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Field of candidates seek commission posts

by: Photo By Holly M. Gill - Walt Ponsford


   The race is on for the five candidates competing for two seats on the Jefferson County Commission in the November primary election. Thursday, Sept. 28, the five will square off in a public forum from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Jefferson County Senior Center.
   Democrat Walt Ponsford, 71, the incumbent in position 1 and a retired schoolteacher, will face longtime local businessman John Hatfield, 57, the Republican candidate.
   For position 2, currently held by Mary Zemke -- who is not running for re-election -- there are three candidates: Democrat Mike Ahern, 50, a real estate broker; Republican Donna Tollefson, 54, the commission's administrative assistant; and Independent Bill Atherton, 59, who farms in the Gateway area.
   This week, the candidates answer the following questions: What makes you the best candidate? What is your vision for the county? What are the main issues facing the commission in the next few years? Is the commission dealing with Measure 37 appropriately?
John Hatfield
   

   Best candidate: I would bring a new perspective to the job. I have a business and have always had a high interest in issues and politics. I seek the common sense approach to decision making. I try to listen to all sides of an issue before making a decision. I believe in networking with the state and cities/communities to make more efficient use of resources. And more problem solving.
   Vision: The county will undergo considerable growth. I grew up, went to school and raised my family here. It is a great place to live. I will strive to maintain the high level of livability as we grow and changes take place.
   Issues: The big issue is planning how to accommodate future growth. Most issues deal with how to handle the growth that is coming and how best to use the money we have to provide essential services.
   Measure 37: The county needs to approach Measure 37 carefully. There are issues that need to be resolved. To be a valid 37 claim, claimants need to fill out the forms completely and pay the filing fees.
Walt Ponsford
   

   Best candidate: Long experience as a teacher of government. Complete involvement in a very complicated land planning modification. I am the only candidate living outside the greater Madras area associated with ag and knowledge. As a member of the larger county, I know the urban areas must succeed for everyone's benefit. I have proven to be a commissioner dedicated to budget control.
   Vision: The county is going to dramatically grow and government must cope with consequences. Jefferson County has every chance to be really successful if we all work at doing the "right thing." We must work to attract new production and high wages. If we insist on quality standards, everyone will have the chance to benefit.
   Issues: Measure 37 has not been fully adjudicated and because of that, we don't know exactly what the final answers might be. The local Measure 37 controversy revolves around whether or not "37" people may develop according to 30-, 40-, 50-year plus rules. The writer of 37, David Hunicutt, in a workshop in Bend recently, said exactly the sentiments I have been maintaining in Jefferson County. If the county does not maintain modern safety and health standards, then at some time in the future, a home buyer could possibly sue for damages caused by whoever allows substandard development. If for no (other) reason we should insist on proper standards.
   As far as I can determine, no other government in the state is allowing substandard development. I am being recalled because I refuse to do anything less than what the remainder of the state is currently doing. Measure 37 gives permission to build; it doesn't give permission for substandard development.
Mike Ahern
   

   Best candidate: I am the candidate with the knowledge, experience, integrity, passion and ability to serve Jefferson County at the level it deserves. I am not a newcomer; I know Jefferson County and am the candidate to bring people together to solve problems and improve our quality of life. I have a proven record of success in private business and government.
   Vision: I envision a county with clean air and water. I see a county with an improved job base. I see considerably fewer people living in poverty. I want to improve our economic base. I would like to see excellence in our schools. I want to see more art and culture enjoyed, especially as we celebrate our rich cultural mix. I envision a low crime rate. I see a protected agricultural base. I want to plan to protect our resource lands and allow planned orderly growth. I also want to honor Thomas Jefferson, the namesake of our county, and be very careful about imposing rules, laws, taxes and fees without a serious reflection of the effect on our personal liberties and freedoms.
   Issues: 1) Providing mature, professional, ethical leadership for our government. We must restore civility and respect with our county government. We are now in a state of crisis.
   2) Planning. We must plan for growth. We must provide a countywide plan for growth and development which protects our resource lands. We must allow our cities to grow and prosper. We must work together always with the goal of quality of life and not quantity ... more is not always better.
   3) I want a safe county. I was a commissioner when the county jail was built (under budget), and this has helped lower our crime rate significantly. We have a good public safety system and I will work hard to keep it this way. I do feel we could do more in fighting the methamphetamine problem and feel we need mental health, parole and probation and the courts to provide much more help lifting the addicted citizens out of their state. Today we are simply dealing with the crimes committed by the meth users; we need to focus on assisting them in getting clean.
   4) Poverty. I want to help lift Jefferson County out of poverty. I will work to attract good paying jobs to our county. I want to help the existing manufacturing base to continue to succeed. If we can lift more of our citizens out of the trap of poverty, we will all enjoy a better quality of life.
   Measure 37: I want to follow the state law. I want to move forward with great caution. The current commission is wildly inconsistent. I want to enforce standards on all development. We must protect the health and safety of all citizens. The majority of people voted for this measure because Oregon is very restrictive on urban sprawl and building single family homes in the resource lands. I don't think anyone figured we would have major subdivisions in the middle of the farm lands. The courts can fight out the details of this measure and I want Jefferson County to be very careful and deliberate in all aspects as they relate to Ballot Measure 37.
Bill Atherton
   

