On Thursday, October16 Vernonia’s Voice hosted a political forum called “Meet the Candidates.” We invited candidates for Vernonia Mayor, Vernonia City Council, Columbia County Commissioner, and Circuit Court Judge. The candidates answered a series of questions allowing audience members a chance to see some of the differences between them.
In the past, Vernonia’s Voice has not made endorsements of political candidates. But there are several races on the ballot this year that are just too important.
Vernonia’s Voice is pleased to announce our endorsement of Josette Mitchell for Vernonia Mayor, Jill Hult for Vernonia City Council and Henry Heimuller for Columbia County Commissioner.
The following is recap of the “Meet the Candidates” event and our reasons for endorsing these candidates.
Candidates: Josette Mitchell, Sally Harrison
Josette Mitchell has served as Vernonia Mayor for the last four years. Her opponent, Sally Harrison was the previous Mayor; Mitchell defeated Harrison in the 2010 election and than ran unopposed in 2012.
In the time Mitchell has been Mayor she has been extremely active and involved in the day-to-day operations at City Hall. She has been extremely busy, acting as the interim City Administrator for nine months as well as Mayor this past year. She has shown the ability to dig in and learn about and deal with the issues facing the City. As she stated during the forum, she has been involved in moving numerous projects forward and wants the opportunity to complete the work she started as mayor. She deserves her chance.
Mitchell is a doer. She has diligently tackled several complicated issues head-on and worked to find solutions. I believe she has learned that government work can be painstakingly slow, but she has shown she has the determination and grit and to stick with it and deal with the issues. Whether or not you’ve agreed with her decisions or methods, you certainly can’t accuse her of standing pat, giving up, or letting things slide. Whether it’s been helping a citizen deal with a drainage issue, or dealing with the conflict between the Ridge Riders and the City, or complaints about maintenance at the cemetery, or making sure the Spencer Park fields were built correctly, Mitchell has jumped in, looked for solutions and followed through.
Sally Harrison has been a very giving public servant. She is a caring, involved, gracious, friendly and talented individual. As a life long resident of Vernonia, she cares as much as anyone about the future of this community. Her jovial nature and ease in talking with people make her approachable, and easy to work with. She has generously volunteered her time and energy to several projects that have helped improve our town. She is intelligent and always has good ideas about ways things could be improved. We admire her willingness to serve the community again in the role of Mayor.
Mitchell has remained an advocate for the City and the citizens of the community. She has stood up for what was right or what was needed, didn’t back down when pushed, and remained steadfast in her resolve to do what was in the best interests of the community as a whole.
During the forum, Mitchell mentioned her “institutional knowledge” of ongoing projects as a reason citizens should vote for her, and she’s right. Her intimate involvement, as both Mayor and City Administrator, make her a resource, especially with a new City Administrator just taking over the job. Her comprehension and proficiency in current projects is just too important at this moment in time.
During the forum Mitchell noted the completion of Waste Water Treatment Upgrade project as her number one priority going forward. She also mentioned The Rose Avenue project as a priority where the new Vernonia Health Center is already open and plans are moving forward for the Senior Center and Vernonia Cares Food Bank to move there as well. In addition the Spencer Park project will be complete this spring. These are all large projects that Mitchell has been at least partially responsible for helping move forward during her time as Mayor.
One of the issues Mitchell and Harrison clashed over during the forum was how to increase revenue for the City and create economic development. Harrison insisted that the City should be doing more and thinking outside the box to create jobs and bring business and industry to the community. For her part, Mitchell really has a pretty good record and list of accomplishments addressing this issue during her time as Mayor. Mitchell helped pave the way for the inclusion of Vernonia in the Columbia County Economic Zone, which provides incentives for businesses to locate here. She has been working on the California Avenue street improvement project which would extend the street towards the lake where a site is being considered for a new industrial complex. The site could be the new home for Photo Solutions, a local business which employs local workers at good wages but needs to move out of the flood zone. With no place else to move this business may pack up and leave town. Mitchell also oversaw an extensive rezoning which expanded the Downtown zone, paving the way for more business space as it is needed. Mitchell has absolutely been a champion for economic development and growth, and her policies have helped make the City more accessible for businesses to move or stay here.
