Gresham mayoral candidates talk budget, police
The candidates vying to become mayor of Gresham don't always agree — bringing a diverse mix of ideas and visions for the community they wish to lead — but they all understand the monumental task they are facing.
Whomever is chosen by voters in November will have to guide the city through a budget crisis; continue to seek ways to recover from the pandemic; find solutions to racial injustice and law enforcement; help bring a new city manager onboard; develop more parks and recreation; and so much more.
Three of the candidates — Joe Demers, Eddy Morales and Travis Stovall — came together digitally for the first candidate forum in Gresham hosted by the Coalition of Gresham Neighborhood Associations Monday evening, Oct. 5. Sean Bishop and Nick Switzer were unable to attend the forum.
Demers, 43, has lived in Gresham for 25 years and works as a commercial driver. Morales, 40, serves on Gresham City Council and owns a small business. Stovall, 47, is CEO of a tech company and former president of the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce.
Demers wants to be a public leader who avoids making partisan decisions. Morales wants to break up an "insular" city hall. And Stovall plans to build on a strong foundation created by previous leaders.
Some of the questions during the forum included:
How would you deal with the $13.3 million budget gap in Gresham?
Joe Demers: Suggested taking advantage of the transient lodging tax to bring in new tourists and consumer dollars to the city. He also opposed hiring an outside consulting firm to seek solutions.
"We need to hold leadership responsible rather than have the tax payers be on the hook — and find long-term strategies that have been neglected by this administration."
Eddy Morales: "For decades, under Shane Bemis, the city was overspending out of the General Fund and the rainy day funds. I can't change what happened before my time on council, but the community should not have to fill the budget holes (through an increase to the Police, Fire and Parks fee)."
He wants to bring on an independent auditor, freeze nonessential spending, and examine a Parks District and a Fire District.
Travis Stovall: Mentioned the complexity of dealing with the budget as the full impact from COVID-19 remains unknown, but pointed to the importance of increasing the Police, Fire and Parks fee to limit cuts to those departments.
"There is no way out of the budget crisis that doesn't overburden the community and our businesses — but we can come through this together and ensure no member of our community falls through the gaps."
Is police reform needed?
Demers: Does not want to follow the national approach on reforming police and cutting funds, because there has been "no evidence of police brutality" in Gresham. He also pointed to the staffing cuts already made within the department during the past two years, adding he supports better training and prioritizing the safety of officers.
"This city has intentionally, or unintentionally, defunded our police force. We should be more concerned about personal safety and increased response times."
Morales: Believes community health and public safety are necessary, and he added that Black lives matter. He wants to create a public safety committee made up of residents to provide oversight; allow better methods for residents to file complaints against officers; make information around police officer behavior and discipline public; ban chokeholds and strangleholds; and generate more resources for mental health, addiction, reformative justice and officer training.
Stovall: "I am steadfast in my commitment to everyone in our city. My lived experience is being an African American man who has experienced the things being talked about."
But he doesn't want to follow the lead of other regional jurisdictions, instead coming up with a plan that fits Gresham. Stovall wants to make investments in mental health and social programs, but not at the expense of slashing the police budget.
Are there changes to the city charter you support?
Demers: Wants to have two term limits for councilors and mayor, and bring district voting for council seats.
"This would ensure everyone has an equal chance to serve. It would take away the manipulation of votes based on identity politics and give power back to neighborhoods."
He also supports campaign finance reform to eliminate out of state influence and non-governmental influence.
Morales: He supports an independent auditor who would have been able to call into question inappropriate use of funds and spending, and backs the idea of term limits.
"The city has been run by a small insular group of people who have enriched (themselves) and their friends."
He also likes the idea of districts because Rockwood has never had a representative on City Council.
Stovall: Recused himself from diving into this question because he serves as the chair for Gresham's City Charter Committee. But he welcomes the opportunity to lean into the conversation in the future when it is ethically sound for him to do so.
How much time would you spend each week on mayoral duties?
Demers: "I would give it as much time as it would take."
Morales: At least 30 hours a week.
Stovall: On average 18-22 hours a week.
Did you support flying the Black Lives Matter flag outside Gresham City Hall?
Demers: Opposed the flag, and led a rally against the symbol and in support of the police department.
"Flying that flag represents Marxism, so City Hall was representing one side and not both sides. We need to reach out to our Black community members and stay civil with them, but we need to have a nonpartisan government."
Morales: "One of the biggest strengths of our city is diversity — almost 40% are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. I support the Black Lives Matter flag being flown over City Hall — it was about creating a culture of inclusion."
He helped organize the first-ever Gresham Juneteenth celebration last year, and joined a group of protestors facing off against Demers' rally a few months ago.
Stovall: "Black Lives Matter invokes emotion for me because I am an African American man and have had challenging experiences in this country. We are all in this together, and the Black community has seen challenges as a group of people that we need to tear away using an equity lens."
He was not sure what the Black Lives Matter flag was in reference to.
How would you bring more jobs to the community?
Demers: Would use opportunity zones to pursue new investors into the city. Wants to build more businesses rather than low-income housing units, as he said those have stifled the desire to bring funds into the city.
"I don't want to see any more businesses closing."
Morales: "We need to be using our Enterprise Zone to attract more family paying jobs — we can demand more job creation with those incentives."
He wants to continue securing emergency grants for small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stovall: "It's critical that we look at how we can first support core businesses that are already here — small businesses are the lifeblood of who we are."
He wants to attract new traded sector businesses by continuing to partner with groups like the Port of Portland. He also wants to continue supporting the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce, and does not support cutting funding to the organization.
How would you bring back unity to the city and leadership?
Demers: "Number one is we need to get away from identity politics. Labeling causes division, and we can't keep pointing fingers at one another and saying 'that is hate speech.' We need communication to talk and understand what each person is about."
Morales: Wants to get away from the fear mongering and dog whistles that have plagued national politics. He cited bringing people together by uniting around common values, and allowing space for everyone to share their thoughts and ideas.
Stovall: Said it starts with putting forward a vision on what we agree on, and accomplishing goals by bringing together a mixture of people with different ideas on how to move forward as a community.
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