St. Helens' Doug Morten reflects on 'leadership'
His tenure on the St. Helens City Council dates back to Jan. 1, 2007, but as of next January, Doug Morten will be just another private citizen.
The longtime City Council president decided against seeking another term, and at the Nov. 8 election, Mark Gundersen and Brandon Sundeen were the two top vote-getters, earning them positions as the city's newest council members.
Also leaving the City Council will be Stephen Topaz, who unsuccessfully challenged Rick Scholl in the mayoral race.
Morten is a veteran of the Vietnam War, serving in the late 1960s as a foot soldier and first responder in water safety.
"I ended up being the team leader after several months," Morten, in an interview with the Spotlight, said. "Leadership kinds of things just fell into my lap. Somehow, people leaned on me and I found that out in the military — found it out collegiately as well."
After returning from the service, Morten went to work at Lincoln High School in Portland in 1970 and eventually became a head coach in tennis and swimming.
"I loved what I taught, I had a passion for what I taught, and I loved to get outside and mix it up with the kids," he said.
Morten grew up in St. Helens. He spoke of his desire to get involved in the community, having spent a period of time in Portland.
"I became very involved in the Northeast Neighborhood Coalition and Alameda Neighborhood Association," he said of his time living and working in Portland. "I did planning in our neighborhood, reviewed building permits, those sorts of things."
Those experiences opened Morten's eyes to civic matters and how government works.
"What really motivated me was when I moved down here (to St. Helens) in about 2004 or 2005," Morton said, noting a city survey at the time revealed "dismal findings."
He said, "Residential and commercial feed lines to the residences and commercial outlets were leaking, and trunk lines all over the city were leaking severely. Stormwater was inadequate. You couple those two together, of leaking sewage and stormwater and storm events — it's not a very healthy situation."
Other problems at the time that Morten recalled included miles of unpaved city streets and limited safe pathways for kids to and from school.
"There were a lot of things that fell on the shoulders of the City Council in terms of leadership," Morton said. "I thought, well, my skill set has always been leadership in my careers. Ever since I was in college and the military, I've been somewhat of a public servant."
Morten ran for and was elected to a seat on the City Council in 2006.
From his time on the council, Morten is probably best known for his love of park and natural areas in and around St. Helens.
Morten is currently liaison from the City Council to the parks commission.
Happy with the condition of the city parks, Morten added, "We've added two areas, the Nob Hill Nature Park and the Dalton Lake Nature Preserve."
Morten continued, "We've developed those two parks to a point where they are enjoyed by nature lovers. I am proud of those two additional parks."
One of the connections Morten has made is with Lynne Pettit, who chairs the citizen advisory committee for Dalton Lake Nature Preserve.
"She's wonderful," he said. "She's one of the people you hand off and give authority to. They take that responsibility and run with what they feel they have a passion for. Look what happens. It's magic."
As Morten leaves the council, he feels St. Helens is in a better place than he found it almost 20 years ago.
"The ghost town of St. Helens hopefully is something of the past. The passion of looking at the beautiful area that we have on the riverfront, and knowing it's a jewel, it's a gem — it has so much potential," he said.
Morten added, "I think we got that — as a matter of fact, I know — we got that ball rolling. Having a master waterfront plan was something we pushed forward, even prior to Boise Veneer selling that property. … It's so exciting to be part of development and define what your city is going to be."
Morten will serve out the remainder of his term on the City Council before it officially expires at the end of the year.
Councilors-elect Gundersen and Sundeen are expected to be sworn in at the council's first meeting of the New Year.
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