Q&A with candidates for Hillsboro City Council
Read what five of the six candidates for the Ward 3, Position B, seat on the Hillsboro City Council have to say about how they would lead, what issues they want to address, police reform and economic development. One candidate, Alexander Flores, did not return answers to the questions.
Candidates were limited to 150-word answers. Answers have been edited for clarity.
How would you describe your leadership style? If elected, how would your leadership style add to the Hillsboro City Council?
Thomas Flaherty: I lead by example just like I did in the U.S. Marine Corps for thirty-two years. A leader should visualize goals and results and then take action to achieve them.
Gina Roletto: I lead with compassion and integrity. My career in educational leadership calls for leadership to guide my staff, my students and the community overall. This includes working with groups who have differing opinions, some who see me as the system that failed them in their past and I still have to manage a building and the safety of my students and staff. I believe the community sees the council in a similar way, especially now in the middle of this pandemic. They are looking for people who will actively listen — and listen to learn and understand their perspective.
John Kinsky: It is fashionable to claim to be a servant leader, but I think that best describes my leadership style. I lead by doing and by focusing on helping others. I volunteer in several organizations, so I can serve other leaders since I do not think one can lead unless one knows how to follow. After watching many of the council meetings, I think my leadership style will fit well with the current council.
Kimberly Culbertson: I use communal values and actively listen. When I find a compelling purpose for change, I foster an inclusive environment that releases creativity and cultivates a work culture that encourages innovation. I bring people out of their silos to work together. Information is shared organically and everyone takes responsibility for the whole. I hold firm for the common good rather than bend to those fearing change.
I look forward to bringing my diversity of experience to the council, with gender parity. It is particularly important to have a more humane outlook when we decide how people are to survive in a pandemic and make a living in a vastly changed business landscape. As a person who is a servant leader, I will not make the mistake of feeling or thinking that I am above grunt work, whether it is neighborhood planning or helping businesses make it to the next level.
Katherine Rhee: My leadership style is to lead by example. I'm a good listener and take your input seriously. I work well with others. I'm resourceful, responsible and respecful and can be trusted to do my homework with every issue to represent you to the best of my ability and benefit our city. I'm honest and diligent and will work towards being as responsible with your money as I am with my own.
What do you see as the main issue to tackle in Hillsboro?
Thomas Flaherty: The main issue to tackle in Hillsboro is the protection of its citizens and their property in the event of civil disturbances, rioting, burning, and looting. The other main issues are the arrest and prosecution of drug smugglers and dealers and the problem of homelessness.
Gina Roletto: I believe that we need to be clear on how the equity statement, which will lead to a decision making framework, will impact decisions moving forward. How will the council communicate this to its residents? We need to take what we have learned from this pandemic about how we reach out and include all groups of people, especially when we know certain decisions may impact them. Once this framework is in place, the process for decision making becomes more transparent and holds all departments and leaders accountable.
John Kinsky: I think Hillsboro is facing three big issues. First, we have no choice but to respond to the financial difficulties that are coming as we recover from the COVID-19 response. Second, we should work to address the housing shortage Hillsboro will be facing over the next five years. Third, and finally, we need to work with other cities and counties to respond to increased homelessness. We must balance all the requests against current commitments; for example, the City of Hillsboro budget increased nearly $200 million in the last two years to begin funding the Willamette Water Supply System, and there is an expectation that city revenues will decline soon. Just promising to spend more money clearly is not a viable answer.
Kimberly Culbertson: Affordable housing and homelessness are topmost on my mind. Rent forbearance is running out and winter is coming on. We need a "right now" plan and a long term plan to include more people in the success that Hillsboro is experiencing.
An immediate plan would enable current homeless shelter providers to engage more spaces and adapt them to provide pandemic safe temporary shelter.
Long term, affordable housing and the jobs that can come from encouraging small businesses can prevent some homelessness and provide economic resiliency.
The root causes of homelessness are poverty, income inequality, lack of affordable housing, housing insecurity, and domestic abuse. Under the right circumstances, anyone can become homeless. To end homelessness, it is important to recognize the many pathways that lead people to become homeless in the first place and prevent it for those who are at risk. Low-income families are especially vulnerable to becoming homeless.
Katherine Rhee: I believe that there are too many obstacles for small businesses and for builders, both commercial and domestic, with all the licenses, fees, taxes, regulations, permits, statutes, laws, etc. The process is too long, too expensive and too complicated and I believe it suffocates business opportunity. The next year or two are going to be especially difficult and important to recover from the financial handicap many businesses have suffered as a result of the lockdowns and limitations, especially for small businesses.
What specifically would you change about the Hillsboro city government and/or Hillsboro Police Department to better ensure racial justice amid widespread calls for reform?
Thomas Flaherty: The Hillsboro Police Department has not engaged in any "racial injustice." The Hillsboro Police have been doing an excellent job protecting Hillsboro residents. The continued training in the handling of the mentally ill and homeless is the best solution. I back the Hillsboro Police Department, the Washington County Sheriffs' Office and the Oregon State Police.
Gina Roletto: In light of the Black Lives Matter movement that our country is experiencing, partnering with the community and the Hillsboro Police Department is important work that cannot be ignored or slowed down. The role of City Council is to engage their residents, actively listen to the community's needs and work together to balance the services of Hillsboro Police Department. As Hillsboro continues to grow, now is the time to consider a citizen's review committee for this work which can positively impact our community and the relationship with HPD. Hillsboro has many great things happening and now we need to have the hard conversations as to how we can make further progress and ask why we continue to hear the stories of residents who do not feel welcome in Hillsboro.
