By Terri Harber
Population, future funding for services and protecting local rights from being trumped by state and federal decisions were some of the issues that arose during a political forum on Tuesday evening.
Roughly 80 people came to Baker High School for the event, which was co-sponsored by the American Association of University Women and the Baker City Herald. Candidates were asked what experience prompted their ambition to seek elected office. They also were asked, in slightly different ways, how they would best respond to residents' needs and provide leadership.
Baker County Commissioner Tim Kerns is running unopposed for re-election to a fourth term.
Kerns said that it has been important for the county to work with cities to improve effectiveness of services and keep costs down, such as the recent combining of planning services with Baker City as well as marketing, emergency dispatch and community development efforts.
"Without federal forest money - $800,000 - it would be a real hit for us," he said.
Sheriff Mitch Southwick,who is seeking a third term, said his years of law enforcement experience have provided lessons every day.
"I'm always learning," he said.
Though he's worked in various capacities in different locations across Oregon, he also spent two years overseas training police officers. It helped him to be tolerant and to become a good listener.
Southwick also learned how important it was to "get all of the facts before making a decision" because of how each decision could affect the community.
And "I try to get out of the office."
Both justice of the peace candidates, Steve Bogart and Don Williams, participated. They were asked how they'd handle the workload of a part-time Justice Court.
Bogart said while the court may have little formality or expense that "this is a real court." Rights are upheld, decisions are binding. It's vital to the community.
And helping serve residents was something he started wanting to do when he first held public office years ago, he said.
"I'm running because I want our court system at the highest level possible," he said.
While the court is being considered a part-time operation, the justice of the peace actually isn't a part-time position because it'll require full-time effort. And the county's Circuit Court is "laboring under an increased workload" as a result of the need to cut out justice duties, he said.
If he wins and the Justice Court has capacity, he'd readjust the system so it works.
Williams said he sees being justice of the peace as a way to help improve people's behavior. He also learned a great deal while working in juvenile court years before.
When Williams arrived in Baker County, he worked as the director of the county's juvenile department. He said that his mentors were judges: Milo Pope as well as Lise and Damien Yervasi.
andbull; R. Mack Augenfeld spent five years working in Asia. He taught business and economics at a university in China. He also spent time living in Thailand. His experiences in that part of the world provided him with "wider perspective," he said.
China is a very controlling government while Thailand is more hands-off. He wants to provide Baker City with a "liberal, non-intrusive government," he said.
Providing effective leadership requires "sticking to one's principles," Augenfeld said.
andbull; Barbara Johnson believes her background as a real estate professional as well as her efforts for a variety of community groups and her church provide her with "a good background" for serving on the council.
That also includes training in mediation and negotiation, which makes her "a good listener."
Johnson and her husband left Reno, Nev., in 2004 in search of such things as clean air, natural beauty and a small-town atmosphere. They chose Baker City because it fit their needs. Now it's time for her to give something back by serving on the council, she said.
andbull; Richard Langrell served on the council for three terms. He noted that city government is "a lot different situation than when I was up there before."
He said he tended to stay in the background, listening, but wouldn't be "bashful about speaking on what I thought," he said.
Right now, the City Council "is doing an outstanding job," he said. "It's a great community with a little bit of a financial problem."
He sits on the city's Budget Board.
andbull; Kim Mosier thinks all residents of a small town should to do something to help their community. She said she was raised to believe civic involvement is important. She used to work for the District Attorney's office and now teaches at Blue Mountain Community College.
She seeks to find solutions to community problems through collaborative efforts, she said.
She also points to being a parent as an attribute. She has ample contact with young families so she can find out what they need from their government officials.
andbull; Councilor Milo Pope said that his interest in city government came after he retired from his law career. He was looking for something to do and started off by returning to work part time. He met the city manager at the time and "got interested."
He was bothered by what he described as a "cacophony of critics" targeting the city.
"I came to appreciate very much the quality of the workforce of Baker City," he also said.
andbull; Terry Schumacher served on the council years before. After forays into other community groups he "could see how an individual could make a difference," he said.
He wants to "do the right things for the right reasons."
Schumacher wants to preserve the city "livability" and "bring family wage jobs."
With the loss of mining and forest jobs, "we need to think about what we do," he said. And "we need to do more with less."
