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With changes to the Newberg City Council coming nearly monthly, the two longest-serving members seek to carry on

Come January, people familiar with the Newberg City Council will scarcely recognize what's happened to the city's top governing body.

Over the course of about eight months the complexion of the council has changed drastically. Gone are longtime members Mike Corey and Patrick Johnson, as well as relative newcomer Elizabeth Curtis Gemeroy. Added are newcomers Julia Martinez Plancarte and Gene Piros, although Piros announced a few months ago that he would end his service to the council at year's end, then resigned completely July 20 due to health issues.HollamonBacon

Left remaining are councilors Denise Bacon, Stephanie Findley and Elise Yarnell Hollamon, as well as Mayor Rick Rogers. Piros and Johnson's spots are up for grabs and Findley and Rogers' term will continue for several years.

Bacon and Hollamon, however, are up for reelection and both of them have filed the necessary paperwork with the county. The filing deadline for their positions, should anyone choose to contest a race, is in August.

Hollamon

Hollamon, 31, is senior operations manager for the Yamhill Region of Providence Medical Group. She was appointed to the District 1 spot in September 2018, is halfway through a four-year term and has committed to serving a full four-year term should she be reelected.

Hollamon has lived in Newberg since March 2016 after growing up in Aloha. Both of her parents are retired Beaverton School District educators, and her father was the principal at her high school. "Which is a big reason as to why I believe it's important to live where you work and serve," Hollamon said.

In an email interview, Hollamon commented that Bacon is the soul remaining councilor who was in place when she began her term less than two years ago. She added that the most important attribute for a successful city councilor is the "ability to join a conversation with openness to be swayed in your preconceived opinion and invite missing groups to the table who need a voice in the discussion to build true community perspective."

Among the successes she attributed to the council was outlining its 2020 goals and "encouraging an internal culture of change, accountability and community focus," as well as the city's response to the pandemic and, "most importantly, hiring of our current city manager!"

The council's failures during Hollamon's tenure? "Insisting on immediate leadership that fosters trust, accountability and teamwork, following a long period of internal turmoil and not having clear public relations communication messaging around these issues present as a unified council voice," she said.

Hollamon's aspirations for the council are many. Her hopes are that the city will implement an affordable housing program, progress on the city's proposed urban renewal district and waterfront master plan, and make "meaningful change around diversity, equity and inclusion."

Despite the ire of constituents, the loss of her cohorts on the council and the turmoil of a city hall besieged by controversy over the past five years, Hollamon hasn't had second thoughts about joining the council.

"Not at all. Leadership is not intended to be an easy road, and I accept and welcome public critique and concern," she said. "I am hopeful for a future where we can come from a place or places of common ground so that we can have the difficult conversations that need to be had.

"I greatly respect the mayor and each councilor I serve with, regardless of differing positions. It's my goal to represent our city with grace, conviction and a listening ear, remembering that I do not have all the answers and I will learn far more from others than I will ever be able to give."

Bacon

Bacon, the District 3 representative and council chairwoman, was first elected in 2008 after having attended council meetings for 18 months because "I wanted to make sure I was connected to the work before I had the responsibility of the position." She has been re-elected to four-year terms twice in 2008 and 2016 and appointed in 2012 after making an unsuccessful run for Yamhill County commissioner.

Bacon, 54, is a staff member for a private foundation. She is a 22-year resident of Newberg and has "three kids and a very supportive husband who also live here in town." She even moved her elderly parents to Newberg from her childhood home in rural New York.

She said whether there have been significant changes to the council "depends on what lens you were asking me to look" through.

"All the councilors and all the councils I have served on did have one big thing in common: A love for Newberg," Bacon said "I believe that every single person I have served with cared about the community and, I feel, was there for the right reason. The decisions they personally came to did look different for each of them.

