Three vie for Madras mayor post
- Holly M. Gill
- Madras Pioneer - News
A longtime city councilor will compete against a local businessman and a contractor/developer for the nonpartisan position of Madras mayor in the November election.
Frank Morton, 65, a developer and real estate broker who was appointed to the mayor position six months ago when former mayor Rick Allen resigned to pursue business interests, will be challenged by Kevin O'Meara, 49, and Jason Hale, 26. All are Madras residents.
First appointed to the council Jan. 16, 2001, Morton filled out the term of Councilor Wayne Schjoll after a recall election, and has served two additional two-year terms -- with four years as council president.
Morton, a Republican, feels that his experience makes him the best candidate for mayor, an unpaid position that requires a significant expenditure of time. "I have the knowledge of what needs to be done to complete all the projects that are under way and keep the vision of the City Council in focus," he said.
With the tremendous growth in the area over the past two years, the city has been contemplating the need for a new city hall. Three separate buildings, a police department/jail, city hall and fire department were pieced together to create the current multi-level facility.
"I want to get a new city hall built, with a new police department because we're so cramped down there," he said. "The city is negotiating for property to build it on. We hope to start it within 12 months."
The city is in the process of hiring a new assistant planner for the Community Development Department, and an assistant city engineer for the Public Works Department, he explained.
"We're already out of room, but we have to have the manpower, because everybody is totally overworked," Morton said. "We're still managing to get all the paperwork out and done on time, but it's getting harder every day."
As chairman of the Madras Airport Committee, Morton was involved in getting the new Madras General Aviation Building built. The modern, 3,580-square-foot facility was completed in February.
Additionally, while he was chairman, the airport committee worked to get land in the first and second phases of the Jefferson Park Business Center released by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to allow the land to be sold. The first phase is sold out.
"With these monies, we'll pay off the terminal building and also pay most of the cost for crossing the (North Unit Irrigation District ) canal to phase 2," the mayor noted.
Morton hopes to be re-elected to be in a position to encourage the progress on phases 1 and 2 of the 800-acre eastside development, Yarrow; the Madras Aquatic Center; and landscaping at the Madras Bike and Skate Park.
As mayor, Morton serves as chairman of the Madras Redevelopment Commission, which is working to remove "blight" in the city's core. The MRC purchased the former Juniper Auto Sales lot to remove gasoline contamination, and several homes and businesses between Third and Fourth streets, along D Street, to level the property for a retail development.
"We're finishing filling (the hole in) the Juniper Auto Sales lot, and will close the pending sale as soon as we have clearance from the DEQ," he said.
The MRC has already had three homes removed along D Street, he continued, and is in the process of having asbestos removed from the commercial buildings on Fourth and D before those buildings can also be removed and the hump leveled.
Morton chairs the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council, which is working on getting centralized transportation throughout Central Oregon, as well as providing communities with small business loans.
A general contractor and real estate broker, Morton and his wife Gloria own F&G Development Inc. and F&G Properties. They are in the process of building a new office at 213 S.W. Fourth St., next to the Black Bear Diner.
The Mortons' two businesses will be housed on the west side of the lower floor of the two-story building, with open office space on the east side. On the second floor of the building, which is nearly complete, there will be three apartments.
Born in Salem, Morton grew up in Central Oregon, attending school in Sisters, Camp Sherman, Bend and Madras. After graduating from Sisters High School, he attended trade school at Central Oregon Community College, where he studied carpentry for three years.
Morton has three grown sons -- Todd of Madras, Marc of Bend, and Scott of Oahu, Hawaii -- as well as six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Longtime Madras resident O'Meara is concerned about what he sees as inequities in the way the city treats developers. "I want a level playing field," he said. "I don't want two different sets of standards for developers or individuals."
He feels the city is catering to its largest developer, the Madras Land Development Co., which is master-planning a community of about 1,700 homes on nearly 800 acres south and east of Jefferson County Middle School.
"I think they're running things, as far as standards," he said, noting that the city has gone from few restrictions to an overabundance of rules and tests. "We've gone overboard," he added.
Although he is in favor of revitalization of the downtown area, O'Meara believes the Madras Redevelopment Commission has gotten off track. "They're into the land development business, and I don't think they should be," he said.
"I think they went from being an urban renewal district to being a land development district," he said, citing the MRC's purchase of the Juniper Auto lot and properties on Fourth and D streets.
The MRC purchased those properties to clean them up for sale to developers. Once the properties are sold, the monies are reinvested in new projects.
"We have businesses here that would like to do something, but have been told there isn't any money," he said.
O'Meara, a Republican, has concerns about the city's future financial health. "We're spending a lot more than what we're bringing in," he said. "I don't think we can sustain it. We just had a two-year period of unbelievable growth; I don't think you can base your revenue and income on the last two years."
While he supports growth, O'Meara expects it to continue at a slower rate. "We'll probably keep building, but land won't go up the 40 or 50 factors of the last two years," he said. "Fifteen to 20 percent is more realistic."
