Field set for Newberg mayor and council races
The deadline for candidates to file for Newberg mayor and Newberg City Council spots has passed and the field has been set for the November general election.
Newberg will have a new mayor and three new faces on the city's top governmental body.
Longtime hizzoner Bob Andrews will step down from his post at year's end, making way for Newberg's first new mayor in more than a decade. The field this year also represents a shift in age, as the oldest candidate is 62 years old.
The contenders are Rick Rogers, Nick Morace and Buddy Cook. Rogers is executive director of Newberg Area Habitat for Humanity, while Morace is a diagnostic technician at Steve's Auto Service in Newberg and Cook is a part-time driver for Enterprise, but worked as a project manager for more than 30 years.
Rogers has prior government experience as chairman of the Citizens Rate Review Committee and stints on the Mayor's Cabinet, Newberg School District budget committee, Wastewater Master Plan Committee, Long Range Financial Plan Committee, Newberg's ad hoc committees on the future and affordable housing and the Newberg Urban Area Management Committee.
Morace, 34, served two terms on the Citizen's Rate Review Committee, while Cook pointed to a four-year stint in the Coast Guard as his previous government experience.
The trio cited a variety of reasons for running.
"Newberg has given Lisa, our boys and I so much," Rogers said in an email. "I feel this is a way to at least partially repay the debt to this community we love."
"Watching city council for nine years, one common theme is always present: representation of the working class citizens of Newberg has faded away to nothing," Morace said in an email. "The priorities of the council no longer reflect the priorities of Newberg communities. With a passion for service, my wife and I decided that I step onto a bigger platform to represent the communities of Newberg. I can no longer sit facing the council with grievances. Instead, I will join them and give my community their voice."
Cook said that he had considered running for public office in the past, but double bypass heart surgery over a year ago changed his perspective.
"The doctor told me I was a very rare patient … and it was a miracle that I was still alive, with virtually no heart damage," Cook said in an email. "So, I thought Buddy 2.0 should do more with his life, so I wanted to get more involved. Being mayor seemed like a good challenge."
While Rogers, 59, said the primary function of the council is to facilitate the orderly growth of the community, Morace and Cook had different ideas on the subject.
The council's function is "to listen to the people of Newberg and represent their desires and needs," Morace said, "making policy for the betterment of those who live here under careful consideration of the recommendations from their community."
Cook, 62, put it this way: "The council provides leadership and infrastructure support for the community. I think it is important for citizens to have a voice in what happens in their town and the council provides that communication."
The three have different goals in mind, should they be elected to office.
"I would like Newberg to be thought of as a great place to grow in every sense of the word -- as a great place to grow in work, education, recreation, volunteerism, faith and community," Rogers said. "The current budget shortfall, downtown improvement, business development, industrial land expansion, housing and cooperation with the faith, education and recreation communities top my list of priorities."
Morace said he aspired to a different set of goals, primarily to bring balance to the council.
"Spending issues need to be addressed such as capital improvement projects and non-essential personnel," Morace said. "City development needs to be approached with more consideration of the current residents of Newberg so we do not lose our small town feel. Above all, the council needs to regain the trust of those who live here, to truly represent those they are charged with. Transparency is key."
Cook commented that "I am still learning about the issues that Newberg faces. I know housing has always been a challenge for Newberg. It was difficult 35 years ago when we moved here and it is still difficult. … Newberg, like so many communities has been hit financially with the mill closure, etc. I want to work to improve the community. I have always loved Newberg and I want to see it thrive."
The three candidates have vastly different takes on how the council is functioning currently.
"I think everyone would agree - meetings could be shorter," Rogers aid. "The council faces a heavy work load during its bi-monthly meetings. Every effort should be made to streamline the agenda and discussion. Meetings that end near midnight make it tough on citizens, city staff and the volunteer council."
Morace was less positive in his response: "City council has lost the public's trust and respect. The foundation of our beautiful city is very solid, but without the trust and support of Newberg's citizens, the council will not succeed in helping those who live here. Transparency would greatly improve these relations and is a must to continue to thrive. No more secret talks behind closed doors of exorbitant salaries or tax increases without the public's input. City council needs to be approachable with no hidden agendas. Also, the council needs to re-establish its authority with the city manager and city attorney. Hard questions will be asked. Unpopular answers will be given."
Cook said: "I have witnessed many times over how a new manager is hired and he immediately comes in and starts making changes, usually creating a worse situation than what was before. My method is to become involved with the people and the processes and when it is fully understood, then start making changes for improvement. So, I am still learning on what needs to be improved in the council."
Their responses were mixed when asked if they aspired to higher political office in the future.
