Wilda Parks prepares to say goodbye to Milwaukie City Council
For the past year and a half, Milwaukie City Councilor Wilda Parks had been planning a big celebration for her 80th birthday, partly to announce the end of her political career at the end of 2020.
But, finding herself in the midst of a pandemic, Parks' big party has been called off, along with hundreds of other long-anticipated summer events.
"Credibility is a non-renewable resource" has been a personal credo for Parks.
"I feel that I can leave elected service, knowing my credibility is intact," she said.
Parks has been involved in projects and programs on city, county, regional and state levels for years. She volunteered her time on projects ranging from public policy to arts and humanities, education, tourism, business development, community theater and rescue animals. She served on the Clackamas County Economic Development Commission, Clackamas County Cultural Coalition, and as the Clackamas County citizen representative to the Metro Policy Advisory Committee.
The former CEO of the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce before becoming a political force in City Hall, Parks served on the city's planning commission before she was appointed Milwaukie's interim mayor in 2015, following the resignation of Jeremy Ferguson.
"It's an extreme honor to serve as an elected and appointed official for Milwaukie," Parks said. "In the few years I served on the city Planning Commission prior to being appointed mayor … I began to see positive changes in our community; (we were) listening more to citizens and working steadily toward a Milwaukie that is more inclusive, remains as affordable as possible, provides for livability for all residents and makes choices that help keep our planet thriving.
HAVE YOUR SAY
"It is for those values, especially keeping our businesses viable and our volunteers engaged, that I opted to serve."
Following her service as interim mayor, Parks was elected as a Milwaukie councilor in the November 2015 special election. The following year, she easily won a contested election to a full four-year term.
Parks has acted as a mentor for countless people across Oregon. When Kathy Hyzy was thinking about running for the council in 2018, she met with Parks, who has since introduced Hyzy to movers-and-shakers across the region. Hyzy was elected to the council in that same year.
"I appreciated her wisdom and her way of being in her position as city councilor," Hyzy said. "I will miss her terribly; there's only one Wilda, and we can't figure out how to replicate her."
Parks' decision not to seek reelection has already drawn the interest of five candidates in the November election, most of whom have contacted her for advice prior to filing for the ballot. This is the first time in Milwaukie history since at least 2006 that more than three candidates have filed for a single council position.
"Having this many candidates, which I doubt has happened many times before, is an indication that citizens are interested and engaged, and are ready to volunteer for the hard work of sustainable growth," Parks said. "I appreciate that many people come to talk with me about the decisions they are considering making in life; from jobs to political to community service."
In addition to Parks' seat, Milwaukie City Councilor Angel Falconer is running for reelection in November. Candidates must file by Aug. 25 at milwaukieoregon.gov/elections.
'Everyone seems to know and love her'
Gladstone resident Tom Feely first met Parks four years ago as members of the Clackamas County Budget Committee. Parks has led the committee as its chair during the past three years, which Feely appreciated for her ability to keep meetings on track and make sure everyone gets chances to speak.
"Wilda is a tireless volunteer willing to assist anywhere her skills are needed," Feely said. "She can quickly understand and analyze public policy issues… I have never heard anyone say an unkind word about her. Everyone seems to know and love her. I have totally enjoyed working with her. She is tough but she is also very friendly and listens to what people have to say."
Parks called serving on the City Council the greatest of volunteer efforts "and, at the same time, the hardest for my heart and soul," she said.
During her time on council, Parks has seen the opening of the Orange Line MAX, the second phase of construction on Milwaukie Bay Park, a new Ledding Library and the first four-story building downtown. She recognized that most of the city's decisions have at least two points of view.
"As a council, we listen, we take in information, we check facts, think toward the future while embracing the present and make decisions that fit the greater good," she said. "Often we've agonized over decisions, knowing not everyone would agree with the decisions and direction."
With community input, Milwaukie has recently adopted plans for climate action, housing and various neighborhood areas. The city also approved a new community vision, comprehensive plan and phase three of Milwaukie Bay Park master plan.
"All these were accomplished with the input, in many ways, of hundreds of residents and interested citizens," Parks said. "That's one of the best outcomes of city government, involving citizens in making positive differences."
'She lived to serve'
Parks is a "leader's leader," said Mike Cully, executive director of the League of Oregon Cities. Cully commends her efforts to improve not only the quality of life for her constitents, but also her drive to better the whole state.
"She personifies leadership through action and example," Cully said. "She's an amazing person inside and out and caring, thoughtful and above all, driven to serve."
Parks and Cully had similar paths in their journeys to leadership roles in Oregon. Just before they moved to Oregon, Cully and Parks first met circa 1998 as they were both living and working in neighboring cities in Central California. Both of them had worked as journalists before becoming CEOs of respective Chambers of Commerce, she in Hanford and he in Visalia.
"Clearly, we had a lot in common from a career perspective, but our personalities clicked as well," Cully said. "It was common for us to openly share best practices and collaborate on different projects to accomplish the one thing that was always her priority: helping her community and improving the quality of life for the residents of her city. As much as things changed in both our lives, this was the one constant in her life: She lived to serve."
As she exits the council at the end of December, Parks does not plan to leave volunteer service. In addition to the county budget committee, she will continue her board service with the Clackamas County Peace Officers Benevolent Foundation, participation on the Milwaukie/County Prosperity Project and her more than 30-year membership with Milwaukie's Rotary Club. She plans continued involvement with the city and perhaps will join some other charitable organizations she supports.
"And, of course, the painting, baking, cat tending, grandchild (and great-grandchild) visiting. That will be a larger part of life," she said. "Learning to garden and growing a lot of my own food is on the agenda, with help from several local friends who have agreed to help guide me."
Editor, Clackamas Review/Oregon City News
Follow us on Twitter
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.