 2020 —
(Note: This Saturday, Siuslaw News will be publishing a special 8-page Voter’s Guide with all candidates — both state and local, Republican and Democrat — who are running in this November’s election in our city and region. The guide will include bios and a series of questions and answers from each of the candidates. Because of this, this story will focus on the local city council candidates who participated in Saturday’s event.)
This past Saturday at the Florence Events Center, nearly 200 area residents, as well as some visitors from the valley, had a chance to meet and hear platforms provided by Republican candidates running for seats representing the local region in the Oregon House and Senate during a special forum sponsored by Lane County Republicans. Among those speaking at the forum were Alek Skarlatos, candidate for U.S. House; Boomer Wright, candidate for Oregon House; JoRae Perkins, candidate for U.S. Senate; and Dick Anderson, candidate for the Oregon Senate.
In addition, and of particular interest to local residents on both sides of the political spectrum, was the opportunity to hear from all six of this November’s non-partisan position city council and mayoral candidates for the City of Florence, who were on hand to present their platforms and answer a handful of pre-determined questions.
Due to the 100-person limit required at the FEC to meet state and county COVID-19 safety guidelines, two separate sessions were held in order to allow as many residents into the event as possible, with sessions at 2 p.m. and a second at 4 p.m. Between sessions, the building was emptied except for cleaning crew members, who sanitized the flat-floor area where the event was held.
Those attending the event were required to wear face masks or shields at all times.
Wayne Sharpe opened the forum with a prayer, in which he prayed for help “… in seeing the issues around me, in my community, and to be the person who helps solve them,” he said, adding, “My heart has gotten harder. I want to love people the way You love them, and not only those that think and act the way I do.”
The non-partisan themed prayer set a respectful tone that carried throughout the presentations by state candidates and into the city council candidate Q&A session that followed. All six candidates were present, including mayoral candidates Jo Beaudreau and incumbent Mayor Joe Henry, as well as council seat candidates Maggie Bagon, Bill Meyer, Sally Wantz and write-in candidate Margaret Wisniewski.
Prior to the start of the event, each council candidate randomly chose a number to determine their order. Each was then allowed two minutes to speak about themselves and their reasons for running. What follows is a direct transcript of each candidate’s opening introduction in their own words.
Bagon: “I’ve been in Oregon since 2000. I’m a retired caseworker for child welfare. But I’ve also worked as a tree thinner, forest fire lookout, a teacher’s aide for disabled kids and a house cleaner. I also owned a small business. I raised two kids, for the most part by myself — so, I know how to stay on a budget. I volunteered at food share and for First Step Transitional Housing, the library and served on the budget committee for 3 years. I love Florence. This is my home forever. And I’d be honored to serve on the city council. You might be surprised to know I am fiscally conservative. As a single mother, I learned to stay on a budget, raising kids, working, putting them through school, then putting myself through college — you really have to manage every penny. And I believe in working together. This world will be a better place if we find out what we all had in common instead of what we have that’s different.”
Meyer: “I’m currently serving on the port commission and was elected in 2017. I’m starting out with that first because I want you to take a look at that. You’ve kind of had a test drive with me on the port. It has really turned around and is doing well. In terms of my priorities, most everybody in Florence is here for one reason: Quality of life. We don’t have big paying jobs. Housing isn’t cheap. Taxes are not cheap. For quality of life, the number one priority has got to be public safety. You’ve got to be safe in your homes, you’ve got to feel safe on your street. So, in terms of budgeting priority, that’s going to be high on my list. The city council does not manage the police department — that’s managed through the city manager. But the priorities of the city council are reflected in the budget. At the same time, we need to have a government we can afford. I’m going to make sure that, when I’m sitting there and acting on the budget, we don’t let the rate of increase go up so much that it doesn’t match people’s income by increasing too rapidly.”
Beaudreau: “I have been involved with our local government since 2015. This experience, combined with the work of the Ford Family Foundation, has provided me with diverse skills, how one person can make a difference and opportunities to partner with large groups of people to work together — and work through nuts and bolts of policymaking for our community. This virus has forced us to change many of our daily routines. And one of the most important things that have come up is our demand for high-speed internet access. That affects how effective our workforce can be. It can protect and save lives through interactive, quality healthcare and is equally important in maintaining a high-quality education for our children. As mayor, I would champion broadband infrastructure. It is as important as water and electricity. And I’m confident I’m not alone. Our housing disparities and many other issues including childcare, climate, social equity — they are all issues I do not have an opportunity to talk about today. It’s important to reach out to everyone. When I’m in office, I plan to be available on a regular basis and have more transparent, honest processes in place. We must focus on our community. And our actions must be grounded in a shared vision backed by sensible actions and goals that serve our community. I love Florence. You love Florence. Let’s do this together.”
