Dayton mayor mounts bid for county commissioner
A familiar face in the community is running for Yamhill County commissioner.
Dayton Mayor Beth Wytoski, a fourth-generation Yamhill County resident currently raising the fifth, has put her name in the hat for Position 1 on the Board of Commissioners.
Wytoski described herself as a "moderate and independent" candidate with a strong desire to "build bridges and mend relationships" in a politically divided county.
Her competition in the May primary election includes Bob Louto of McMinnville and Kit Johnston and Harry Noah of Dayton. Incumbent Casey Kulla will vacate his spot at the end of the year to run for state labor commissioner.
Wytoski, who works as a government and economics teacher at Dayton High School, a school she attended as a teenager, has spent nearly 15 years in public office in her hometown. She has served on the Dayton City Council since 2009, as the council's president since 2013 and as Dayton's mayor since 2014.
Wytoski was also the president of the Oregon Mayor's Association in 2021 and sat on the board of Yamhill County Action Partnership (YCAP) from 2016 to 2022, serving as its chairwoman for the past three years.
"All my leadership positions as an adult have been nonpartisan, so I've got a lot of experience bringing voices together, representing diverse view, mediating and finding common ground," she said.
In addition to her political experience, Wytoski also has a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Oregon, with a minor in history and music, along with a master's degree in teaching from Pacific University.
Wytoski said the main reason she's running for commissioner is for her three young daughters.
"Being that they're fifth generation here, I would really like to make sure that Yamhill County is the county that they want to call home," she said.
Additionally, Wytoski, who has lived in Yamhill County her entire life except for college and grad school, said that between her "deep understanding of the county, its history, its economy and its people" and her political experience, she believes she "can move the county toward a really healthy vision."
"To my knowledge, I'm the only candidate with substantial local experience in government," Wytoski said. "I am well-networked in the county, and I have additional experience with other county resources … so I know some of the really vulnerable spots in the county. And I've been trying to do the work locally to address some of the issues I see, and I'm ready to do the work at the next level."
One of those issues is the need for more collaboration between city and county leadership.
"As a city leader there have been opportunities where I would have really appreciated more robust support or guidance from the county," Wytoski said, adding, "I think somebody coming from a city will be really well-equipped to provide that at the county level."
Wytoski also has a family legacy of community service. Two of her uncles, one from each side of the family, served as Dayton mayors. Additionally, when she was a child, her father served on the City Council and her mother was a community volunteer, leading to many city-oriented discussions during dinner, with topics spanning from traffic safety to public communication.
Wytoski also grew up in a politically diverse family. Her father was a pro-union Republican and her mother was a Democrat who was greatly concerned about land-use issues and agricultural restrictions.
She said her parents' unorthodox political philosophies had a big impact on her life.
"I've often joked that I would champion LGBTQ+ rights from the front pew of my evangelical church," Wytoski said. "I don't think that most people fit very cleanly into political boxes, and it's unfortunate people feel forced to do so."
She added that she thinks "the best decisions are made when you can look at multiple perspectives and just see what's most reasonable, what's right, what's kind," which can't happen "when you look at everything through a partisan lens."
Her campaign platform
True to her politically diverse upbringing, Wytoski said one of her biggest priorities as commissioner would be to work across political and ideological lines, just as she has always done in her other nonpartisan positions.
She has even made friends along the way and describes the 241 members in the Oregon Mayor's Association as her "tribe."
"The other mayors, they're mostly older, they're mostly male, they mostly, you know, fit into some more traditional views, but all have really similar drive, similar passions, similar challenges in our roles," Wytoski said. "Regardless of city size, regardless of staffing, a lot of our challenges end up being the same thing."
Despite these friendships, Wytoski set out to add more ethnic and statewide diversity while serving as president of the association. Before her term, the board consisted of senior white men from the Portland metropolitan area.
"We finished the year under my presidency one shy of half women, and for the first time, having people of color on it," Wytoski said, adding that she also appointed representation from east of the Cascades, southern Oregon and the coastal areas.
Most importantly, Wytoski said, is that she strives to communicate in a nondivisive manner.
As Dayton's mayor, Wytoski said she refrains from asserting her opinion when sharing county, state and federal updates with her constituents, and plans to do the same if elected commissioner.
She said she believes "when you present information as objectively as possible, it really helps you to hear everybody; it makes you more approachable and can help with the decision-making process."
Wytoski also said she would not condemn the votes, approaches or policies of her colleagues on the commissioner board.
"You would hear from me what the information really is, and the rest of the conversation I would have in more direct conversations," Wytoski said.
Another major priority for Wytoski is economic development in the county, which was hindered during the pandemic due to staffing shortages, decreased revenue and sales and regulatory challenges.
In addition to developing programs to support local businesses, Wytoski said she is interested in leveraging tourism to "capture dollars that aren't coming from the county" and aggressively vying for federal infrastructure dollars to avoid raising taxes to pay for improvements.
Wytoski's other priorities are protecting the agricultural economy, supporting municipal plans for growth, building public-private partnerships, improving student access to CTE programs and prioritizing student voices.
"The reason I'm willing to take this time from my family when I have young children, to take a break from my career, is because I really care incredibly deeply about the county and its people and its functions, and I just want to do my part in improving the county in any way that I can," Wytoski said, adding that her "heart is in this."
If she is elected, Wytoski would leave her job as an educator — at least for now — and would not run for reelection as Dayton's mayor.
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