Visions for Florence
Florence Mayoral Candidates Joshua Greene and Rob Ward Talk with Siuslaw News
“I believe in this community that we could be an example of what small communities could be doing in rural America — school, vocational, volunteers, how they're treated, how you lead. You have full disclosure of every decision you make and why,” Florence mayoral candidate Joshua Greene said when asked about his vision of the city. “And ultimately, you look at what you're betting your assets on, you build on them with the intention of making it a wonderful place to live. So that's why I'm running.”
Candidate Rob Ward's vision focused on why people stay.
“The people of Florence working together have created a ‘can do’ community. I find that those who move here are attracted to Florence largely for the natural beauty, with its river, streams, many lakes, and beautiful ocean and sand dunes. What is interesting to me, however, is that those who move here will usually stay here. They stay here because of the people,” Ward said, calling his vision Florence “simple, yet excitingly profound.”
He continued, “People seem to quickly bond, as many live away from their own families. Consequently, the people in the Florence area tend to welcome and reach out to others. Together, they were inspired to do the hard work necessary for Florence to become the small, yet strong, community that it is today. Through persistence and hard work, Florence made the tough change from a timber retirement community to what it is today, a retirement and tourism community.”
With three-out-of-five votes on the Florence City Council to be decided this year, the majority of the city council is being decided this November, and along with it, the future of Florence. In 2023, the city will decide on a new work plan deciding the goals of the city while also voting on delicate matters such as transitional housing and building codes.
The two candidates for mayor, Ward and Greene, spoke with Siuslaw News about their vision, approach to the position and opinions on issues facing the City of Florence.
Greene’s campaign has been promoting a “renewal” of Florence, a policy-focused approach that stresses full council votes on committee members, ensuring inclusivity on city volunteer opportunities and expanding the ability for the city to apply for grants.
While he maintains that the city should be more involved with expanding the arts in the community, including additional funding for the city’s Public Art Committee (PAC), he called it a “spoke in the wheel,” giving priority instead to housing, the workforce and education.
“What do we got to do to win?” Greene asked. “What do we have to do to serve our community? All those things help energize everybody. If you can do it with the vocational training through the school, if you can do it with the housing situation, which is clearly a priority, if you can do it with how you change the perception or the reality of how the City of Florence is run in a way that people appreciate more, all those things start adding into the pot of gold.”
Ward’s vision of the future of Florence holds many similar themes to Greene.
“My vision for where Florence should go in the future involves tourism, housing, workforce training and the arts,” Ward said. “Our city has always embraced a constructive and positive vision for Florence. We as a community have found that we have the ability to wrap our arms around an issue and actually make a difference.”
But the approach is different, with Ward focusing on building on the progress the city is making, but rarely offering specific changes.
“The city is making good headway in addressing this issue (housing) and we will continue to work on this issue under my leadership as mayor,” Ward said.
Instead, the whole of his argument surrounded temperament.
“As mayor, my job is to lead a discussion that proceeds in a positive manner. As I said earlier, ‘It is okay to attack an Issue, it is not okay to attack a person.’ I consider this to be a golden rule that I live by.”
The Role of a Mayor
“When I ran for mayor 32 years ago, I had a small group of people, about five or six, they were men at the time, as kind of an advisory board,” Ward said. “And I always remember one of them. He was pastor at Florence Christian Church at the time. And he said, ‘The responsibility of a mayor is not necessarily to have the solution for a problem. The responsibility of the mayor is to articulate the issue, get it in front of the people, and bring together the resources and assets that can solve the problems.’”
It’s a philosophy Ward revisits often.
“That's the way I view things,” he said. “I'm not coming in with a predefined agenda that says, ‘We need to do this and this.’ But I know how to pull the pieces together, to come up with that solution from that group of people. I truly believe that the diversity in the group with different temperaments, talents and convictions is what contributes to the strength of a solution.”
Greene also stresses the importance of people coming together.
