YACHATS — In the Yachats Commons, elected officials, candidates and community members alike gathered on Wednesday night, brought together for a candidate forum by the Lincoln County Women’s League of Voters.
Throughout the night, many candidates commented on the high attendance at the event, and moderator Jean Cowan said that historically Yachats has the highest attendance at LWV candidate forums of any town in Lincoln County.
The night included discussion from candidates for county commissioner, county treasurer, mayor of Yachats and Yachats city council. Also invited to the forum was current Lincoln County Clerk Dana Jenkins, who is running unopposed for his position.
Cowan introduced the mayoral discussion by judging it to be “the highlight of the evening” based on the large number of questions submitted for those candidates.
In their opening statements, each candidate shared their story of falling in love with Yachats and its community. John Moore listed his experience on various city committees and commissions and Ann Stott explained that, while new to the community, she is well-versed in government functions and moderating discussion due to her career as a high school social studies teacher.
The questions posed to the candidates centered on infrastructure and water, the candidates’ experience and changes in the city and its government.
The candidates had similar answers when asked about the most important issue facing the community. Both agreed that water was the biggest long-term issue for the community. However, in the short-term, they had varying views.
“Number one, short-term: this community needs to heal,” said Stott. “You guys have gone through a lot of turmoil … I think we just need to come together as a community and heal. And that’s what I want to do as mayor is help facilitate that.”
Stott also added that another high priority for the short-term should be “some obvious, past-due maintenance on much of (the city’s) infrastructure.”
“I think first and foremost, what the council has to establish in January and February,” said Moore. “Are their funding priorities. And the current council has just recently decided on their goals and they’re going to be working on their objectives — that’s a good thing. It’s overdue and I’m glad that they’re going in that direction, but we need to set our financial priorities.”
When asked about how they would improve government transparency, the candidates differed drastically.
Moore’s answer was short: “I’m not really sure where that question is coming from. Government has to be open and transparent; it’s a legal requirement, for crying out loud. Every one of our meetings — our community meetings, our commission meetings and the council meetings — have to be posted in advance, so that you have advance notice of when and where the meeting is, what the agenda is, what we’re going to be talking about.”
Moore noted that the only exception to that is executive session, but the rest is open and no one can change that.
Stott spoke for two minutes, listing complaints about the city council: individual councilors asking the city manager to do research for them, councilors bringing up unrelated issues during discussion and “hijacking the agenda,” as well as an alleged secret vote.
“We can’t have this kind of stuff, communicating, going on behind the scenes,” said Stott.
Before beginning statements and questions, Cowan announced that Derek Ojeda and incumbent Barbara Frye would not be present for the discussion. Ojeda’s puppy had a reaction to a booster shot, and he was staying home to care for it. Frye was on a long-planned trip to New York, but had a representative read a statement for her in her absence.
The remaining candidates, James Kerti and Leslie Vaaler, had the last discussion of the night. The two were friendly with each other as they answered a variety of heavy and light questions — with topics ranging from government transparency to where they like to go on walks around Yachats and for how long each day. However, a continual theme through the majority of their answers had to do with the water situation in Yachats.
When asked specifically about it, Vaaler admitted to not being an expert, but pledged to become more informed once elected.
“It is sobering to hear from Rick McClung (Yachat’s water treatment plant operator) that depending on the weather and conditions, we have 10, maybe 12 days of water in reserve,” said Vaaler. “That’s it. So it is a very serious question.”
As for Kerti, a current member of the city’s planning commission and budget committee, the city’s best options to secure its water supply is a pressing question.
“I think that we need to wait for more information,” said Kerti. “And be patient before leading into any big decision there … I think it’s crucial that we look at the issue of water, not in isolation, but rather by examining the other issues around town that affect water.”
Though the two have differing visions for Lincoln County, the commissioner candidates had a shared element in their opening statements: their love of Lincoln County and their incumbency or lack thereof.
“The county really can’t afford to have two inexperienced commissioners, along with Commissioner (Claire) Hall, that really don’t have a financial background,” said Doug Hunt, who currently serves as commissioner in Position 1. “It’s critical to the future of our county.”
After the opening statements of the candidates, the answers of almost every question came back around to the experience level of the candidates. Instead of shying away from the subject, Jenny Demaris embraced it fully, saying that being new to a position is not always a bad thing.
“Sometimes not having experience in a specific position gives you a different perspective,” said Demaris. “You may be more open minded to listen to other views or input … No, I’ve never been a county commissioner. No, I’ve never been a finance director. But I can tell you this: I was never a county emergency manager when Sheriff Dodson, and now Sheriff Landers hired me into that position.”
Demaris emphasized her experience with strategic planning and her newly proposed plan for the county, as well as her familiarity with county officials and staff which, she said, will make for a smooth transition if she is elected.
Overall, Demaris repeatedly stated her ideas for change, while Hunt primarily stated what he has already accomplished in the county. Both received strong applause from the crowd on their opening and closing statements.
The discussion between candidates for county treasurer was brief, with only one question posed from the audience after opening statements.
In those statements, incumbent Jayne Welch, who was appointed to the position in July, emphasized her expertise and explained the responsibilities of the position. Rob McAfee focused on the audience’s ability to choose and a need for transparency.
“Having a say in the choice of your Lincoln County Treasurer is long overdue,” said McAfee. “It’s been more than 20 years since we’ve been able to choose who will lead this office.”
McAfee confirmed with Jenkins, who was at the table, when the last time there was a contested race for the position of treasurer: 1992.
The question posed to the candidates was: “what can be done to improve tax collection reporting for cities who have urban renewal districts?”
McAfee spoke first, saying that urban renewal funds are not taken in or dispersed by the county treasurer. Welch then spoke and corrected McAfee.
“We have urban renewal for Depoe Bay, Lincoln City and Newport, and they are a taxing entity district that we do distribution on,” said Welch. “They are vital to our treasurer’s office … as far as the reporting goes, I’m sure that the assessor’s office could probably put (together) some kind of a reporting mechanism via email or charting or something like that. That’s something that you would want to address with elected official for assessor, Joe Davidson.”
Jenkins is running unopposed for the office in which he has served for the past 27 years. As such, he did not speak much to the audience about his campaign, but instead provided information about how to vote, where to drop off ballots and the responsibilities of the county clerk, as well as an anecdote about the power of one vote.
“Sometimes people say, ‘well, I’m not going to vote. It doesn’t really make that much difference, my one vote,’” said Jenkins. “But some of you might remember the general election of 1996, here in Yachats, where the mayor’s election was decided by one vote; Arthur Roberts had 125 votes, Howard Osborn had 124 … so there you go, one vote made the difference.”
Jenkins also noted that this year’s Lincoln County voter pamphlet is the largest it has ever been — with 43 candidates running in the county — and that Lincoln County has approximately 36,000 registered voters.
Jenkins was posed two questions. The first was whether voters can drop their ballots at a drop sites outside of Lincoln County — to which Jenkins responded, yes. The second was about local ballot measure 21-189, asking who was behind the measure.
Jenkins responded that there were several similar measures being sponsored around the state, but that this particular measure came from three individuals in South Beach, whom he did not name.
The clerk did announce that ballots had been mailed, and urged registered voters to contact the clerk’s office if they did not receive a ballot by Monday, Oct. 22.