"If you were looking for a scale of liberal to conservative in the political sense, I would say that there have been very distinct ebbs and flows. When I arrived in 2008, I was the most progressive. … Today I am the most conservative. Interestingly, my own personal beliefs have not changed all that much. I just have a stronger sense of how government works and that I can't always get what I want, nor should I." 

To be a successful councilor, Bacon said, requires "being willing to listen, even when you don't agree. I mean really listen."

"Too often people listen to frame their response, and they can lose sight of what the person is really trying to say," she said. "It is hard. There are many voices and many points of view and the answers need to be found from hearing all of them.

"That is another challenge that people don't often realize. There is never an easy answer to a hard problem, otherwise it would have been solved already. It might take a hundred solutions to solve a single issue and failing once is not a reason to stop trying."

Bacon disputed the idea of the council assembling achievements.

"We have a fabulous community that does amazing things together and a top-notch staff that helps all of us look good," she said. "We set policy and others get to do the hard work."

However, Bacon did point to a few things the city has done that she is most proud.

"That being said, the bypass became a reality …, we passed an inclusive city resolution with the help of Newberg Unidos, we became a Peace City with the help of Rotary, we allowed murals and are seeing them slowing becoming part of the fabric of Newberg with the help of George Fox and Rotary, the splash pad was a great addition with a lot of partners involved, and with the investment of developers we were able to get some apartments and we continuously (are) ranked as one of Oregon safest cities due to our 21st century police department, even through all the management issues, because of the dedicated men and women who serve us. Like I said, we could not have done any of it alone."

And the council's failures during her nearly 12 years in office?

"We were terrible managers," Bacon said. "We wanted to be able to hand City Hall over to our city manager and city attorney and call it good because that is the way it is supposed to work, and it didn't. We were lazy about it and it came back to bite us over and over again. And it really was the council's fault, not the fault of the people we hired because we never held anyone accountable."

Bacon was noncommittal on the question of much longer she intends to serve as councilor.

"I never set a goal to serve for a certain amount of time," she said. "I ask myself if I still have something of value left to offer.

"This time I am running because I believe we finally are going to work on the things I wanted to do 12 years ago —move the community forward by having the really hard diversity conversation, look at sustainability and always keeping the community at the center of the work. We are finally ready to break some molds and old thinking on how we are going to do it. We have a council now that can get this done and is willing to do it, so that is exciting.

"I also really like (City Manager Dan Weinheimer) and I'm excited to work with him. His perspective of leadership of the city is refreshing and a new approach that has been needed all along. The council and staff has had major turnover and there are a lot of new people."

Hoped-for council accomplishments during her next term, should she be re-elected, include goals adopted to promote diversity, equity and inclusion; enhanced customer service; promoting affordable housing; creating both environmental sustainability and sustainability in the city budget, and "keeping the community at the center of that work by connecting what the city does with the NewBERG Community Vision."

Bacon said she also is hopeful after "recent conversations about policing and what it should look like" in the city.

"During the next year we are going to have an opportunity to really look at the Newberg-Dundee Police Department and keep what has been working very well and try new things as we move forward," she said. "That is one of the things that excites me about serving another four years, is keeping the support for the NDPD and their continual efforts to always be improving and growing with the community. They have a tradition of that and I want to be part of that with them."

Despite all the changes, turmoil and sometimes attacks in person at council meetings and online, Bacon said she is steadfast in her determination to move forward, although she has had her doubts at times.

"It can be a heavy load sometimes to be a volunteer with so much power over people's lives," she said. "I've had to remind myself many times why I started on this journey and why I stayed. The truth is that it is a balance between staying because I was part of the problem that caused it and believing I should hang around long enough to attempt to fix it. There were too many people I cared about getting hurt to just walk away and, most importantly, I really care what happens in our community.

"Since the council is a body made up of seven people, people come and go and yet the council remains. It doesn't matter if you are new or have been there forever, you are responsible for the past and also responsible to the future. I mostly attempt to ego check myself at the door and try to be the best I can be for a community that I love, even on the really hard days."

 


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