There is much more that Mitchell has been doing behind the scenes that are just as important as some of these more visible projects. She reorganized the City Hall filing system, making information much easier to find, a project that was more time consuming than it sounds. She has embraced and encouraged the use of the City’s computer based GIS system, putting information and documentation at the fingertips of city staff at the touch of a button and making City Hal run more efficient. She has created streamlined processes for tracking information and followup work within City Hall. She has encouraged the participation of City Committees and used them as an information resource for the work of the City Council. There are countless items Mitchell has been involved in during her time as Mayor.
The Mayor is just one person in a five person City Council. Mayor Mitchell has balanced her role as the leader of that Council with her position of holding a single vote. Under Mitchell’s leadership this Council has met continuously in workshops to go over the details and finer points of numerous issues facing the City. The Council’s willingness to put in the extra time to fully understand the decisions they are making and the impacts of those decisions have shown just how important they view their role as leaders in this community. Mitchell takes her role as Mayor very seriously.
Harrison also brings a lot knowledge, energy and commitment to this campaign. She has many backers who would like to see the City go back to the good old days, when everyone got along and did business in a friendly manner. Unfortunately, times have changed and the way City Hall needs to conduct it’s business has needed to change as well. In the end, Mitchell’s ability to see the big picture, address needs, pay attention to detail and embrace change make her the best choice for Mayor of Vernonia.
Vernonia’s Voice endorses: Josette Mitchell
Vernonia City Council
Candidates: Jill Hult, Mike Seager
There are two open positions on the City Council and only two candidates on the ballot.
Jill Hult grew up in Vernonia and returned many years ago to raise her daughter. She has been a leader in numerous activities and really cares about this community and the people that live here. She is running for City Council for all the right reasons.
Mike Seager was invited to participate in our “Meet the Candidates” political forum and responded, “I don’t see any need for a candidates forum as there is only two openings and two positions.” When it was suggested that voters might like to meet him and hear where he stands on the issues anyway, Seager declined to respond. Nor did he respond to a followup up email requesting confirmation of attendance.
Hult says she sees the Waste Water Improvement Project, The Rose Avenue Project and Economic Development as the main priorities for the City. She has previously served on the Community Learning Center Committee and says she would like to see the City find a way to utilize that building. A long time volunteer, Hult says she believes the City needs to find ways to actively engage with the volunteer base and prioritize partnerships with all organizations within the community.
Hult says she believes she can make decisions for the City in a fair and unbiased way and wants to do what is best for the citizens. She answered the questions at the forum honestly and seems to be the best candidate for the position.
Following the “Meet the Candidates” forum two names were brought forward as write-in candidates on social media, Mario Leonetti and Bruce McNair.
Leonetti is a former Mayor of Vernonia who was asked to consider a write-in campaign and has accepted. We don’t know where he stands on any specific issues, so we can’t comment on his candidacy.
McNair is a current City Councilor who chose to not submit his name for the ballot.
A few words about McNair; as a life long resident of Vernonia, he was asked to run for the Council two years ago. Known for speaking his mind and asking tough questions, McNair has worked tirelessly for the people of Vernonia, looking to find ways to save money, especially in regards to water and sewer rates and the Water Water Treatment Project. Although some may view him as rough around the edges and may not care for his direct approach, McNair has been extremely effective. He has been a voice for the people and has served for the right reason- to help his community. We were disappointed to hear he was not going to run again, and would love to see him return and continue the good work he has been contributing.
Vernonia’s Voice endorses: Jill Hult
Columbia County Commissioner
Candidates: Henry Heimuller, Wayne Mayo
Henry Heimuller is the incumbent, Wayne Mayo is the challenger.