“The truth is, I'm about creating alignment, bringing people together and celebrating our accomplishments,” Greene said. “That to me is the bottom-line platform. And in order to do that, you’ve got to listen, you’ve got to think, and then you have to ask other people to come on board, who might be outsiders but are smart.”
Greene’s philosophy says a mayor should both bring ideas to the table and listen to others, creating a cohesive vision.
“Vision is the key,” he said. “You have to have the vision to create alignment and enroll your fellow councilors. And then you basically give your city manager the directive. You do your visioning process, which will happen in January, then you set the budget so all those things that you want in his priorities are budgeted for. And then you set the wheels in motion.”
“I was shocked when [City of Florence Planning Director] Wendy FarleyCampbell said that 1,000 people commute to Florence every day to work, because they can't find a place to live here,” Ward said, referring to a recent City of Florence Housing and Implementation Plan (HIP) open house.
Both candidates stressed the importance of housing.
“Workforce housing is key,” Greene said. “And that's a key to our survival. That’s the key to people being able to live here, work here and be happy here. You can only live in an environment that's unhappy for so long, and then you move on.”
One of Greene’s approaches to housing is to lean into building codes.
“This is not the responsibility of the developer; it is the city’s job to address its building codes in an appropriate way where certain things are just not going to pass the muster,” Greene said. “And that's a complicated issue. A commonsense solution is that the city code is changed.”
He contends that when he sat on the city council years earlier, the council did have the ability to change codes.
For example, “Creating an understanding that if you're going to develop 100 apartments or condos or homes, a percentage of that property has to be reserved for workforce housing — stay in the rental market for 15 years,” Greene said. “And you can make them small homes, could be 500 to 700 to 1,000 square feet, but done and designed appropriately.”
To offset developer losses, more incentives would be offered.
“The developer can say, 'Okay, I'll agree to your terms. 25% is going to be these houses going to be here and will help maybe with hookup charges of the permitting fees or maybe offset taxes for a period of time,'” Greene said. “There are ways that we can make them whole, if they're honest about their investment.”
However, he said, developments could end up making less than what they could without the restrictions.
“If you want to take care of the community, then the developer needs to understand that they're part of a bigger game. And the city has never been willing to do that. It's an uncomfortable space. But I believe that we're in a crisis situation that has obviously proven itself; the pandemic only made it worse.”
Greene praised recent projects from the city, such as the MUPTE program and upcoming developments coming up, as well as HIP.
“I think they're doing great work,” he said. “They're right on what they need to be doing. Yeah, they've got the very first pieces of that program implemented by this council, the apartment complexes going in just south of the Presbyterian Church, that's a great start.”
Ward didn’t offer specific changes to housing code, but when asked about Florence City Code as a whole, he stressed caution.
“I've looked at a lot of code over the years, with almost 30 years involved in public policy,” Ward said. “You really have to be careful, because you can put something together. … It can sound great. But you really have to be careful about the potential unintended consequences of the code. And you have to really look. A good code is one that has been really evaluated in a way that tries to do the best they can to not have unintended consequences.”
He didn’t have other specific goals, but stressed that code would be looked at.
“My pledge to you is, when you elect me as mayor of Florence, I will continue the progress the city is making on solving workforce and housing shortages,” Ward said. “We will continue to look for ways to streamline the construction permitting and inspection process so builders and developers can work more efficiently and effectively.”
When describing the progress he is seeing, he brought up specific projects in development.
“There's some projects on Oak Street that are going to be a great start,” he said. “Also, the Homes for Good program that's going on down at the old football field near Old Town. Those are all great starts. We need to continue working on those. I remember what Wrigley's Spearmint gum, the owner Mr. Wrigley said, ‘you gotta keep pumping the pump or the water stops coming out.’ And that's true — you got to keep it going.”
Regarding the unhoused, both candidates called the issue complex.
“People that just need a hand up, yeah, let's help them. People that are looking for a handout, that's a different story,” Ward said. “But they're identifying the different segments of the community that need a little help, and what can we do to help them move up? Because the goal is to get them to become more productive in the community and give them the opportunity they need to live here.”
