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The former councilor and Oregon Zoo Foundation executive director is running to become the next mayor of Wilsonville

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon Zoo Foundation Executive Director Julie Fitzgerald is running for mayor of Wilsonville.

Though she has received support from former Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp and is aligned with him politically, Julie Fitzgerald said she wouldn't view her potential mayoral reign as a continuation of Knapp's tenure. Instead, she says she would view it as the start of her own.

The former city councilor, who is now a candidate for Wilsonville mayor, thinks that her professional and council tenure, as well as decades of fundraising experience, will translate to a win in this year's mayoral race. Fitzgerald, who is currently the executive director of the Oregon Zoo Foundation, is running against City Councilor Ben West.

"It is (raising money), knowing people, building trusting relationships and being able to demonstrate what we're raising money for," she said. "You have to be able to communicate well and listen to people."

While serving on the council from 2013 to 2016, Fitzgerald said she was proud of her work to form the Wilsonville Citizens Academy and said one of her priorities if elected would be bolstering citizen involvement. She said she would plan to start neighborhood town halls and sessions where residents can ask questions over the phone.

"Everyone has busy lives and doesn't always have time to go to City Council meetings. The city does a lot of open houses on the website (and) sends out news releases to try to get people to dial into what they're doing. I would like to take that one step further," she said.

Fitzgerald also highlighted her work in planning the Basalt Creek Industrial Area and an intergovernmental agreement to allow Hillsboro, Tigard and other entities to build a water pipeline from the Willamette River Water Treatment Plant in Wilsonville.

She left the council in part because she felt like she didn't have enough time to devote to the gig. She has switched jobs since then and doesn't have plans to retire. However, she said her current job affords her flexibility in terms of when she needs to work.

'I'm looking forward to dedicating all the time needed to the position of mayor of Wilsonville," she said.

A couple ways Fitzgerald said she might differ from Knapp include issues of density and parking. Fitzgerald said she would advocate for the lowest housing density possible that falls in accordance with both state law and Metro urban growth boundary expansion requirements for future Frog Pond South and East neighborhoods.

"The reason for that is because I want to have continuation of enough parking, enough trees, enough trails. You can only put so much on one acre," she said.

On the council, Fitzgerald voted with the council majority on a split decision to waive density requirements for the Brentley Estates apartment complex in 2013. She also was in favor of the Frog Pond Area Plan that included exclusively single-family homes in Frog Pond West.

One criticism leveled against Fitzgerald during the campaign is that she works for an organization (the Oregon Zoo Foundation) that raises money for an entity (the Oregon Zoo) that is owned by the Metro regional government, which has certain powers regarding transportation, land use planning and garbage services. Metro Councilors Christine Lewis and Craig Dirksen serve as ex-officio members of the Oregon Zoo Foundation's Board of Trustees. West proponents have flagged Fitzgerald's occupation as a potential conflict of interest.

Fitzgerald pointed out that the Oregon Zoo Foundation is a separate nonprofit organization from the Oregon Zoo. Further, she said she would advocate for Wilsonville's interest, not Metro's, as mayor.

"The way I would interact (with Metro) is I would represent the needs of the people of Wilsonville. This is what I'm all about. That's why I'm running for office. If we want to have a different plan than is being presented to us (by Metro), then of course that's what I will promote and work for," she said.

Interestingly, Fitzgerald donated $50 to West's U.S. Congress campaign in 2016. West and Fitzgerald have mutual friends and she said West asked her for the donation after she introduced herself to him. Recently, West was upset about a conversation where members of a private Facebook group called "Villebois Progressives and Moderates" criticized him, including one saying he invested in his child (West's Black son was adopted) for political gain. Fitzgerald was a part of that group but left after learning about the post.

"I of course do not support anyone making that kind of statement ever about anyone," she said.

In terms of her life outside politics, Fitzgerald grew up on a sheep ranch in between Brookings and Gold Beach, where they raised lambs and sold wool. Later, she majored in animal science at Oregon State University and discovered the fundraising field while working with Oregon Public Broadcasting to bring public radio to the southern Oregon coast.

She went on to serve as associate director of planned giving and headed up fundraising for the OHSU School of Medicine, and later, worked as director of philanthropy for The Nature Conservancy's Oregon chapter before taking her current job.

John Hembroff, who worked with Fitzgerald at OHSU, said she has an eye for talent, works collaboratively with her underlings and is an effective leader.

"We might have different ideas and we would discuss and figure out the best way to go and combine ideas," he said. "She's a very reasonable person. She listens, that's the thing I like most about her. And she doesn't have to be right."

In her role with the Oregon Zoo Foundation, she has helped fund initiatives such as a program to revitalize the California Condor species and the building of chimpanzee climbing structures.

One of the keys to fundraising, she said, is providing certainty to donors that plans will be executed in an organized and efficient manner and that their money isn't wasted.

If asked to work with West or other candidates she might not align with politically, Fitzgerald doesn't see that as an issue. Overall, she said she enjoyed her time working with former Council President Scott Starr, who has similar views to West.

"In my experience on the council, it is important to find out why someone has certain viewpoints. You need enough discussion," she said. "I find it is useful to find out why. I believe in collaborative discussions."


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