"No," Rogers said. "Given the divisiveness of partisan politics, I am happy to stay local."
"I will focus on Newberg for the time being," Morace said. "I have no specific plans for higher office, but things change and I certainly wouldn't rule it out for the future."
"I am appreciative that the position of mayor is (non-partisan), as I want to believe in people and not politics," Cook said. "A higher office brings greater challenges and I want to see how this one goes before I even consider a different position."
The Newberg City Council consists of representatives from six distinct geographic districts. The District 1 council spot is open with the resignation of Matt Murray several weeks ago and the deadline to apply for the position is Aug. 31. Appointment to the position will be made by the council after interviews are held at its Sept. 17 work session.
Elizabeth Gemeroy, a membership specialist for the Oregon Nurses Association, is the sole candidate for the District 2 position being vacated by Stephen McKinney. Gemeroy didn't respond to requests for comment on her candidacy, but background information culled from the candidate application she filed with the city indicates she has a bachelor's degree in community development from Portland State University.
District 4 incumbent Patrick Johnson has filed for a second term in office and will face no challenger in the November election. The 48-year-old public information specialist for the Oregon Lottery was appointed to the District 4 seat in April 2016 after the resignation of Tony Rourke.
"With the number of new people coming on council and a new mayor, I felt that some experience would be helpful," he said in an email. "However, I did reach out to others in the community to see if they lived in my district and if they wanted to run for the District 4 seat before I committed."Johnson said the city's ongoing budget woes, including a $1.4 million shortfall in the most recent document, prompted him to seek another term.
"I again want to make sure city staff and leaders are sharpening their pencils to find efficiencies before we go to the voters and ask for more money," he said. "In my household if we can't pay the bills, we start looking at ways to save. I believe the city should do the same. We may find savings, we may not, but I believe the work needs to be done before you ask for more taxes or fees. I want to see all the options, not just assume higher taxes are the answer."
Funding basic city services will likely be the primary issue facing the council in the coming years, Johnson added.
"Short term, the budget issue is going to suck up all the oxygen in the room," he said. "Immediately after the election, if not before, we are going to hear more about how the city has a property tax problem. The solution will be higher taxes or higher fees. When property tax is limited at 3 percent growth annually, and the cost of things like health care, wages, energy, police cars and office supplies are all going up at a faster pace, something has to be done."
He concluded that in the long term growth and "how to keep Newberg feeling the like the community I grew up in, economic development, cost of housing, tourism and neighborhood issues like broken sidewalks, urban trees and water and sewer bills" will likely take up most of the council's time.
Two candidates will vie for the District 6 spot being vacated after one term by Scott Essin: Brad Sitton, 53, and Stephanie Findley, 41.
Sitton is a police lieutenant who served for two years on the city budget committee, prompting him to run for elected office.
"After participating on the budget committee, I wanted to become more involved with the Newberg government," he said in an email.
While a stay-at-home mom now, Findley's background is in social services, including a 10-year stint for Child Protective Services as well as time working in residential treatment services for children.
She said was prompted to run for office because "I love this community and want to contribute to my neighbors in any way I can," she said in an email. "I believe women bring a new, fresh perspective to local government and I embrace the challenges and opportunities of a growing community. I want my children to inherit a town and community as wonderful as the one we brought them to so early in their lives."
The pair voiced different aspirations for their time on the council should they be elected.
"(I would like to) maintain the small town appeal while balancing the requirement of growth and expansion," Sitton said, "with a strong eye toward doing what is right for the citizens and applying common sense."
"It's important for city councilors to embrace the community's wants and needs and to work from a place that incorporates everyone's interests," Findley said. "I am particularly passionate about a community that embraces diversity of people, cultures, religions and businesses and is affordable for all those that want to be a part of the landscape."
The pair had similar beliefs on the primary function of the council. Sitton said it is "to guide growth, development and an increasing standard of living for Newberg citizens, visitors and businesses."
Findley concurred, while adding: "The council is tasked with governing the city in a way that provides for the residents while considering future generations. It is important to utilize our resources in a way that is sustainable and provides a healthy and safe environment for all that live here."
The council's past performance drew a mixed bag of comments from the two candidates from District 6.
"They have had some turn over the last couple of years with councilors moving or resigning," Sitton said. "A stable council will be key to future endeavors. It's also nice to see more people becoming interested in serving, that (have a) fresh view perspective."
"I would love to see a more diverse set of voices participating in the governing of the city," Findley said. "I'm excited about the future of the city and believe that it is an environment conducive to new and younger leadership with strong direction from the people that have been actively working on our behalf for years."