Two of the candidates seeking a seat on Gresham City Council share a passion for the community they wish to serve and have big ideas on how it can move forward.
Political newcomers Dave Dyk and Sue Piazza are two of the candidates running for Gresham Council Position 5, which will be decided on Nov. 3 after longtime Councilor David Widmark decided not to seek re-election.
The other two candidates vying for the role — Stella Armstrong and Thomas Stanley — did not respond to interview requests.
Dyk and Piazza both spoke about why they are running for public office and what issues they are prioritizing in their campaigns.
Working in information and technology for the city of Portland first sparked an interest in local government for Dyk, as he witnessed how important a role it plays in supporting a community.
So after moving to Gresham in 2007, public service was always in the back of his mind. He had received a Masters of Public Administration from Portland State University and had completed a leadership course through the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce.
"Living in Gresham I fell in love with the city — but I saw challenges around our budget and inclusivity in who is engaged at City Hall," Dyk said.
He considered running for council in 2018 after speaking with others in the community, but ultimately decided his day job prevented the time he would need to properly serve. But now his schedule is more flexible and he is ready to dive into the challenges of serving his city, which is why he is running for Council Position 5.
"My values lineup with those of the voters in Gresham," he said.
Dyk steps into the role with experience serving on groups across the city. He is the vice chair of Gresham's finance committee, serves on the finance committee for Human Solutions, is vice president of the Northwest Neighborhood Association and is secretary/treasurer of the Coalition of Gresham Neighborhood Associations.
As a candidate, he is focused on sustainable financial management, parks and recreation, and engaging new voices.
He said the biggest issue facing Gresham is the budget shortfall — $13.3 million through fiscal year 2020/21. The problem, according to Dyk, is decisions made in the past that continue to hamstring Gresham's finances. In 1990, property taxes paid for 100% of the police and fire budget. Now it is only able to foot less than 50% of the bill. The remainder has been dealt with through the regressive Police, Fire and Parks fee.
"We have been plugging the financial hole with the utility fee and state funding — it's not a sustainable way to run a full service city," Dyk said, though he agreed with the need to increase the fee to prevent massive cuts in service. "I am interested in policies that don't kick the can down the road for our kids to deal with."
Specialty districts are the main way he would address funding issues. Dyk is supportive of conducting a feasibility study into a Fire District — in the 1990s Gresham narrowly voted down a proposal to have Fire District 10 annex the city — as well as a Parks District to address recreation needs.
"Parks has consistently gotten the short end of the stick for funding," he said.
Dyk said that Hillsboro — a city comparable in size to Gresham — spends 10 times more on parks. He is also supportive of participatory budgeting for parks and recreation decisions. To lower the cost of capital for new facilities, Dyk would create contracts with the school districts to rent gym space and fields.
Bringing more diverse opinions into Gresham City Hall would be one of Dyk's first steps if elected.
"We have some really well-meaning leaders who have been involved with the city for years — but they haven't been really representative of the whole city," he said.
He wants to recruit more diverse people to serve on council and committees, and backs the idea of voting for council seats by districts. Gresham used to vote by district, until the 1980s when Rockwood and Centennial were annexed into the city.
"I think the change was made to limit the power of people in those neighborhoods and keep it centered in the traditional business community," Dyk said. "I want to put the issue back before voters to make a change."
Dyk backs continued financial support to small businesses to get through the COVID-19 pandemic, and wants to bring a program into Gresham that mimics Wood Village's progressive fee waivers for those who've lost income. He also wants to continue to strengthen bonds between the city and school districts.
He does not support defunding the police.
"I do support Black lives and the movement," he said. "I think policing is just one area we need to change in terms of racial justice — it's not the only place in the city, but just the most visible."
He wants to create an independent citizen advisory committee, and look into use of force, the complaint process and the gang enforcement team. Dyk also sees shifting some money and tasks away from police and into mental health programs.
"I come into this race from an informed perspective, and voters would be choosing someone who understands the issues," Dyk said. "I plan on tackling the biggest challenges we have head on."
When she was In the fourth grade, Piazza wrote an essay about why she wanted to become governor of Oregon.
Growing up in East Multnomah County, she had learned the importance of uplifting others — a value instilled by her parents. She watched as her father quit his job to open his own small business, and how he would go beyond the standard employer-employee relationship to give back to those working for him. Her family was always looking to do more.
"I fell in love with helping people and supporting organizations," Piazza said.
So it made sense to her, even as early as grade school, to transition someday into public office. And while she no longer has any desire to be governor, Piazza is running for Gresham Council Position 5.
"I absolutely love Gresham — it always had this small town feel, people care about their neighbors and are nice to each other," she said. "I was always interested in running, but when I do something, I give it my all. I needed the time and resources to do the job well."
Piazza is a local businesswoman and philanthropist. She has served on the Gresham-Barlow Education Foundation for more than 20 years; was a "Rotarian of the Year" in Gresham; and founded the 100 Women Who Care East County chapter. Most recently she received the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce "2019 Volunteer of the Year" award.
She has worked in real estate and the travel industry, running Bucket List Travel Tours in Gresham. Piazza has four sons and nine grandchildren.
As a candidate, Piazza is concerned about the lack of funds available for public safety — police, fire and homeless services. She explained the budgets have been going through a defunding process for years — with the police department down 26 positions since 2018 and the fire department struggling to timely respond to calls.
She agreed with council's decision to temporarily increase the Police, Fire and Parks fee, but wants to find a better solution.
"Citizens want to be involved in this process and see an open and communicative council," she said. "Because we have such a low tax base, we may need to take some of the funding out of city hands."
Piazza is also supportive of moving some tasks outside the police department, like calls for service related to mental health situations that often escalate.
From the business community, Piazza has been hearing concerns around the safety of the community, as a bad perception of Gresham limits those visiting and shopping. She also said there has been frustration by slow service and turnaround on documents with so many city employees working from home. That has delayed approval of things like business licenses.
"Our current businesses will leave if people are stealing or causing issues and destruction," she said. "Businesses don't feel as important as they should to the city government."
Parks are important to Piazza, as well, although she wants to be fiscally responsible in addressing them. The needs differ based on what part of the city you live in — basketball courts in Rockwood, green spaces in Southeast Gresham. Her idea is to continue utilizing more public-private partnerships, which is how Gradin Sports Park, the Gresham Arts Plaza, Nadaka Nature Park, Gresham Skate Park and Tsuru Island all came to be.
"There are entities out there that could help us with our parks," she said.
Piazza likes the idea of a Parks District, but because of COVID and a floundering economy, she is worried about creating a new tax.
She pointed to concerns that Gresham citizens pay more in taxes to the county than to the city — meaning most isn't directly benefiting East Multnomah County and is instead, funding projects in Portland. Piazza also wants to continue to empower the homeless and keep places like the Springwater Corridor Trail free of camps.
Perhaps the issue closest to her heart as a travel agent is generating more tourism to Gresham.
"There has been talk about defunding the tourism done through the Chamber, and it makes no sense to me," she said. "A visitor center is the place where people call when they think of coming to a city."
She said with small businesses struggling, the city should be finding ways to bring more outside dollars into the community. Studies show that when someone stays in a hotel or motel, they also tend to spend up to $200 a night on meals, events, entertainment and shopping.
"The city has not done a good job taking advantage of creating festivals and reasons to visit," she said.
Piazza said she has a lot of ideas for events the city could conduct, thanks to her years in the travel business.
"People should vote for me because I am not a politician — I just want to help my city," she said. "I have leadership abilities, and I want to continue to have Gresham be a safe and wonderful place for my grandkids to grow up in."
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