But he said not every situation is the same.
“The problem with homelessness is that people originally thought, well, if we put a roof over somebody's head that fixes the problem. No, because they're not addressing all the other issues,” he said. “There's drugs, there's alcohol, there's mental illness, those are all issues that somewhat contribute to the homeless situation.”
And there are people who purposefully remain unhoused, he said.
“To a certain extent, there's probably a segment of people that just, they're not druggies, they're not alcohol related,” Ward said. “They're not mentally ill, but it's a lifestyle that they choose. And, okay, but where should we invest our taxpayer dollars? Somebody who chooses a lifestyle of homelessness, and is perfectly capable of supporting themselves if they applied themselves. I'm not too interested in spending taxpayer dollars on those things. But I am interested in helping if somebody needs a home and they have a drug issue. Drug issues need to be addressed as part of the assistance we're providing or, if they are mentally ill, that has to be addressed.”
As to how to address the issue, Ward said he would reach out.
“We need to take an inventory of what services are available in our community,” he said. “What do we have and what might we be lacking? And once we've identified anything that we're lacking, working with the people like [Siuslaw Outreach Services (SOS)], is there a way the city could somehow provide assistance, financial assistance maybe? Sometimes it's just being a conduit to a grant. That way we're not really spending city dollars, but through the city, we could get a grant that would help provide assistance to something that they are doing.”
Greene based his response on his conversations with Florence Chief of Police John Pitcher’s assessment.
“He says we know who they are,” Greene said. “We know who the people that have a mental disorder or are having a difficult time, or have become violent or into substance abuse. We know that group.”
He continued, “And then we have the other people that are decent people that lost their way, lost their money and usually it's because of health expenses, where they had to give up their house or lost their job or whatever, and spiraled downward. And they're gentle people. They're just looking for a place to survive. So that's a different type of homeless.”
But how to help with the issue?
“I don't have an answer. I'm looking for them,” Greene said. “It's complicated. But we do need to deal with it. The more we learn, the more we have in our perspective, and the more we can address things. To me, it's from the big picture. All these elements are important to fix.”
Both candidates said mental health was a top priority, with Ward focusing on the topic in length.
“One of the things that, and I had no idea about this — Oregon has one of the highest suicide rates in the United States, which that in itself isn't too good. Lane County has the highest suicide rate in Oregon, and Florence has the highest suicide rate in Lane County. And I'm thinking what can we do about this? I don't know. But I want to find out.”
But his approach would be measured.
“My job isn't to stand up there and say, ‘Suicide is a problem in Florence. And by God, this is how we're going to fix it.’ That's not what a mayor should be doing,” Ward said. “What a mayor should be doing is saying, ‘Okay, we have an issue with suicide rates in Florence, or mental health issues, but it goes beyond suicides. There's a whole lot of pieces. Let's evaluate what the resources are.’”
Ward listed organizations like SOS, Mobile Crisis Response, and PeaceHealth Peace Harbor as partners to reach out to.
Siuslaw News asked Ward why, as a sitting councilor, he hasn’t spoken on the issue more vocally in council meetings in the past during councilor reports.
“I guess I'm waiting,” he said. “In reality, you put your efforts into something when the timing is right. And for me, if I'm fortunate enough to be elected mayor, that's going to be one of my top priorities to pursue.”
As for assistance, Greene was encouraged by candidate comments made during the recent Coast Radio Candidate debate about setting up office hours, which he hoped would bring more money and support from the county.
“Dawn Lesley brought up the fact that she's looking at getting money to come here and setting up an office for representatives from Eugene to work here [several] days a week. … If they have an office here, that's a help, and that helps us.”
On climate change, both Greene and Ward believed that designs like the City of Florence Public Works facility was a good example of what could be done with conservation.
Greene called City Public Works Director Mike Miller a “genius,” for guiding the building, and other designs around the city.
“He's got a whole aesthetic side to him that's really quite fantastic. It's like a little secret of his, but you look at the things he touches, they all turned to gold,” Greene said.