Questions from the audience included how to curb state and federal reach, particularly when it comes to natural resources and access to federal land.
Kerns responded by giving credit to residents for convincing the U.S. Forest Service to take another look at the Travel Management Plan for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
"I don't want to see us spend a lot of money on lawsuits," he said. "Unless we know how to win."
Williams said that while the justice of the peace didn't have much to do with the issue, he was bothered as a citizen by the loss of motorized access to many areas. The impact would be most felt by families and people with disabilities because getting to their favorite camp areas or picnic sites are too far to reach from the road without a car.
State Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, also came to the event. He talked about how gas tax revenues were going down because people are driving less and doing so in more efficient vehicles.
He anticipates that the state Legislature will consider raising revenue to replace what is no longer rolling in. And if they don't want to see that occur, Bentz asked the candidates, "what would you do different?"
Schumacher called the issue "a hot potato - our streets are in trouble."
"And income coming into the city is diminishing," he said.
Even with the variety of regulations from an array of sources, government will "have to focus on taking care of what they already have," Schumacher said.
From the audience, Steve Edwards voiced frustration about the seeming inability to attract business and "bring more money into this town."
Pope said city officials have been told about recruiting efforts but that the economic development director was "reluctant" to provide details.
Nondisclosure agreements make it hard to explain specifics about these endeavors.
It sounds "specious," Edwards said.
"That's what I thought," Pope said, chuckling.
Langrell said the city's past economic development board members didn't operate "to the benefit of the community."
Some potential business operators had experiences where "wonderful doors were open to them."
"But in the past, (projects) were chosen more on whom they benefitted," he said.
Schumacher talked about how the municipal airport has been developed and how it could help the business community as an attraction.
Another question came from Gary Dielman, who asked whether the area could - or should - attempt to foster population growth comparable to Bend.
Mosier said that livability is what's most important to sustain. Johnson would try for "quality" growth.
Schumacher doesn't want to see Baker become "another Bend." But there are things that could help attract a good crop of transplants.
He'd like to see a few more thousand residents, however. He'd also like to see a college established here, especially in the downtown area.
"Many people over 50 are attending college."
Langrell agreed that the community could use 5,000 more residents.
"We officially became a retirement community," he said. "The Depends section at the store is bigger than the Pampers section."
Erik Hysong pointed out that truckers are paying more for mileage to the state: $600 to $700 a month in his case.
He wanted to know where the money is going and how candidates would prioritize projects to be funded.
Augenfeld said the criteria should be a project's return on investment. That isn't a simple cost measure; it's analysis taking into account use and other factors, for example.
Mosier pointed to Resort Street and efforts to bury utility lines while the street is being improved. Grants and cost-cutting measures are being pursued, she said.
Candidates who didn't participate in the forum were council hopefuls Jack Turner, Kyle Knight and Mike Downing, and sheriff challenger Dee Gorrell.
"We're happy with the diversity of people we had in the audience," said Mickey Edwards, AAUW.
She also was happy with the number of people who came to listen to the candidates.
Getting voters motivated
By Terri Harber
Tuesday night's candidates forum also serves as a voter registration tool, according to Baker County Clerk Tami Green.
Absentee ballot applications are available. Military members away on duty can vote online, a relatively new offering.
People only have a few more days to register to vote.
Green also encouraged use of the state's online voter system to register and to make address changes: oregonvotes.org
Green expects countywide registration to reach the same level as it did during the 2008 General Election.
She invited people to come to the Clerk's Office to observe elections activities.
Space is limited. Call before Election Day on Nov. 6 to watch the proceedings. The number for the Clerk's Office is 541-523-8207.
Robocalls have been telling people they were considered inactive voters and wouldn't be receiving ballots. Members of a group hired by State Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, were making the calls.
Many of the people who received such calls were active voters, Green said.
State Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, said after the forum that he was glad to see so many people interested in running for these offices. He'll work with those who succeed in getting elected on a variety of matters, especially when the next legislative session begins next year.
"There are an awful lot of real serious issues," Bentz said. "I'm here to listen."
Nancy Peyron, an American Association of University Women member who was the timekeeper during the forum, said she also benefited from listening to the candidates.
"The idea is to get a sense of why they're running and their passions and interests," she said. "I did."