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Cornelius council seat grabs interest of four

VACANCY -- City Council must pick a replacement for Alfredo Solares-Vega, who is moving to Aloha this month

Four Cornelius residents hoping to be picked for a vacant Cornelius City Council seat made their case Monday night.

During the evening interview session councilors focused their questions on why the applicants were interested in public service, their understanding of the issues facing the council and their plans for boosting citizen in-volvement in city government.

The council hopes to appoint a quick learner with a genuine interest in helping the entire community, said councilor Brad Coffey.

'If they just want to change the zoning on their property, that's not going to cut it,' he said, adding that knowledge of city goals and government structure was also a plus. 'I hope they've had a chance to figure out what's going on besides talking to the neighbor next door.'

Aside from looking at qualifications and experience, councilors are likely to choose a candidate they feel 'fits in' with the rest of group, said city manager Dave Waffle. 'I suspect it will come down to comfort level.'

Councilor Alfredo Solares-Vega is vacating the position this month due to his move from Cornelius to the Aloha neighborhood of Beaverton - according to the city charter, councilors must live within city limits. Solares-Vega decided to move to Beaverton because the city's school district offers an extended dual language curriculum for Spanish-speaking children, such as his two daughters.

'The bilingual program is more stable (in Beaverton),' he said.

The applicant's ability to jump in where Solares-Vega left off is crucial, because his term ends in December, so whoever is appointed to take his place will only fill the seat for a few months, unless they are re-elected this November.

Of the four candidates hoping to take Solares-Vega's place, three are retired and have lived in Cornelius for more than a decade. Candidate Alfred Harrison cited his retirement as one of the main reasons he wants to serve on the Cornelius City Council.

'I have all this time on my hands,' he said. 'I can't think of a better way to use it than on community affairs.'

Harrison said his main goal as city councilor would be to get the public more involved in workings of the city government. Information about important meeting locations and dates needs to be more accessible to Cornelius citizens, he said.

'We need to get the information out. I still don't know where to find meetings for the various committees,' said Harrison. 'There needs to be more exploitation of the news sources.'

The other applicants also weighed in on the topic of civic involvement, which they agreed was a key issue affecting the city's finances and future plans.

Each proposed a different method for dealing with the current lack of public interest. John Pickell, who worked for the Farmers Insurance Group as well as a furniture company, approached the problem with a salesman's mentality.

'If you sit behind a desk all day, you don't sell insurance. You have to convince a person of what he needs,' he said. 'I had to prove what I was selling was ten times better than what they already had.'

Ken Schumann, athletics director for Pacific University, said the best way for councilors to reach out to the community is by working closely with outside organizations, such as the chamber of commerce. Schumann, who moved to Cornelius a year ago, has served as the president of the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce and was part the Rose Festival's board of directors.

'Get involved at the committee level,' he said. 'If the agenda is to increase citizen participation, I would see the city council being very involved in those committees.'

Helping Cornelius residents to comprehend the town's budget challenges is critical, said candidate Robert Ferrie, but getting them motivated to learn about these issues is nearly impossible.

The only reason people show up at council chambers is when they want to complain about something that's costing them money, such as the former water use fee, he added.

'They want services, but they don't want to pay for them,' Ferrie said.

Although he was at a loss for solutions to the problem, Ferrie said his involvement in city council hearings qualified him for the open position.

'I have a better idea of what's going on in this town than most people,' he said.

The Cornelius City Council is expected to appoint one of the candidates at its Aug. 7 meeting.