Ward said the energy efficiency and solar panels “makes sense.”
Both candidates said that people from all sides of the issue should be heard.
“I think it is important to listen to all constituents' concerns, take them seriously and consider what actions may benefit the City,” Greene said.
Ward said that he wanted to speak with climate activist Michael Allen, who frequently asks Florence City Council to consider his climate petition, and holds weekly climate strikes in front of Florence City Hall.
“I want to fully understand where he's coming from. And because I think it's important, and he obviously has a passion for it, and he'd be a good person to talk to,” Ward said.
As for what the city could do, Greene suggested a citywide composting program, along with replacing all plastic containers with biodegradable ones.
“The city needs to engage with federal, state and county programs that might be in a place, then choose what actions are smart for Florence,” he said.
Ward threw out a hypothetical when it came to actions by the city.
“Do we need to adopt a resolution that says in 10 years, gas powered vehicles are not going to work and not be allowed in Florence? No, because the bottom line is sometimes the technology isn't there to support it yet. Now, I will probably own an electric car someday. The acceleration is better than what I drive,” he said.
As for climate change itself, Greene was succinct — climate challenges are real.
Ward spoke of gas prices.
“My biggest concern about climate change is I see a lot of people getting hurt by the emphasis on fossil fuels and things like that,” Ward said. “You and I are being impacted by the pricing a whole lot more, and it didn't have to happen. But that's a whole other issue.”
As for any larger discussion, “If the majority have three of the councilors minimum, if there's three that want to take a look at that, we'll take a look at it,” Ward said.
When asked about job creation, both candidates turned to vocational training through schools to allow students the ability to stay in the area after they graduate.
“The mayor should be articulating who are the players: the school district, Lane Community College, and all the employers,” Ward said. “We need to figure out what resources are available. What are the needs of the community? Can we work with the school district and Lane Community College to provide the type of vocational training that provides a better fit for that person coming into the workforce for the people that need to hire people?”
Greene's approach to the workforce was also through the schools.
“If we can get the vocational training program down with getting those kids into these classes, and get credited at LCC, and then get them apprenticeships for local businesses, that helps the local business, that helps the kids,” he said. “What about the kids that are doing woodworking and metalworking and culinary? All good programs in the school, but they need to be embraced by the city and partnered with K-12.”
But if the workforce stays, will they be involved with the direction of the city?
Siuslaw News read Ward a comment made by a reader, who stated that there was a generational gap between the primarily wealthy, retirement-aged city leaders and the primarily younger workforce in the region.
“Our retirees … do not have a disconnect with our younger families,” Ward replied. “They all know of the joys and the hardships of raising children. They want the children of the community they live in to be well educated and responsible. They are quick to cheer for them when they do well. In fact, many of them reach out to the children of young families that are going through a hard time by volunteering on different projects such as the Backpack for Kids Program. They put in many selfless hours to help others. It has nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with heart.”
But when asked specifically what Ward could do to engage the workforce in city government, from volunteering to voted in positions, Ward replied, “I'm not quite sure how you address that issue, other than doing your best to encourage people to become involved in government. But it's hard.”
Greene said the city has never attempted outreach to engage young leaders.
“We've never reached out to those people specifically — not in the 30 years I've been there,” Greene said. “Have we seen a program that is clearly pointing out and trying to get to these people? No one's been willing to do it. I would embrace it in a heartbeat.”
Greene is a firm believer in The Ford Family Foundation’s Leadership program, which helps encourage younger generations to participate in government.
“And a lot of those people got involved in local boards, and even volunteered on committees,” he said. “But they lost interest because it wasn't enjoyable.”
Greene stressed he understood that the workforce in Florence has constraints when it comes to civic engagement.
“Well, I got two jobs. I'm trying to make it work. I got one kid, I'm a single parent, whatever the scenario is, if they don't have the time, they don't have the time. And that's why in a retirement community, most of the volunteers are retirees. So how do we balance?”