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Sundeen joins newcomer Mark Gundersen on the City Council, effective Jan. 1. The two grabbed the most votes Nov. 8.

COURTESY PHOTO: BRANDON SUNDEEN - Brandon Sundeen, pictured here, along with Mark Gundersen, will join the St. Helens City Council Jan. 1. The St. Helens City Council will be welcoming two new members next January: Brandon Sundeen and Mark Gundersen.

The two candidates were the top two vote-getters at the Nov. 8 election, emerging from a crowded field to fill seats being vacated by longtime Council President Doug Morten and Councilor Stephen Topaz, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor.

In an interview with the Spotlight, Councilor-elect Sundeen outlined his love of history, his feelings about the future of St. Helens, and what he would like the city to accomplish.

A longtime St. Helens resident, Sundeen currently teaches high school online for the Evergreen Virtual Academy, which is based out of North Bend.

He also has a history of volunteering and enjoys delving into history.

"I've always been interested in volunteering and being involved in different ways," Sundeen said. "Last year, I joined the parks commission for the city."

Sundeen said, "When we moved back after college (Brigham Young University-Idaho, located in Rexburg), I got involved with the Columbia County Museum Association. I have been volunteering there for about seven years."

Stating his objectives for St. Helens, moving forward, Sundeen said, "I want us to have the most beautiful parks in the county, and I think we can do that with a little bit of work."

Sundeen said, "I just want to see a family-friendly community. I want there to be activities where kids can go where they have something to do. I would like to see our youth council brought back."

He also wants to get the citizenry to become familiar with how the City Council works and get engaged with local government.

"I would love to, if possible, go out to the schools, get out in the community, and let people know that this is who we are and these are the kinds of things we do," Sundeen said.

Tourism is an ongoing topic of discussion among the City Council and citizens.

St. Helens has the biggest annual draw in Columbia County: the Spirit of Halloweentown, a celebration inspired by the filming of Disney's "Halloweentown" in St. Helens some 25 years ago.

"It (tourism) has been getting bigger over the years, and so I would love to build on what's already been done, and kind of continue with some of those really popular activities — things like Halloweentown," Sundeen said.

"Bigger and better, I think, is great, but making sure it's a good experience, not just for those who are visiting, but for people who live here too," he added.

St. Helens is also working to expand its downtown area. The city recently broke ground on an initial component of what officials envision as a decades-long undertaking called the Riverfront Project, which will see St. Helens' commercial core expand southward onto land formerly owned by Boise Cascade Co. and connect up with neighborhoods south of Nob Hill.

Speaking specifically of the Riverfront Project, Sundeen said, "I think that's going to be key to the future of St. Helens going forward. … I went to a lot of the community meetings and engaged in sessions that the city had. The big takeaway I had is that people want access to the river … really, that's one of the things that makes St. Helens such a great place to live."

Asked what type of businesses should come to St. Helens, Sundeen responded, "I think small businesses are great. They are kind of the heart of the community. We have a lot of small businesses in town that are doing an amazing job.

"I think we need some big, high-paying employers too," he continued. "I think we do need some big businesses coming back to St. Helens. We used to have those when I was growing up, but I think that's part of what made this a good community, people didn't have to go to other places for work. They could stay here and support their families."

Sundeen looks forward to working with fellow city councilors.

"I think an important part of being on a group, like the City Council, is that you are a team," Sundeen said. "You might not have the same ideas, you might not have the same approach of doing things, but I think being respectful to one another, and being willing to see things from a different perspective, I think, is going to be important going forward."

Sundeen's term begins Jan. 1.

"The big thing that really encouraged me to run for council is I had a great childhood in St. Helens," he said. "I would like my kids to have the same opportunity to have a great place to grow up. … I'm eager to be on a team that can make a difference and help make this a great place to live."

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