Key takeaways from Beaverton City Council voters' forum
From questions about COIVD-19 recovery to accusations of co-conspiring with "antifa," Beaverton's latest virtual voters' forum for Council Position 1 candidates addressed quite a few things that have been at the cusp of Beavertonians' minds for several months.
Ashley Hartmeier-Prigg and Jerome Sibayan answered submitted questions and concerns on a livestreamed forum that was broadcasted live on Tualatin Valley Community TV's YouTube feeds on the night of Thursday, Sept. 9.
Ballots were mailed out on Sept. 1 and must be mailed or dropped off no later than 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21.
The forum was hosted by the Beaverton Committee for Community Involvement at Beaverton Council Chambers and moderated by Eric Schmidt, former communications manager for the Association of Oregon Counties.
Schmidt said there were more than 70 questions submitted, which had to be condensed for brevity to fit within the allotted time for the forum.
Hartmeier-Prigg opened the forum in a monologue talking about what she sees are the distinct values of Beaverton.
"I believe in a Beaverton where we come out stronger from COVID because we support small business and we lift up our neighbors. I believe in a Beaverton where we address the homeless crisis with compassion, and the climate crisis was an innovation. But believing in Beaverton isn't enough — it's going to take work," she said.
Sibayan touted his campaign as completely self-funded, saying it's because he believes it is the "right thing to do."
"I believe that the American taxpayer pays me through my military pension," said Sibayan, a U.S. Army veteran. "And if elected, I will donate all after-tax councilor compensation to local nonprofits."
Here are some more key takeaways from Thursday's forum:
The topic on much of the nation's minds over the past year has been whether local governments support "defunding the police." Beaverton was no exception.
One submitted question during Thursday's forum asked how each candidate would ensure that the Beaverton Police Department remains a "community partner" rather than a "community flashpoint."
Both candidates lauded Beaverton police as being present in the community as more than just law enforcers, but also people who care enough to show up to neighborhood association committees.
"They have representation in the lower levels of government," Sibayan said. "And I think that that's important."
While Hartmeier-Prigg agreed, she also said she supported implementing an advisory committee for the Beaverton Police Department.
The closing segment of the forum took a bit of a tonal shift when Sibayan alluded that one of Hartmeier-Prigg's campaign fundraisers was hosted by a so-called "antifa leader."
"So my question to you is, 'Are you leading the antifa effort to defund the police, or is antifa leading you,'" Sibayan asked Hartmeier-Prigg,
Hartmeier-Prigg, who was initially perplexed by the question, said she had no intention of "defunding the police."
"I don't know if that's a joke or not," Hartmeier-Prigg said. "The FBI has said antifa is not an organization. And I did say that I supported the Human Rights Advisory Commission Report. And like I stated earlier, that report was built in conjunction with the commission members of our community and the Beaverton Police Department, and all of the recommendations in that report were not with the intention to defund the police."
Along with the rest of the Beaverton City Council, the candidate who wins the Position 1 seat will be faced with a number of unprecedented challenges during Beaverton's COVID-19 recovery.
In addition to reaching out to Beaverton's small business community, Hartmeier-Prigg said ensuring that everyone has their basic needs met is "core" to who she is.
"I think that these are problems that we have to work with as a region because we can use our resources to multiply the effect that we can have to serve our residents," she said.
Sibayan said he plans to start with engaging with Beaverton's business community, but he did not expand on that point, noting that it's still "too early" to even be coming up with a "recovery plan."
"I don't believe we have actually turned the corner yet," he said. "I think we are still deep in it. And I think we have a long way to go before we actually think about getting to the recovery stage."
One question asked both candidates what they would do to address homelessness in Beaverton, and what they would do to ensure that "Beaverton does not become a mecca for outsiders like Portland has become."
Hartmeier-Prigg emphasized that homeless Beaverton residents "are people" and deserve compassion.
"Our basic human needs should be able to be met," she said. "I do think we should invest resources into helping our homeless population, helping get them to shelter and get them services. Whatever it is they need to get them into a place, so they do not have to live on the streets."
Sibayan referenced the Beaverton Housing Five-Year Action Plan as a way to increase affordable housing and serve those experiencing homelessness.
He echoed much of the same sentiments as Hartmeier-Prigg, as he shared his experience volunteering at one of Beaverton's server weather shelters.
"We need to be very circumspect when we address the homeless issue here in Beaverton because it is a regional problem, but we have a local issue to solve for sure," he said.
Beaverton recently declared itself a "sanctuary" for refugees from Afghanistan, but when asked if Beaverton is equipped to handle the relocation and resettlement of refugees, Sibayan simply replied, "No."
"The declaration of Beaverton as a sanctuary city for Afghan refugees was a meaningless platitude, that had absolutely no teeth to it, and no resources behind it," he said.
He added that making a declaration with "no teeth" was in fact, "inhumane."
But Hartmeier-Prigg said there are things the city can do to position Beaverton as a welcome place for refugees.
"What that looks like at the city is still to be determined," she said. "I think putting out a statement saying that we support refugees from Afghanistan is the first step."
A number of submitted questions raised traffic concerns in the community and how candidates would address traffic costs and congestion.
Hartmeier-Prigg said the City Council should look into ways to make alternative forms of transportation more accessible.
"I used to work four miles from home, but I didn't have a safe bicycle route because it would have been Canyon Road and Walker Road, and there's no safe way to be on a bicycle. There's also a lot of places in Beaverton with no sidewalks whatsoever, which means it's not safe for pedestrians," Hartmeier-Prigg said. "It's just hard to get around, so I really think that to ease traffic, we need to make other forms of transportation an easy choice for people."
Sibayan said there were two parts to the problem: traffic and parking. He also added that much of the problem is that all roads seem to lead to downtown Beaverton.
He said there are solutions out there, but the council just needs to "be flexible."
"I am pushing for a solution of a street with elevated pedestrian and greenway that connects the round to the library, and it's only half a mile," Sibayan said. We can do this, and it would solve a lot of the accessibility problems between the Fountain Park and City Hall and the new Resource Center for the Arts."
Beaverton voters approved a change to the city's charter in May 2020, which completely changed the city's form of government, shifting power from the elected mayor to a professional manager.
Both candidates noted that there may have been an underestimate in just how much the city's government would change.
"We are finding that the true cost was much higher than anticipated," Hartmeier-Prigg said. "And so that's part of the growing pains, and in order for us to have a balanced budget, that means we will have to make trade-offs."
Sibayan has remarked several times throughout his campaign that there is a lot of "problematic" language in the current charter.
"I want to fix that," he said. "And I want to fix it immediately, and one of the things I want to do as a councilor is push for the empowerment of a charter commission, made up of members of the community to review and fix the charter."
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