Two square off in St. Helens mayoral race
The race for St. Helens mayor pits incumbent Rick Scholl, who has served a single two-year term, against Al Petersen, a St. Helens businessman with citizen advisory board experience.
Scholl runs his own yard maintenance company in St. Helens and was elected to political office for the first time in 2016, unseating longtime Mayor Randy Peterson.
He had no prior government experience.
Scholl said he has learned a lot during his first term, which he says benefits his reelection bid. When asked what sets him apart, Scholl said he prides himself on "being a mayor that's available to the community."
Scholl ran in 2016 on a platform of bringing more housing to St. Helens. During a League of Oregon Cities conference earlier this month, he said many mayors he spoke with have been concerned about the high costs of not only buying land to build on, but developing that land. When system development charges and other fees drive up the cost of building, that often is passed down to would be homebuyers which can make housing less affordable, he noted.
Scholl explained that over the past two years, several housing developments have been proposed in St. Helens and have been approved by the St. Helens Planning Commission. Many of those homes are still in the building or development phase, however, and none were pitched to be low-income housing.
Scholl has always been a supporter and proponent of developing a ferry system using the city's waterfront property. In April, Scholl helped passed a resolution in support of conducting a feasibility study for ferry service from St. Helens to Washington.
"That now allows me to put a committee together to look how feasibly it would be for our area," Scholl explained, adding that he's also reached out the city of Woodland in Washington to discuss the idea.
Scholl has been a strong supporter of developing a ferry system that could be used by commuters, as well as provide transportation in the event of an emergency.
Scholl also drew attention last year for refusing to attend a public forum when a sugar sweetened beverage tax was being proposed for St. Helens. Scholl said it was the right thing to do and he still stands by his decision to oppose the tax, saying it should have been proposed to voters, not to the City Council to pass as a resolution. He also stands by his decision to boycott the public forum rather use his mayoral voice as a participant.
"I know my community. It was very strong opposition. I knew multiple people that were dead set against it," Scholl said. "I definitely believe in the process of government though. Don't be mistaken. Government is a very big business. My eyes continue to be opened up and I continue to learn."
Primarily, Scholl has been campaigning for reelection by word of mouth, promoting himself with yard signs, and running a reelection page on Facebook. Scholl said his campaign is self funded. As of mid-October, Scholl's spending remained under the $750 threshold for reporting spending to the state, he said. Scholl reported that he had spent around $630.
Al Petersen, who runs AKAAN architecture and design in St. Helens, is running against Scholl. This election cycle marks the first run for mayor that Petersen has made. In 2011, Petersen ran for an elected role on the Portland Community College board.
Petersen said that much of his experience working with a variety of organizations and ad-hoc advisory committees within the city, gives him background knowledge about what long-term plans the city has made and how to implement those. Petersen is currently the chair of the non-profit St. Helens Economic Development Corp., was previously appointed to the St. Helens Planning Commission, and has also served ad-hoc advisory committees like the St. Helens Historic Landmarks Committee, Transportation Systems Plan Advisory Committee and Sustainable Design Assessment Team Citizen Advisory Committee.
Petersen is largely running his campaign on the platform that the city should be focusing on long-term development of city property based on developed and approved plans, many of which he has helped create through his involvement in citizen advisory committees.
"I'm looking for the city of to generally follow the plans which they've developed over the last 10 years," Petersen said.
Petersen has been a vocal opponent to the city's current involvement with a propose cannabis cultivation facility that is slated to be built on city-owned industrial property. The city is also in the process of trying to convert a lease agreement to a sale agreement for the developers.
"I've been vocal about it simply because I'm focused on the long term livability of St Helens and the type of development that will bring good paying jobs and jobs people will want to have, and I don't see that industry as being that," Petersen said.
Earlier this year, just before he filed to run for mayor Petersen's mother and a St. Helens based lawyer, Agnes Petersen, and Robert VanNatta filed a lawsuit against the city and the St. Helens city council alleging the council did not follow proper protocol before attempting to convert the year-old lease agreement into a sales agreement with the cannabis business.
Petersen said the lawsuit does not directly affect him although there may be a public perception of the two things being related, he explained.
"I think some people will make a connection and think I'm somehow involved because it's someone in my family, but it's a legal issue, but I'm not a lawyer," Petersen said. "It's within my mothers right to do it, and it's also within my right to run for mayor. There's a perceived connection between the two, but we both have the right to do what we did."
Petersen also explained the need to bring jobs back in the St. Helens area through various forms of industry and he believes the city should be doing more to advertise the nearly 200 acres of industrial property near the former Boise White Paper site it owns to developers.
Oregon Secretary of State campaign finance records indicate Petersen has registered his campaign, but as of Wednesday had not reported any expenses or campaign contributions. During an interview earlier this week, he estimated spending just under $1,000 and had received a few personal campaign donations, but much of his campaigning has been self funded. Petersen has been advertising his campaign through social media, using yard signs and hanging banners in St. Helens.