O'Meara is bothered by the city's attempt to assume the building inspection program run by the county for the city. "I don't see a need for taking over the building inspection and permitting program," he said. "I don't think we need to reinvent the wheel. They'd have to prove to me that there's a need before I'd be for it."
Nineteen years ago, O'Meara moved to Madras with his wife Deirdre and five young daughters as the owners/operators of the Nine Peaks Golf Course.
From the mid-1990s on, he was involved in litigation against the city regarding a contract he had to use treated effluent on the golf course. O'Meara won the first lawsuit, but lost to the city in a trial in August of 2001. The city discontinued its lease with O'Meara, and eventually reopened the nine-hole golf course located on its property, while O'Meara shut down the other nine holes when the city's effluent was no longer available.
He has sold the remaining portion of the golf course to a developer. "What happened as a result of the lawsuit actually helped me," O'Meara said, noting that he has no ill-will against the city.
"I don't have any big agenda," he said. "I want to slow down and assess where we're at."
Born and raised in Hillsboro, O'Meara graduated from Hillsboro High School. He worked in the carpet cleaning business, and in commercial shrimp fishing before buying the Nine Peaks Golf Course in Madras, and Springwater Golf Course in Estacada with his brother Pat in early 1987.
After his brother spent six months in Madras, the two switched places. O'Meara moved to Madras and took over the local golf course. He is now a developer/contractor, and owns Nine Peaks Construction.
He was a member of the Madras Planning Commission for eight years, and currently serves on both the Deschutes Valley Water District and Habitat for Humanity boards.
The O'Mearas have five daughters, Melissa, 26, Melanie, 24, Molly, 23, Monica, 21, and Meaghan, 20.
The youngest mayoral candidate, Jason Hale, would like the City Council to do more to keep the public informed. "After speaking with people at town hall, even councilors and the planning commission, I felt there was a public need for more information," he said.
"There's a need for more awareness of the programs that are in place, and what the city enacts, and how it is helping our city," he explained. "A lot of people want to know where our money is going to."
For the past two months, Hale has been attending City Council, planning commission, and MRC meetings in order to understand how the city is run. "There's a plethora of knowledge that can be attained from the meetings," he said.
As an example of a transaction that has stirred up controversy, he cited the Juniper Auto Sales lot purchased by the MRC. Hale said that the city should have considered offering a lowered tax to prospective buyers, rather than purchasing the property and cleaning it up.
"A lot of people think they are competing directly with the private sector, and they tell me this," he said. "If you have land that is undesirable, you sell it for a lesser price."
Hale, the owner of Ahern's Grocery and Deli and the president of the Back Street Pub, located in back of Ahern's, moved to Madras in June of 2004 from Beaverton, where he had lived for a short time.
His mother accompanied him, and helps him run what he considers a family business. His father moved here later and assists with the bookkeeping and accounting.
At his businesses, he said, "I work with the community on a daily basis. A lot of people are fed up with the policies that are enacted."
He feels that one of his strengths is in finding solutions to problems. "I understand what the average person thinks," he said. "The way I see it is, who is the best problem-solver? Who can address the problem the best for the city as a whole, for the taxpayers?"
When a high school student wanted to put on community concerts, but couldn't because of the high cost of renting facilities, Hale would have liked the city to have helped him out.
Although the fairgrounds are owned by the county, he would have negotiated for a lower rental rate for students. "I would love to get the fairgrounds utilized by students that want to create community events and be active in their community, so they can have a positive influence through collective activity," Hale said. "Education and community activities are key to our youth staying out of drugs and alcohol."
Hale was born in Pocatello, Idaho, but moved to Colorado, then Seoul, South Korea, from 1984 to 1990, and then Haltom City, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth, where he graduated from Haltom High School in 1998.
He attended the University of Texas at Austin, for two years, and then transferred to the University of Kentucky at Lexington, where he graduated in 2003, with a bachelor's degree in corporate communications, and a minor in public relations.
Throughout his college years, Hale served in a variety of leadership roles including: pledge captain of his fraternity, ambassador of the Korean Student Association, president of the Communication Student Association, and manager of the Entrepreneurs Club Project.
During his senior year of college, Hale owned an information technology company call 3rd Dimension Design. Later, he bought a family hair salon with a partner, but sold out and moved to Beaverton to be closer to his family in January of 2004. He is single, and considers himself a moderate Republican.
If elected, Hale looks forward to working with the city's staff, with which he is impressed. "The way I see the mayor position is as a mediator and a leader, because he doesn't have a vote," he said. "He takes the city in a direction with his creativity and his problem-solving skills."
Hale supports well-planned growth. "Growth is going to help bring programs to our city," he said. "The additional revenue off taxes are going to help Madras grow."
A lot of people want to move to the Madras area, according to Hale, because of the weather, the city's beautification efforts, and the abundant recreational activities available nearby.
"Madras still has small-town appeal," he said. "There is a friendliness here that I personally haven't seen any place else. Win or lose, I look forward to serving Madras. This city has treated me very well."