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ODF wildland fire supervisor enters Columbia County board of commissioners race.

COURTESY PHOTO: KELLY NILES - Kelly Niles is one of four candidates who have filed to run for Columbia County commissioner later this year, as of mid-February.Longtime wildland fire supervisor Kelly Niles has entered the race for Columbia County commissioner, Position 2.

Niles has worked for the Oregon Department of Forestry in Columbia City for the past 18 years.

"I believe that there's too many decisions that affect the public that are being made in a vacuum," Niles said.

The county commissioners' weekly meetings at 10 a.m. Wednesdays are inaccessible to most working adults, Niles said.

"Without hearing from the public — because that's who we serve — without having public input and finding out what we need to do, that's where I think we're making decisions in a vacuum," Niles said.

The county's purchase of the former John Gumm school in St. Helens was one issue that Niles said could have gone differently with more public input.

"I was never a big fan of spending a bunch of money on a 100-year-old school," Niles said. "I understand the county is strapped for space — I do get that. I've been in the county buildings, and there's no room for expansion. But was that really the best move with funding?"

Niles said one focus for him if elected would be infrastructure.

"Whether we like it or not, Columbia County's getting bigger. There's more people moving here," Niles said. "So are we preparing for that with housing, better infrastructure?"

Niles said he supported the county's effort to purchase Prescott Beach property from Portland General Electric in order to build a wastewater treatment facility to serve the city of Prescott's 38 homes. Many of the homes in Prescott are served by inadequate wastewater systems.

The county commissioners sent a letter to PGE in October 2021, asking PGE to sell or donate the property to the county.

"I will give them credit for that," Niles said. "But we need to look at that on a large scale across Columbia County."

Niles also said he wants to increase law enforcement staffing.

Last year, Columbia County Sheriff Brian Pixley proposed adding two additional deputies each year to gradually increase staffing. The county has significantly fewer deputies per capita than the national average.

"How do we help that (staffing shortage), but not make it on the backs of the taxpayers, because the taxpayers are already doing the jail levy?" Niles asked rhetorically.

Niles also said he wants to see the county hire full-time grant writers.

Niles is chair of the Columbia City planning commission, on which he has sat for more than a decade; chair of the Columbia County Homeland Security Emergency Management Commission; team leader for the Columbia City Hazard Mitigation Team; and vice chair of the board of directors for Columbia River Fire & Rescue.

He previously served on the St. Helens School District budget committee and was a volunteer firefighter with CRF&R.

Niles said he has experience with personnel management, including union-represented employees, through his position with the state and experience with fiscal management through both the Department of Forestry and his work with the school district budget committee and CRF&R.

If elected to the full-time county commissioner seat, Niles would resign from his job with the Department of Forestry, he said. He said he would also step down from his current board positions to avoid any conflicts of interest.

Niles was one of four candidates to file for the office as of mid-February, with two weeks before the filing deadline. Kellie Smith, a St. Helens School District board member and local business owner, was the first to start a run for the county office, having announced back in December. Rainier resident Brian Brust and Deer Island resident Jonathan Barclay also filed to run.

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