Q&A: Columbia County commissioner candidates in their own words
Four candidates are running this year for the seat on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners being vacated by longtime incumbent Henry Heimuller.
To give prospective voters a better sense of the candidates, the Spotlight sent each a short questionnaire. Presented below are the candidates in their own words, with only light editing for style and grammar.
Do you approve of how the county is handling the firearm rights ordinances approved by voters in 2018 and 2020?
Kellie Smith: The people of Columbia County spoke, so it's not whether or not "I approve," as I would move forward to protect an action of the citizens. I do, however, believe that the commissioners are reacting to the concerns of some citizens, and in doing so they asked the court to evaluate the legality and constitutionality of the ordinance. The commissioners asked for validation, not a verdict.
In 2013, I voted to remove the "gun free zone'' from the St. Helens School District schools. While we as a board had hundreds of emails commending our decision, we also had some emails that sent the message that we were not protecting their children.
The bigger question for me is how we believe that any law or rule will keep us safe one way or another? I'm a mother and a CHL holder, and I believe a weapon in the hands of an uneducated individual has the potential to be dangerous, but we live in a rural community where hunting and target practice is a way of life, it is our culture, therefore education is crucial. Our civil liberties are important and so is the process of working with our courts; it's how we strengthen our laws.
Kelly Niles: While I understand that the county requested a legal ruling so as to not conflict with other laws, once the ruling came back from the judge, it should have ended there. Trying to combine and rewrite the two ordinances passed by the voters was not in our best interest.
Brian Brust: I cannot imagine that anyone would approve of what our commissioners have done with the Second Amendment ordinances.
The idea that our county commissioners did not implement or say anything about the ordinance that was passed in 2018 for two years. Then when the second ordinance was passed, they decided to combine the two into one (I have never heard of this) and change one word, "shall," to "may." That means it may be interpreted differently by different people, not the intent. All three commissioners agreed to put this up for judicial review, being told by the counsel it may be unconstitutional. They notified the paper and put it on the county website. That is the least they must do to notify the public.
The judge ended up throwing the case out. For two of our commissioners, that is not the answer they wanted and put it up for an appeal.
That is where we sit today, using our resources and money to fight against ordinances we passed as citizens. Doesn't sound like our commissioners are working for us. If we are to empower the people, we first must inform them.
Jonathan Barclay: The simple answer is an emphatic no! The county has purposely drug their feet and in some capacity worked directly against the people. If elected, I will get SAPO and SASO fully implemented as well as put in place constitutional carry guidelines. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say I must ask my government or obtain a permit or get a background check to KEEP and bear arms!
Do you agree with the county's approval of permits for NEXT Renewable Fuels?
Smith: From what I have read, I do not believe that I would advocate any differently, but I do look at the project with an empathy for the people that live and work around that land who have expressed concerns. Change is hard, and it's hard to see our lands turned into infrastructure developments that won't be changed for centuries. Measuring the benefit versus the impact, with NEXT passing every stage of permitting, I too am very hopeful for what it can/will do for our area. As a school board member, I also would be looking forward to the possibility of school improvement projects.
Niles: Yes. We do need family wage jobs here in the county. Everything I have read does not seem out of line. I understand people have concerns, but the project is going through the proper process and steps both at the local and state level to address them. I am in favor of this.
Brust: The question of the approval of NEXT Renewables is hard to answer because I don't have enough knowledge about everything. I have a lot of questions. What is the history of the company or the president of the company? We must have a track record if we are willing to do this.
The environmental hazards, transportation for trucks and cars, rail, barges, air quality, noise, growth of the area, protections of the resident's value to their property, long term effects from any contaminants, the list can go on for quite some time. If our commissioners have not asked all these questions and more, then they are not informed. I know Longview turned them down some years back; did our commissioners ask them why?
I have looked up some information and I see some issues from their past. I know when asking the commissioners about NEXT they talk about the revenue and that is all they talk about. I feel that our commissioners only care about money. I think if this were to be put in the southern part of the county, there would be more uproar about it.
Our commissioners must represent the entire county — that means all the people. It can not only be about money!
Barclay: Yes. In general, I will support and actively recruit businesses of all types to build and operate in Columbia County. One of the items I'd like to look into is that the county has negotiated a good deal. If we are going to give up our natural resources that we can't get back once depleted, like in the Knife River deal, we should make sure we are benefiting as much as possible.
What would be your top three priorities if elected?