Wantz: “When I moved here in September 2003, I quickly became involved in our community and I’ve not stopped. I joined Toastmasters and the Chamber of Commerce to help promote my professional coaching business. I was invited to speak at various service clubs such as Soroptimist, City Club and Rotary, where I have been an active member since 2005. But what draws me to public service today was Craig McMicken, former Florence city manager, who led a group of citizens and a program called Leadership Florence. Craig took us everywhere — the new water treatment plant, city hall, city council meetings, I got to see Mayor Burns in action. We visited Lane Community College, the sheriff’s office and courts in Eugene, as well as our local jail. And we saw judge Cindy in action. He introduced us to organizations like Western Lane Community Foundation, where I proudly serve on that board today. Craig challenged us to get involved to become civically engaged in our community, to be a part of creating solutions instead of pointing at problems. It was as if he was speaking to me directly. It was then, in the spring of 2004, that I took an oath to serve on the Florence City Council someday. That’s why I’m here, 16 years later, having fully retired. I’m not beholden to any employer, any organization or anyone — except my spouse and our three cats. I wish to pursue what Craig instilled in me to give back to my community by bringing my best self forward to the job of Florence City Councilor. I will bring my 40 years of business experience and work collaboratively with everyone on the council and among city staff to ensure ours is a safe, strong and vibrant community for all who live, work and play here.”
Henry: “I want to commend each and every one of you for being willing to step forward and serve your community. I’m in a unique position, however, of actually being your mayor. And having held that position six years now. And I’m extremely proud of the things that have been accomplished in our community during the past six years. My lovely wife Pamela and I attended a prayer meeting earlier today at Crossroads Church in the church parking lot. I’m not going to do a prayer meeting here, but I do want to comment just a little bit about the things that they prayed for — because they’re really relevant to our community. I actually believe that, if we are going to cure some of the issues — not just nationally, statewide or in our community — it is going to take some prayer. The first things we prayed for was government. In the last couple of years, our government here in our community has gotten to the point where we do need some prayer. I’m willing to own up to my share of that. Unfortunately, the other team that created their share is not. We also prayed about education, families, housing and jobs. It’s amazing what has been accomplished in — Well, okay, so I only got 15 seconds left. We’ve done a great job with housing. There’s over 200 units that have been approved by planning, many of those affordable. That compares to less than 12 housing units the year I became mayor.”
Wisniewski: “As you well know, I’m running for city council as a write-in candidate and I’m married to a wonderful man who has a 10-letter last name. Recently, there was a young woman on the council who married, moved out of the city limits and resigned from the council who sparked an interest for me. Shortly thereafter, a gentleman was running for a position on the council. He withdrew his name for a variety of reasons. And that was like a light switch going off, really compelling me to get involved. I feel I bring a fresh, non-partisan approach, common sense approach. In my background, I was a certified financial advisor. I was a paralegal for a real estate corporation. But one of my special joys was working with our special education community — that was pretty awesome. I am a centralist. I feel I’m a team player. I bring a wide spectrum of skill sets to the table. I think communication is key. I am an artist. Volunteering at FRAA, I’ve heard numerous times the need to work for affordable housing. Boy, that’s key. We need to manage our growth, our healthcare workers, we need to retain and recruit workers. And our police department — I just really want to say thank you. The guys and gals are doing an absolutely great job. With that, I will say thank you.”
Next, each candidate answered three predetermined questions provided in advance, with a 1-minute time limit for answers. Candidates answered in their assigned numeric order. Again, what follows is a transcript of their answers in their own words.
1) When it comes to city spending and budgeting, how would you describe yourself?
Bagon: “As I said before, I am a good budget keeper, I would say I err on the side of fiscal conservatism. I want to see what every penny is spent for and how it will benefit the city and the people as a whole. I don’t believe in special projects or special interests. I believe that we need to spend our money in the best way possible to make our quality of life the best it can be for all the people of the city.”
Meyer: “I spent 13 years on the school board in southern Ohio. And part of that time was in the transition on Measure five. And I learned some budgeting strategies that were very important. As I told you, I’m currently on the port, and our budget, resources and income are on a curve like never before. And I can carry that same thing forward in my other public service as councilor. I spend your money like it was my own and I am pretty tough on the way I spend my money.”
