Walters, Relyea poised to bring unique perspectives to council
There might not be much intrigue in the West Linn City Council race, with just two candidates running for two open spots, but Jules Walters and Bill Relyea are still working to introduce themselves to the community and learn more about the City government with less than a month to go before the Nov. 6 election.
Both are longtime West Linn residents with unique backgrounds and perspectives to inform their work as councilors. But what, exactly, makes them tick?
The Tidings went beyond the voters pamphlet to learn more about the two residents who are poised to join the council. And in the Oct. 18 issue we'll publish the candidates' views on several issues central to West Linn.
Political engagement runs in Walters' family. She was raised in Santa Monica, California by "two hippy parents" who were involved in a number of different groups. Meanwhile, her great uncle was a member of Ronald Reagan's cabinet when he served as governor of Walters' home state.
Different family members might have had wildly different political bents, but Walters said she learned something from all of them.
"There was a dichotomy (in ideology)," she said. "I enjoyed all of those people, and I know there's common ground. I admired them for being so active."
Walters herself preferred to play more of a background role in the political world — until recently.
"I think it's something I've grown into," she said. "I've always been kind of shy."
Her most recent leadership opportunity came when she was named president of the West Linn-Wilsonville Education Foundation; she's also on the board of the West Linn Softball Association.
"I have a long history of being involved in the community on the nonprofit side of things," Walters said. "It's all about finding different ways to contribute."
Walters' work is driven in large part by her love for the community she and her family moved to in 2007.
"My husband, Joe, got a job in Portland," Walters said. "I sort of have this formula I use for cities we live in. It's a trifecta: great schools, low crime and beautiful parks. Lake Oswego and West Linn really fit the bill, and we ended up buying our house in West Linn."
With kids who are heavily involved in youth sports, Walters has long been an advocate for making those "beautiful" parks even stronger with improved sports fields.
She testified at a number of City Council meetings and saw her efforts rewarded when the council included substantial field renovations on its list of projects to be funded by a renewed general obligation (GO) bond.
Walters also began attending almost every council meeting even before she announced her candidacy, learning plenty along the way.
"I'm glad I've been able to sit through the meetings," she said. "We have a very clear (City) Charter, a very clear set of council rules, and sometimes I think the current council makes it harder on themselves than it needs to be. And in that process, residents aren't always served well."
As a new councilor, Walters will focus on representing the whole community.
"(I'll be finding) common ground, being civil, looking at the whole city ... West Linn is 25,000 people, not five people," Walters said. "And also making sure we get the work done."
Relyea, a longtime neighborhood association president and current member of the West Linn Planning Commission, has long toyed with the idea of running for council.
But he had to wait for the right point in his life — and finally decided that time was now when he entered the race in the summer.
As an engineer and administrator who currently manages engineering, construction, bio-medical and emergency preparedness at OHSU Tuality Healthcare, Relyea believes he has the professional experience to augment the firsthand knowledge he's gained about the city as a longtime volunteer.
"I've been managing public works projects on behalf of the State of Oregon," he said.
"I did it through the Oregon Health Authority for two of the largest construction projects in the history of the state: a new hospital in Salem and (one) in Junction City," Relyea said.
"Prior to that, I was a consulting project manager through the Oregon Bridge Delivery Program, a private-public partnership between the Legislature and ODOT."
Beyond the knowledge he gained from working on such expansive projects, Relyea also learned about the demeanor it takes to succeed in a leadership position.
"When you're sitting in a decision-making position, you have to maintain a neutral position," he said.
"And you represent the interests of the community, not your own interests. You have to be a good listener, and then you have to have a good enough audience base to understand how the community at large feels."
Relyea listed livability and safety among his top priorities for the community, while also mentioning the debate surrounding parking at West Linn High School as an example of something he'd like to lend his skills to.
"Developing a better relationship with the school district is vital," Relyea said.
"There's been a lot of issues recently surrounding the parking issue at the school, and so I think we need to be more collaborative and cooperative and learn how to share those responsibilities, and create a better partnership with the school district to understand these issues aren't on one side of the table or the other."
Relyea, who moved to West Linn in 2002, has prior history with the school district that he can build on as a city councilor. His two children went to Cedaroak Park Primary School, then Rosemont Ridge Middle School and on to West Linn High School. Over those years, Relyea worked as a parent volunteer.
"I had the opportunity to meet a lot of volunteers and understand the strengths of a good school district," he said.