   Best candidate: It depends on what people want. If citizens want Jefferson County to be like Deschutes County ... or most of California, then I am not your guy. On the other hand, if people want Jefferson County to be a beautiful place of smaller communities surrounded by farmland and open space, then I am very well qualified by experience, skills and personality to provide leadership in that direction. I have broad life experience operating my own successful business for over 30 years. I also have no serious conflicts of interest for this job and a record of accomplishment representing the average homeowner and small businessperson with working experience in government at the federal, state, and local level.
   Vision: Jefferson County has smaller communities, of a manageable size, that are surrounded by open space and agricultural lands. Most county residents live in towns; the farmers and ranchers live on the farms and ranches. As a result, both the rural areas and the urban communities thrive. There are no excessive public costs to support rural home sites and the rural areas stay beautiful. The urban communities prosper and accommodate families of all income levels and do well in part because public facilities and services can be provided efficiently. Most children are able to walk to school and families find shopping and services convenient and affordable in their local community. The urban communities also thrive because county government does not allow urban uses outside of, and in competition with, the towns. Jefferson County allows rural communities to shape their own destiny, have their own special character and to control planning for their area. This also helps these communities thrive.
   Jefferson County is considered one of the most beautiful places in Oregon and this is a source of pride for county residents, but also a source of significant economic benefit for its many and varied businesses. Agriculture is the critical industry for Jefferson County because of its economic, social and environmental impact. Agriculture means jobs and income, provides a foundation for strong families, as well as education for youth, but also protects the natural beauty on which the thriving tourism industry depends. Residents and visitors to Jefferson County have access to many outdoor recreation areas for hiking and bicycling, bird watching, fishing, hunting, camping, boating and rafting. People also enjoy Jefferson County from the public roadways as they see open, uncluttered vistas, varied geography and pastoral settings as they travel or tour the county. Jefferson County encourages tourism and welcomes visitors because in a very real sense, the entire county is a "destination resort" and all businesses, residents and property owners in the county benefit from this cooperative planning effort that is typical of a beautiful resort area.
   As it carries out this community vision, Jefferson County values fairness for all its residents. The planning effort respects the property rights of all persons in the county and provides a process to compensate any property owner when planning and zoning may truly diminish the value of their particular ownership. The county does this by collecting from those property owners when planning or zoning significantly and particularly enhances their property ownership. This is only fair. And it is businesslike. And this fair and businesslike approach results in better plans and lifts up all residents of the county, not just a privileged few. Jefferson County is a good place to invest with both money and spirit. Jefferson County is a great place to work, to play and to live.
   Issues: Protecting the livability and beauty of the county, and the fiscal health of local government in the face of population growth pressure is the major issue. Unfortunately, we do not have all the tools needed to keep Jefferson County beautiful, and significant reforms are needed in the county and with the state. Other issues facing the county in the next few years include maintaining roads with declining revenues and broadening participation in county affairs to communities outside Madras.
   Measure 37: The commission erred early on in its handling of Measure 37 by not demanding evaluations of just how Measure 37 claimant's property was damaged by regulations made over two decades ago. Adding insult to injury for the majority of county residents, the commission reduced fees and development process that would normally protect the community at large. In short, the process is out of balance with far too much weight going to a few individuals and not enough consideration of the community as a whole. Remember, Measure 37 has a trick clause that gives special treatment only to relatively few property owners ... and at the expense of their neighbors. This was never discussed by the proponents of Measure 37 ... and it as not been strongly voiced by the commission either. This is not right or fair, and it must be changed. The commission needs to take leadership on this major point.
Donna Tollefson
   

   I have been employed as the administrative assistant for the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners for nine years. The administrative assistant must be thoroughly familiar with all of the required procedures for the board, from executive sessions to quasi-judicial hearings. The assistant must prepare all agendas and legal notices, and process all board correspondence, minutes, contracts, orders and resolutions and maintain all board records. Over the past nine years at Jefferson County, I have gained a broad understanding of the functions of all individual county departments, as well as the general umbrella policies applicable throughout the county government. There are few people who have a better understanding of the workings of the commissioners' office than I do. Having this background and understanding of the proper functioning of the commissioners' office provides me with a solid foundation for performing the duties of county commissioner. I understand that commissioners must be legislators, quasi-judicial judges and administrators of policy for a public corporation. As a first contact for citizens, I am very experienced with understanding the pulse of the community and dealing with problems in a diplomatic manner. I have worked with six different commissioners and have gotten along well with all of them. In understanding both the community and the organization, I am uniquely qualified to serve in the position of Jefferson County commissioner.
   Vision: I would like to see more accountability in government. Whether the county is spending federal and state grant monies or local property tax dollars, it is all taxpayer money and the commission should look more closely at how they are spending it. There has been a tendency to turn management of the county over to an administrator, but it is the commissioners who are elected and who should be accountable, not the administrator.
   Issues: The main issues facing the commission are land-use planning, roads, law enforcement and maintaining county facilities.
   Measure 37: I believe people with Measure 37 claims should have to go through the same process and pay the same fees as everyone else. This is what the State Department of Land Conservation and Development seems to be recommending and as the county is a subdivision of the state, we should follow their guidelines.