Beaudreau: “I believe in fiscal responsibility. We have a limited amount of revenue and we must spend wisely. Accordingly, state law mandates that we must balance our city budget. Internally, the council, mayor and staff all meet to discuss and review items that will be funded and added to the budget. In all cases, all expenditures are monitored and we are responsible for — and stewards of — all city finances. The city tracks costs and performances, then reports it back to the parties involved. This is especially true with grants, which have become more complicated. And especially with partnerships with the federal government, state, county, city and nonprofits, which has become more common in crisis calls for expenditures many times more than what we have expected.”
Wantz: “As a as a citizen, I serve now and have served on the budget committee since when Mayor Nola Xavier was first elected. … As a council, before we spend, we have to ask: Is it something we want or is it something we really need? Is it essential? And if it is, can we afford it? And if we can, then we pursue it. If we can’t, we go back to square one. Secondly, the budget has to be balanced. And you will be pleased to know that the budget of Florence is balanced. Keeping that balance, and fiscal responsibility, are key.”
Henry: “So, I won’t tell you that I’m a conservative — because everybody else on here is a conservative. I’ll just go ahead and say that it’s hard to know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been. So, I just want to talk a little bit about what we’ve done with the budget in the last six years. We have a new public works building that was budgeted at $6 million that we completed for $3.5 million. We have a newly remodeled city hall, which would have cost $6 million to build a new one. We did that for $3.5 million. We got $1 million worth of upgrades to our airport, our beautiful little airport out there, and it cost the city $10,000. We have a new Exploding Whale River Park out here on the river. That’s a one-of-a-kind park that cost us $40,000. Somebody mentioned the need for broadband. We actually have that fiber that’s already going into our community. So, we’ve done pretty amazing things with that balanced budget. A lot of that credit goes to our city manager.”
Wisniewski: “I feel like a broken record, but with my colleagues here, definitely, I’m a fiscal conservative. I spend money like it’s my own. Being a financial advisor, I am very cautious about spending, especially if it’s not my money. I think we need to address the needs of our city — really tailor spending to those needs. That will help us figure out what we want to do and what we need to do.”
2) Given the recent problems we are seeing in Portland and Seattle, what lessons can we learn that can be applied here in Florence?
Bagon: “Well, first of all, Portland and Seattle are a totally different environment than Florence. I have worked with police on numerous occasions, as a child welfare caseworker and as a domestic violence advocate. I’ve had a great relationship with our wonderful police department. I think that it’s hard for me to answer this question, because I just don’t see any kind of similarity or correlation between Seattle, Portland and Florence, Ore.”
Meyer: “One of the things that you learn when you serve a public office, and this is going to be my 20th year between the school board and the port, is the importance of the words you use. And the message is, when you look at Portland and you look at Seattle, and you look at their city leadership, they sent out a message essentially in support of the initial lawlessness. They also sent out a message that there would not be repercussions. When you combine that chemistry and let things initially get out of control, it never leads to something good. I used to teach school years ago. One of the fundamentals of school teaching is you maintain control from the beginning. If you let your classroom get out of control, you cannot get back. That’s the problem they had in Portland. They let it go beyond their control. Now, you may not think it can happen here. But there are a lot of small towns around this nation right now that never thought it would happen to them —but it did.”
Beaudreau: “I have complete confidence in our local police force. And they have been absolutely outstanding.”
Wantz: “Big cities everywhere are experiencing problems. Whether we’re addressing population or traffic, more diversity and, yes, any protests that have caused riots and the list goes on. The lesson we can learn is that No. 1, we are not like big cities. Where we can learn is from cities our own size that are experiencing similar situations — and with similar resources — to provide us with best practices. We can work with them to find out what’s going to work for us. Having said this, we already have fabulous emergency response equipment, procedures and personnel from our police department, fire and rescue and hospital — for which I serve on the foundation board — and our own Public Works Department. I look to their expertise on how to handle essential problems, including a tsunami or any other natural disaster.”
Henry: “If I were the mayor of the city of Portland or Seattle — and thankfully I am not — things would have been handled differently from the get-go. I am, however, the mayor of Florence, and we have an excellent police department here, which is well managed. It is not under the direction of — or reports to — the council but to the city manager. But they definitely have my full support. Not only that, they have done a number of excellent activities in our communities for outreach, like the Night Out In the Park. Some of you were there. It was a lot of fun and we burned a lot of hamburgers. And so, as Sally mentioned, all of our first responders — and all of our other departments that are there in an emergency — they have my full support. I think they do an awesome job.”
