Candidates for two positions on the Jefferson County Commission clarified their stances on a variety of issues at a public forum last Thursday.
Sponsored by the Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, the event drew all five candidates for the two commission seats: Democratic incumbent Walt Ponsford and Republican John Hatfield for position 1; and Democrat Mike Ahern, Republican Donna Tollefson, and Independent Bill Atherton for position 2, currently held by Mary Zemke, who is not seeking re-election.
"We're in a time of turmoil so far as county government is concerned," said Ponsford, who has been the subject of a recall effort. "I look forward to the day when we have a new commission. We are at a point in time where we can make things more livable for all of us, or we can have untold pain."
Hatfield, who has lived in the county for 47 years, said he enjoys the quality of life and hopes to maintain it. "I try to listen to all sides of an issue before making a decision," he said. "One of the reasons I want the job is I like challenges."
Previously a commissioner for four years, Ahern said he loves politics. "I stand for prosperity, for lifting us out of poverty," he said. "I believe in good planning. I think I am the candidate with the experience, the knowledge. I'm not going to let the mud slinging go my way; I'm not going to let it stick."
Tollefson said that because of her role as administrative assistant to the commission, she is uniquely qualified for the position. "I understand the pulse of the community, how to deal with people diplomatically," she said, adding that she's leary of campaign promises such as improving roads. "We're somewhat limited in what can be done."
If the public wants the county to have a different look, Atherton said, "We're going to have to do things different here." He suggested "cooperative enterprise development," citing Sunriver as an example in which developers and the county agree on shared values.
In response to a question on how the candidates show they care about the community by volunteering, Atherton said he is on the Trout Creek Watershed Council, and is working on developing a truck farm, with which he hopes to teach young people about conservation. In every community he has lived in, he has volunteered, including serving as a Big Brother for 17 years.
Ponsford, a retired schoolteacher, has volunteered frequently over the years. A member of the Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis, he also serves on the Citizen Review Board, which is charged with determining proper placement for children in foster care.
Ahern, a real estate broker, serves on Kiwanis and school committees. He has been a city councilor and commissioner, in addition to coaching basketball, soccer and football, but he is most proud of founding the Madras Sparklers, which has been putting on the community's Fourth of July celebration in the park and evening fireworks display for the past 25 years.
A member of the Chamber, Hatfield said he has also served on the Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, and Mountain View Hospital boards of directors. He is currently serving on the Chamber's Legislative Committee.
Tollefson has volunteered with the Collage of Culture for the past three years.
In response to a vague question about two Realtors on the commission making a quorum (Commissioner Bill Bellamy is a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker -- the same firm employing Ahern) candidates generally were optimistic that it would not be a problem as long as the two never discussed policy at the office.
"There are three farmers on the commission now," said Ahern, noting that although Bellamy is a friend of his, their politics are not the same. "I have to dislodge that thought of our evil empire."
"In a small town, it's hard not to run into other commissioners," said Hatfield. "As long as you don't talk shop, so to speak, you can talk."
Candidates were asked about the possibility of settling Measure 37 claims by paying for them, and whether or not they are concerned about farmland being converted to subdivisions.
"There's no way the county can pay for them," said Tollefson, echoing the sentiments of most of the candidates. "You issue the waivers."
Atherton said he would like the county to consider settling reasonable claims, but added, "Most of these claims have not been reasonable." He would support the concept of windfall/wipeout payments. Property owners would pay the county when new laws increase their property's value, and the county would pay property owners when laws decrease their property's value.
All expressed concern about the loss of farmland to development. "I'd like to see the high value farmland protected from subdivisions, but some of the marginal land converted to gentlemen's farms," said Hatfield.
When subdivisions are created far from towns, Ponsford said, people still expect city services. "That's exactly the problem we have at Crooked River Ranch," he said, noting that of the county's $32 million budget, about $28 million can't be touched, leaving about $4 million "for all the other services people think we should be providing."
When he was commissioner, Ahern said he supported lot of record, which would allow a property owner to build a single-family residence on property owned prior to 1985. "Lot of record would have been a beautiful thing compared to (Measure) 37," he said.
Candidates were asked whether or not they have ever sued a government agency -- another question that seemed to be directed at a particular candidate.
All candidates said they had not, except Atherton, who said that he has twice, and won both times. "Sometimes it's necessary as a citizen to enforce the law," he said. "I've provided a voice for the little guy."
Most candidates supported growth. "A good, steady amount of growth is good," said Ahern, pointing out that the county can't control where people want to move. "You need jobs; you need change; you need dynamics. I want to embrace the change that's happening."
"Growth is a fact of life here," said Hatfield, who suggested that the county "plan and work with it to our advantage."
Tollefson agreed, "I'm not at all against it," adding, "It needs to be planned growth."
Atherton said that he isn't against growth. "We have to deal with balance. How much is enough, and how much is too much?" he asked. "We've got to find some balance and real control."
"Jefferson County growth must be managed, while allowing fair property rights," said Ponsford. "What we do with our property has everything to do with what we do to our neighbor."