If there was anything that was made clear during our “Meet the Candidates” forum, it was that Heimuller is the best candidate for County Commissioner.
Heimuller is a long time public servant who worked for over twenty years as a Paramedic and worked as the transportation coordinator for the county before being elected as for County Commissioner. He is respected in the community, volunteers for numerous organizations and serves on several Boards, and is clear about the policies he advocates as a governing official.
A familiar name to Columbia County voters, Mayo is a general contractor and long time candidate who has authored numerous ballot measures in the county and ran several times for public office.
During the forum, Heimuller addressed the questions with ease and clarity. He talked about the need to continue the economic development policies to rebuild the tax base and encourage economic growth. He spoke proudly about the fact that Columbia County has weathered the economic downturn and appears to be making progress on numerous fronts. He noted his ability to work as a team with the other two County Commissioners to meet the goals of the County.
Mayo on the other hand, seems to be all bark and no bite. He tends to rely on brash statements about how proud he is to be an American, and how he knows we can do better. When asked about his background credentials for the office, Mayo used most of time to tell the audience about all eight of his adult children and what they do for a living. He tends to use dramatics and long pauses to avoid answering questions. His campaign seems to have little substance.
One issue Heimuller and Mayo debated during the forum was funding for the county jail. Although voters passed a three year levy, both candidates acknowledged the need for stable funding, Mayo has proposed a fee on gravel leaving Columbia County, and discussed this idea at length and detail during several different portions of the forum. Heimuller suggested that taxing one industry was not fair. Mayo, who rattled off numbers to prove his point which just made his explanation more confusing, insisted that he should be allowed to look at the financial accounts of private gravel businesses to prove they could afford to pay his proposed fee.
When asked what the County could do to promote economic development in the Vernonia area, Heimuller referenced the the expansion of the county Economic Zone to include Vernonia as a good first step. Mayo seemed flustered and at a loss and said he’d like to hear from locals about what they wanted, because apparently he had no ideas.
I appreciate Wayne Mayo’s honesty, his suggestion that government needs to look outside the box, and his energy and passion. Unfortunately passion and energy don’t necessarily make for a good public servant. Mayo seems like he has one good idea, taxing gravel, and that’s s it. How Wayne Mayo received 49% of the vote in May is frankly somewhat confusing. Maybe it’s because most voters haven’t had a chance to experience Mayo’s act in person.
Heimuller is a respected leader in the community who is realistic, knowledgeable, thoughtful, capable, and effective. He is able to build partnerships, collaborate, and work together to find solutions, which are important strengths a leader in this county needs to continue to rebuild and encourage growth.
Vernonia’s Voice endorses: Henry Heimuller
Circuit Court Judge
Candidates: Jean Martwick, Cathleen Callahan
Our “Meet the Candidates” forum gave us and the audience a somewhat rare opportunity to meet and listen to two candidates running for Judge.
Judge Jean Martwick is the current Judge who was appointed to fill the open position by Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber.
Cathleen Callahan is a prosecutor for the City of Clatskanie.
Both candidates have advertised their community volunteerism and past law experience.
Both candidates are qualified for the job and both have a host of supporters in their corner in this race. In the primary in May Martwick received 37.6% of the vote, Callahan 36.3%.
It’s difficult to separate judge candidates because they can not really express opinions about issues; they need to be neutral.
During the forum Martwick talked about her goals if she is elected and mentioned re-opening the courthouse on Fridays, establishing a Veterans Court and fixing the juvenile court system as priorities. Callahan challenged her, stating that as part of a three judge team in the county, Martwick should not be establishing goals for the Circuit Court.
Martwick expressed the need for someone strong and independent in the role of judge in her closing remarks.
Callahan emphasized her familiarity and knowledge about the people and the community.
Callahan has a long list of endorsements, including local Justice of the Peace, Wally Thompson, Jenefer Grant-one of the other Circuit Court Judges, and Vernonia Mayor Josette Mitchell.
Both candidates seem capable, and trustworthy and willing to do the job.