Deadlines close, candidates confirmed for November ballot
This November, Columbia County voters will determine the future leadership of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, while choosing representatives for city councils and utility districts.
In an era where more political novices are stepping up to run for office, at least five races have candidates running unopposed, including the Columbia County Commissioner race.
Here's a rundown of who you can expect to see on the ballot.
Columbia County Sheriff
Voters didn't expect to be electing a new sheriff this November, but after the announcement in late April that former Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson planned to retire from the position early, three candidates filed for the job.
Brian Pixley, who currently serves as a lieutenant with the Sheriff's Office, is one of three candidates for the sheriff position. He says the county needs "a strong, experienced leader with a vision for improving the Columbia County Sheriff's Office."
Pixley has been in law enforcement for more than 20 years and says he is the only candidate with executive level certification in both police and corrections duties.
"Through a partnership with the residents of Columbia County, I will make CCSO the proactive, transparent law enforcement agency our citizens need and deserve," Pixley told the Spotlight shortly after filing for the position.
Dave Brown boasts nearly 32 years of law enforcement experience, including 18 with the U.S. Marshals Service overseeing prisoner operations. Brown says he also worked as a fraud investigator for the U.S. Treasury Department and most recently as a court security deputy at the Columbia County Courthouse.
Brown says he wants to "move the agency forward."
"While the majority of men and women at the Sheriff's Office do good work with limited resources, it is time to restore community trust by moving the agency forward, which absolutely requires a Sheriff from outside the organization," Brown stated via email in June. Brown says he'd prioritize fiscal responsibility, fully staffing the jail, and making "ethical and appropriate personnel actions."
James "Jim" Gibson also brings more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, primarily as a corrections deputy, where he worked his way up to the rank of lieutenant. He now works as a private investigator.
He notes that he is not currently certified through the Department of Safety, Standards and Training— the state agency that certifies law enforcement officers— but says he can easily be re-certified in the timeframe needed.
"Our Sheriff's Office needs new leadership that will continue to focus on responding to the needs of people in time of crisis while at the same time taking a new direction of being more open, accessible, and a positive role model for others to follow," Gibson told the Spotlight after announcing his candidacy."
Scappoose City Council
Mayor Scott Burge is running unopposed for re-election. Burge has been mayor since 2006.
Four candidates are running for three seats on the council. Three incumbents- Joel Haugen, Josh Poling and Mark Reed are all running. Poling was appointed to the City Council in February and Haugen was appointed to the council in 2017 to fill a vacancy after having previously served as an elected councilor.
Reed has served on the council since 2011.
A new challenger, Brandon Lesowske, is also running for election. Lesowske previously served on the Scappoose Budget Committee and cites "smart growth, local economic development, and fiscal responsibility" as priorities.
Columbia River People's Utility District
Only one of three seats on the PUD's board of directors will have a challenger this November. Debbie Reed, who was appointed to represent Subdivision 1 in Scappoose in early November 2017, will face Guy Auker.
Reed comes with a background working as a paralegal with experience in energy law.
"I've invested over five years in this, and to see where we are today since being sworn in, I think we can all say it's a different organization," Reed said Tuesday. Reed says the PUD is now a "safe, fun place for employees."
"Is there work to be done? There is," she said. "I don't want to see us go back."
Reed was appointed after an unusual election, in which she ran against and lost to a candidate who was determined by the PUD board to be ineligible for the position due to residency restrictions. The board appointed Reed to the position shortly after the November 2016 election.
Reed says she'll continue to fight for low electric rates and within her subdivision wants to see the full realization of the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center.
"It's an exciting project and I want to see it to fruition," Reed said.
Auker is a flight attendant and driver for Uber. He's never attended a PUD meeting, but says that will give him "fresh perspective" on district matters.
He says having spent 19 years as an airline attendant, his knack for customer service and problem solving could benefit the utility district board.
This marks Auker's first run for political office. He says he wants to give residents in Subdivision 1 a choice.
"I think people are kind of frustrated with the last election process we went through," Auker said Tuesday afternoon. "We have an appointed person in the position now. I just feel like the citizens of Scappoose, the Columbia River PUD customers should have a choice between two candidates."
In Subdivision 2, Craig Melton is running unopposed for a second term and Harry Price is also unopposed in his campaign for a second term representing Subdivision 5.
St. Helens City Council
In the race for St. Helens City Council, seats held by Susan Conn, Pos. 3, and Doug Morten, Pos. 1, are up for reelection this fall, and each face at least one opponent.
Conn, who has been on the City Council for seven years, will face off against Steve Topaz.
Conn was first appointed to the council to fill a vacancy in 2012 and was successfully reelected to her position in 2015. Conn said she is running for her seat on the council again because she feels, "passionate about the vitality and livability in Columbia County." Conn added that during her tenure, the council and city have made begun to make progress in attracting a diversity of businesses to the area. The in-progress nature of the city's efforts to redevelop its waterfront and the acres of industrial land
it owns, is one of the rea-
sons the elected city council should have government experience.
"I think it's important in this election to have someone with experience in government," Conn said.
"I think a fresh perspective is important and I don't want people to think we're not open to new ideas because we are, but it helps to know how to get things done ... It shouldn't be a deterrent, but I think we're in a really critical phase right now, that I'd hate to see things slow down."
Topaz has filed to run against Conn. In 2016, he also filed to run against Councilor Keith Locke. Topaz, who regularly attends City Council work sessions and meetings to voice concerns about various issues, explained that he is running primarily on a platform to break up the perception of an "old boys' network" club on the City Council.
Topaz said he sees the need to move council work sessions from their 1 p.m. start time to evening sessions to allow residents who commute the ability to attend. Additionally, Topaz would like to increase vocational training for teens and young workers, which may in turn attract industries back to St. Helens to provide jobs.
"We've got to set up a vocational training between the high schools," Topaz said. "Once you get trained people you get industry coming to your door."
In the race for Pos. 1, three people have filed, including incumbent Doug Morten and two political newcomers — Mark Griffith and Maggie Clayton.
Morten, who has served on the City Council since 2007, said he is also seeking re-election to his position because he has been a strong leader on the council. Morten echoed similar sentiments to Conn, that a sense of steady leadership and solidarity is critical at
this point in time to move various projects and plans for-ward.
"I think experience is important. It is a big learning curve ... and I think for stability you need experience and we have the momentum going and the correct direction," Morten said. "And I would hate to see that momentum lost."
Morten added that he is pleased to be challenged for the position because it provides the opportunity to "bring out the best" in each of the candidates vying for the seat.
Griffith, who said he is a political novice, said he is running because he has "lost faith in the City Council" and said he does "not believe they are capable of making decisions that are in the best interest of this community."
"Failed leadership cannot be allowed to continue leading. I would use my fresh perspective and voice on the council to reject what has failed and push for real and meaningful change for the people of our city," Griffith stated in an email to the Spotlight. "Every effort must be made to support and encourage private business and industry into returning to St. Helens."
Griffith has an active social media presence in the online community forum hosted through Facebook, Concerned Citizens of Columbia County. A nearly year-old post on the forum indicated that Griffith was considering running for City Council for a while.
Clayton, co-owner of Running Dogs Brewery in St. Helens, did not respond to requests for comment by the Spotlight's press time.
Mayor Rick Scholl is also seeking reelection this fall. He was elected in 2016 and took office in January 2017. He is running against Al Petersen, a St. Helens business owner, a former planning commission member and St. Helens Economic Development Corp. board member.