Wisniewski: “Portland. My heart goes out to them, especially the local citizens and the business owners. I think they created their own problems. The police force was not supported, which I think is actually a recipe for disaster. I think our police force is doing an absolutely wonderful job here. And I really think the offenders need to be prosecuted. I think you have consequences for your actions.”
3) How would you address the Ninth Circuit Court ruling allowing homeless camping in public areas?
Bagon: “First of all, as a city government, we are bound by federal law. But I have worked with unhoused people and they come in all shapes and sizes, ages and abilities or disabilities. I’ve worked with women in their 80s, young men and everything in between. I believe if we had a safe camping spot for people to go shower and do their laundry in a safe contained area, you wouldn’t have to worry about people camping where they’re not supposed to be camping.”
Meyer: “This particular topic I think is one of the most important issues we’ve discussed here this evening. It is the issue of our time. What I want you to understand is that, as a council person, that it is going to be a high priority on my particular list. I have a quote from the mayor of San Diego. It kind of reflects my particular position on this matter here. This is the quote: ‘We tried to please everyone at the risk of helping no one. In San Diego, those days are over. For individuals of sound mind who choose to refuse shelter and services, and for criminals who hide among and prey upon our homeless population, those are not options anymore. Our new mantra is simple. We must punish crime, not ignore it. We must end suffering not condone. And we must reduce homelessness, not promote it.’”
Beaudreau: “How would you describe a homeless person? Chances are you don’t know the circumstances that brought them to that present situation. It’s unfair for us to judge a rule against them without understanding the specifics about each issue. To create laws that prosecute the homeless is a fool’s errand. All it will do is put an undue burden on our courts and our police that will cost us much more than the modest help we can afford. The question is, what can we do? What services can we offer them? Do we want to help these people? Let’s have compassion in our heart. Let’s find them clothing opportunities, a place for them to feel welcome, and carry their own weight and not be a burden on society. Then, I think they deserve a shot. Currently, there is open communication and partnerships between our local police and amazing service providers of various types.”
Wantz: “I want to start by saying I have compassion and empathy for those who are less fortunate than everyone in this room. I’ve never had to sleep on the street or in a public area, because I’ve always had adequate housing. How about you? I’ve never known what it feels like to be judged by others, or unwanted or — worse — ignored. My cousin is a drug addict. Yeah, he’s fortunate because he has a family and lives in a small community in Florida that has resources to help him with his addiction. Sometimes he finds himself on the streets and, often, in the shelter. But he always feels safe and protected regardless. What we can do in Florence is to understand that, although it may not be their fault, it is our opportunity to shine. It’s our opportunity to come together to protect the rights of homeless people to sleep in public spaces if that’s all that is available to them. And do so without reprisal, with adequate resources, and not with arrests or humiliation. I won’t wait to see what the other agencies have to offer. I will work immediately with our council, any organization or church to explore ideas for the future for all our citizens, sheltered or unsheltered.”
Henry: “First, I will say that I have very little influence over the Ninth Circuit Court ruling. Do I think that people should be allowed to camp on our streets? No, I don’t. Do I agree with panhandlers on every corner? No, I don’t. Do I believe that we should spend your tax dollars to house and clean up these people? No, I don’t. Now, that being said — and being a Christian — I feel I personally have a responsibility. I believe our city has a responsibility. But the real responsibility lies with the county and with the state whose mandate is to provide solutions for those issues — and that’s why you pay your tax money. To deal with that. I don’t think you want me spending your tax money to do what the state and the county are supposed to do with it. When they step up and do their part, and I’ll get on board and support them.”
Wisniewski: “This is referring to the case of Martin versus the city of Boise. We are a tourist destination. So, a lot of our businesses here in town count on tourism, primarily in the spring and summer. And you’re right. We don’t know how they became homeless. But I met with a gentleman here who offers resources for low income and also our homeless population. And he said something interesting. He said, when the pandemic first came in March, he said they had to close their services down for about three weeks. And he spoke to some of his colleagues in Eugene. And he said, ‘You know what they said? We don’t have any homeless here in town.’ They couldn’t provide the services that had been available to those folks. They had to close down because of COVID. And the homeless, God bless them, not sure where they went.”
At the end of the forum, attendees had the opportunity to meet and ask questions of all candidates, both local and regional, to learn more about their positions in advance of casting their ballots for the Nov. 3 election.
Ballots are expected to begin arriving in the mail Oct. 15.