Smith: My first priority will be to learn and listen. With Commissioner Heimuller leaving, there will be gaps in established projects, and I will want to assess where I am needed before I start leading with my own ideas.
As an individual citizen, I'd say health and safety are a top priority. We've just been through a pandemic that was really hard on many families and residents around the county. I'd hope that we would focus resources and energy on spiritual, mental and physical services. Our children need to see us coming together as a community, moving towards thriving, showing them that WE will ALL be okay.
There is great work already started at the county level with a partnership to understand the strengths, needs and challenges impacting the North Coast region. This is exciting, and I'd want to see it continue.
As a foster parent, I've witnessed firsthand the many needs that are currently not being met.
In an ideal situation, we would have a hospital or at least emergency services. With the lack of support services, we have to lean more on our emergency responders. We must support them in the areas of education/training, mental health and proper time off.
Niles: Additional law enforcement, creative ways to secure additional funding, and improved roads.
Brust: The first thing that must be done is inform the citizens of what is happening. Right now, that is done by putting it in the paper and on the county website. We should be sending emails out to the Democrat and Republican parties, posting on social media, on bulletin boards of each city, and there are many other groups that meet with interests of what is happening. These groups should also receive an email to a representative. This is only a keystroke away from happening now, why don't they do it? I am told that people are not interested, but we must try to inform, we may just see a difference.
The second would be to have our county government represent the citizens and do their will. This means enabling citizens to better their lives without charging fees for it.
Third, I am tired of hearing that the state sets the standard or agenda for us. Why would we need any commissioners if they just do the state's bidding? We could have a county manager and they could just do the state's bidding. We need to do what is best for the citizens of this county.
Barclay: Roads, traffic and crime.
Are there any county departments that you believe should receive more or less county funding?
Smith: Referencing our other questions here, I would like to get into the job and listen to county department heads before making any recommendations. As a citizen, I would again mention the need for more emergency and mental health services. I'm concerned about the rise in accidents on our roadways. And, I'd love to see more improvements done to our county parks, upgrading spaces for families to play and enjoy each other.
Niles: Sheriff's Office and Road Department (more funding).
Brust: I think we need a better way of spending the funds within the departments. Right now, we spend all the funds allotted so there will be more or at least the same amount next year.
I think we should incentivize saving money in each department. I think we can do this by giving a percentage of money saved to the staff in the department. After a two to three years for each department saving money, we give the staff a raise and change the amount given to the department. This should save 10% to 20% in a department. Figure that for five or six departments, we are now working more economically.
This was introduced to me by one of many business owners in the county I have been talking with. There are so many good ideas from our communities; all we have to do is put ourselves out there.
Barclay: County sheriff should receive more funding to help reduce crime, which is getting out of control.
What should Columbia County do to support job creation and retention?
Smith: People stay where they are happy and appreciated. We have an advantage because Columbia County is a beautiful place to live, and the majority of people are going to look close to home for sources of income before they decide to commute.
Partnering with school districts to keep our talented graduates in the area would be a start. Something to note is that there have been a couple meetings for the elected officials of Columbia County, but school board members have not been invited.
The OMIC and the PCC collaboration are great examples of organizations that are being intentional about supporting students in high school to help retain and grow their own workforce. We as a county need to make sure that we are helping with these collaborations.
Knowing our communities, helping with the morale of the citizens and the images of the towns is very important when attracting individuals wanting to live and work here. Families, especially young workers, want places to play, learn and grow. Making sure we are utilizing a strategic plan would be helpful, and continuing to make connections with business leaders wishing to expand into our area is also important.
Niles: We have to stop saying no. People want local, family-wage jobs but not allow industry to locate here. We can't have both. What we can do is be selective about what we do allow to have jobs but preserve our natural resources.
Brust: I love the idea of working in the county; most people commute out of the county to work.
We have a divide in our county, south and north, and with that, there are different thoughts about growth. In the south, they seem to want the commute and industry outside of the backyard. The north wants jobs locally, but they want safe and clean environment businesses.
This is a great place to be with the river and the forest; we have a lot to offer. I believe that there should not be a tax break for new businesses, but there should be no building permit fees. We should do everything possible to enable an efficient build. We should offer promotions of new businesses to the area as well as established ones. We should always look to promote the businesses and industry we have locally.
Barclay: Create tax incentives and infrastructure to accommodate the growth needed for more businesses to thrive in our county.
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