TOLEDO — Toledo’s political unrest funneled a large crowd into the AWPPW Union Hall for a candidate forum last week.
The forum, hosted by the Lincoln County League of Women Voters, was moderated by Jean Cowan. Cowan served as Lincoln County commissioner for 12 years and Oregon state representative for six. Questions were submitted in written form to the moderator, who then asked the questions or condensed multiples that followed a similar line of thought. She also managed the answering time of each candidate.
The contentious race for mayor between Billie Jo Smith and Rod Cross brought forth the most questions from the audience. Many of the questions posed to the candidates regarded the city’s infrastructure problems and their plans to solve them, as well as how to fund those solutions.
Cowan condensed a number of questions into two for the candidates, commenting that she saw similar questions about transparency in Yachats at the forum the night prior. Taking all of the concerns she saw, Cowan posed a pair of questions to the candidates; first, asking them to explain how they deal with disrespect in public meetings.
“I do not appreciate disrespect in meetings and I am never disrespectful of people,” said Smith. “We have had a lot of disrespect this last year, not only in our meetings but in other places, and I have responded to that by listening to people, thanking them for what they’re saying — if they said something that’s truly untrue, I will say ‘you are wrong, but thank you for giving us your ideas.’ I have listened to them and I have been respectful in all ways. And I am when I deal with the council, even in disagreement.”
Cross answered in a different manner.
“I will freely admit, I am not always the absolute best person that you want in a diplomatic situation — I am not going to lie to you about that,” said Cross. “But as I’ve grown older, as I’ve raised five sons, as I’ve worked with the school district for almost 18 years, as I’ve been out in the public serving you in all these different capacities — I have learned that people are going to disagree with me and people are going to have different ideas than I do. But you know what? They’re all valuable. Because somewhere between where I stand and you stand there’s the truth, and the only way we’re going to get there is to listen to each other.”
The second question was if city meetings could be video recorded for the public.
Smith explained that this had been done in the past by high schoolers, when her husband taught at the school. This stopped when he retired, but the current meetings are audio recorded and posted on the city website for the public.
Cross commented that he missed the high school group coming in to videotape meetings and that it was an invaluable learning experience for both the kids and the officials.
The last question before closing was about the candidates’ visions for Toledo in the next five years. Smith expressed a desire to maintain the things that make Toledo a great place to live, mentioning that some street work has been done and will continue, and that the wastewater treatment plant should be in “pretty good shape” in five years.
“We have got a great city,” said Smith. “We’ve got wonderful people, wonderful volunteers, wonderful events. And I just want to keep it all going and make it work really well.”
Cross agreed that the city and its people are great, but there is more to be done for the future.
“We love Toledo, we chose to live here because it is that wonderful place,” said Cross. “But we need to be able to keep it moving forward after that five years, which means we need to be more fiscally responsible with our reserve funds. We need to be looking to the future every year.”
As part of their closing statements, the candidates were asked to address individualized questions. For Rod, this meant addressing concerns that he has “a volatile disposition, on occasion,” as Cowan phrased it.
Cross began by stating that he is an apologetically passionate human, but that’s not always a bad thing. He explained how, as a coach and in his previous experiences as mayor and city councilor of Toledo, that quality has served him well.
“I love this city,” said Cross. “I wouldn’t want to raise my kids anywhere else. And I don’t think — for those that know me — I don’t think my passion gets in the way of good governance. Because I want to help people; that’s why I created the contributions committee. I wrote that ordinance, I found the funding for it, I got that through — so that we can make a better Toledo for everybody.”
Smith spoke last and was asked to address staffing concerns from the community.
“Basically, I’m not going to fire a city manager,” said Smith. “Because we investigated everything that went on and discovered that he was doing what he was supposed to do, I’ve chosen to support that. It didn’t have anything to do with loyalty, it had to do with the facts and what we really knew. And I will stand behind that.”
Smith commented that she is also passionate, saying that passion is expressed, “not by shouting or trying to shout down someone, but by reasoning and educating and listening.”
Both candidates were applauded following their individual closing statements.
In the Toledo City Council race, there are five candidates and three seats open in this election. Four candidates were present at the forum; William “Bill” Dalbey, Heather Jukich, Betty Kamikawa and Terri Strom. Michelle Johnson was unable to attend due to an unexpected medical situation.
A topic that was discussed in the mayoral forum as well as throughout the council forum was infrastructure. This was highlighted when the candidates were asked for their thoughts about the variety of infrastructure issues in Toledo, including water and sewer problems and the revitalization of Main Street.
Strom spoke first, on the topic of Main Street. She explained that she has been part of the Main Street Program for many years and that interest in that had waxed and waned. She and Deanne Dunlap are currently the only members of the program. With that said, she does have an idea of how they can move forward in bringing business back to Main Street.
“I think too much time was spent trying to bring businesses here,” said Strom. “I think we need to bring people here and the businesses will follow.”
Dalbey spoke next, calling Toledo’s wastewater infrastructure the biggest issue facing the city.
“I’m committed to doing whatever we need to do to secure the funding and reduce the amount that the rate-payers are going to have to pay to help finance this project,” said Dalbey. “It’s a huge project. I’m sure there are funding sources out there that we have not yet identified, and I’m going to push to make sure that we’re not leaving money on the table somewhere.”
Dalbey also touched on the issue of housing, commenting that he felt having a full-time city planner is going to make a major difference.
Kamikawa continued in talking about housing, saying that Toledo has money available for “low-income, low-interest loans to help rehabilitate housing.”
“We have been sitting on that money for years,” said Kamikawa. “We didn’t know about it. Now we know about it and we’re still not doing anything about it.”
Last, Jukich spoke on a handful of issues.
“When it comes to our infrastructure, grants are a great way to go,” said Jukich. “But I would also be interested to see a solid plan B and a solid plan C, if we’re not able to obtain those grants.”
Affordable housing is an issue close to Jukich, as a young person looking to buy their first house in the coming years. She said that she feels she could bring a different perspective to that conversation. And finally, Jukich echoed Strom’s sentiment that Main Street needs more foot-traffic.
The last question posed to the candidates was their goals and vision for Toledo and the city council. The candidates each gave multi-part answers, but all stated that the town needs to heal and come together. Individual answers accompanying the healing aspect included the following:
Jukich said she would like to build relationships between the council and other organizations; Kamikawa called for a more open and transparent council; Dalbey re-emphasized the importance of handling the town’s infrastructure; Strom was the most ambitious, saying that she would like to see Main Street revitalized, the population grow and maintain all the services of the town.