John Kinsky: I know the police department has already started to address some of the issues they have identified; however, I am skeptical that the feedback provided to the city council to date is sufficient to accurately reflect what our city residents want in terms of policy changes for public safety. I think we need more input from the citizens before implementing further guidelines and policies. Everything in life is a tradeoff, so for me, public safety reform is an issue of discovering what the citizens want and prioritizing that above other claims on the same resources.
Kimberly Culbertson: Rather than inviting people to talk to the city government, we can reach out more actively to groups and individuals. Nonprofit service organizations can engage, staff or councilors can attend HOA meetings, outreach. Coffees at parks and neighborhood hangouts can also bring people to share their concerns when the pandemic ends. For now, we can use Zoom and other teleconferencing formats to engage all of these audiences. We can distribute flyers and hang banners in many languages on major streets, at corner stores, Laundromats, and coffee shops to promote upcoming public meetings.
In addition, police can "meet" the residents at community events to inform them about the changes already happening at the department and to listen to their needs.
In the future, to encourage participation at the meetings and make it possible for adults to attend, the city can provide child care and food at meetings.
Katherine Rhee: The question implies that there already exists a problem with our local Police Department. I am only familiar with a national call for racial justice and reform. I'm not specifically aware of racial injustice in our city so it's very difficult to answer that question. I think our police force is under a large amount of scrutiny currently that isn't warranted and think they're doing a great job. If there are individuals that are exhibiting poor behavior in their occupation then it needs to be addressed by their commanding officers first. If that changes, and there is a call for reform I am happy to be part of the resolution.
How do you plan to increase economic opportunities for Hillsboro residents?
Thomas Flaherty: I plan to assist the increase in economic opportunities for Hillsboro residents by supporting small and medium-size businesses by reducing taxes and government regulations.
Gina Roletto: In my work as an educational leader, I don't have all the answers or ideas. My job is to find resources, facilitate and guide. That is why I surround myself with others who have various experiences and expertise. Now is the time for us to do this, especially as we make our way through this pandemic and then through what I imagine will be a slow recovery. Partnerships with organizations that are doing the work will be important. I'm sure the traditional ways a city looks to grow economic opportunity will look different as we continue the work within our current reality.
John Kinsky: Economics is about choices. I think the best way to increase economic opportunities is to increase the range of choices available to entrepreneurs. In this case, increasing choices implies decreasing the number of ordinances, regulations, and compliance overhead costs whenever and wherever possible. Increasing the number of businesses and allowing them to be more successful will increase the number of jobs, which improves the economic opportunities for everyone in the city. The City of Hillsboro does not have a magical pot of money to add to the range of economic opportunities, so there is not much the City of Hillsboro government can or should do other than to make it easier for businesses to operate efficiently inside the city limits.
Kimberly Culbertson: Hillsboro needs to understand the public good that small businesses do in supplying jobs and increasing a city's economic resilience in a rapidly changing economic environment. Hillsboro can also use available metrics to determine where we need work to help businesses.
WalletHub uses metrics such as Business Environment, Access to Resources and Business Costs to determine national rankings. Hillsboro is currently ranked 429th in the nation. We can find ways of using some of the methods used in Redmond, ranked 4th, and Bend, ranked 9th.
If we can build on the success we have garnered in Money Magazine's recent survey of best places to live, Hillsboro can be more sustainable by having a thriving small business environment and be a great place to live.
Katherine Rhee: We could attract more business and economic opportunities by lowering the regulations, restrictions, expenses and taxes associated with having a business. I advocate for cottage industries and expanding multi-use zoning to enable people to operate from their homes, for example. We have seen that this is a viable option in the last year as people have been forced to get creative from their homes to generate income. As a former business owner, I am well aware of all the hoops and expenses associated with ownership and it's definitely a deterrent.
How would you balance the need for growth with environmental concerns?
Thomas Flaherty: I would support balancing economic growth, the need for environmental protections by supporting Oregon's land-use laws and supporting the protection of Tualatin Valley farmland. The Tualatin Valley should not become another Silicon Valley.
Gina Roletto: Growth applies to both business and housing, both of which can have an impact on the environment. I tend to reflect on what was learned from our previous work. What have we learned from Orenco Station? What would we have done differently? Did we apply those lessons to the current work in South Hillsboro? A big part of why Hillsboro is an attractive place to live is for the proximity to green spaces and I believe there can be a balance, but as potential areas of growth shrink, environmental impact has to remain front and center.
John Kinsky: The causes of environmental change are far from apodictic, so I would resist simple answers to complex issues. I favor an approach of working with developers and others to identify building practices that reduce environmental impact while maximizing resource conservation in reasonable ways. Smart growth is possible, but it requires focus, hard work, and a long-term commitment to realize.
Kimberly Culbertson: To balance those concerns, I want future development to be closer to amenities and less dependent on large shopping centers to supply the needs of residents. This way, householders as well as those in apartments can access needs in a way that benefits their health and takes less time away from family.
Walkable communities allow residents to age in place with both economic and health benefits. By designing the community to allow for housing and local businesses to be within walking distance, residents have the option of walking to and from destinations rather than depending on an automobile or ride service. There is a direct correlation between walkable communities and housing values, as well.
Mass transit should be integral to how we grow. Newer residents tend to be from cities and countries where transit systems are integral to planning and very efficient, we need that planning to be Hillsboro's future.
Katherine Rhee: I'd have to understand what is specifically meant by "need for growth". The only growth that we have are from people moving from other areas as it doesn't come internally from a falling birthrate or in the number of immigrants we attract. A free market would give us a good idea of development needs by observing supply and demand. Currently, most of the development on former farmlands are from big tech companies and large housing communities, not from single-family units.
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