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Mayoral and council hopefuls answer questions

In Forest Grove, seven candidates are vying for three seats up for election on the city council and one candidate is challenging the incumbent mayor for his seat. All nine responded by email to News-Times questions on local issues. Here are their answers to two of the questions. We will publish two more in next week’s paper.

NEWS-TIMES: What Forest Grove City Council decision made in the past four years did you disagree with the most and why? What would you have done differently?

(Council race)

TOM BECK: I testified against the burn ban proposal that passed last month, because it left in place spring burning, ended fall burning, and left any exceptions to be determined later. I believe that as a health issue, burning should be banned, but people need time to adjust to the change. I would have cut the burn period for both the fall and spring in half in 2015, halve the burn period again in 2016, and end burning in 2017. I would allow large property owners, defined as over 1 acre, to obtain a permit to burn according to the regular DEQ requirements.

NATE SEABLE: The Times Litho purchase has been probably one of those most controversial and for good reason. The city was not very transparent about the decision-making process, and it occurred rather quickly to meet deadlines. The property now produces no tax revenue for the city and it appears a potential conflict of interest may have been in the mix.

TOM JOHNSTON: I would say that the Times Litho building and taking it off the tax rolls was my biggest issue. The difference now is the majority of council voted to buy the property, and it is up to all the council to find a use or sell to investors, putting it back on the tax rolls.

ALDIE HOWARD: I disagreed with the majority decision of the council related to the purchase of the Times Litho property, but that is history and we now own the building. What to do with it? Recently I met with Bob Hall, president and CEO of the Columbia-Willamette YMCA, suggesting that the Times-Litho property be developed into a community center under the YMCA umbrella. I think we model this facility on the Sherwood program, which has been self-sufficient since opening. A new post office could be incorporated and the Ruralite Building could be utilized for related offices.

RON THOMPSON: I have a problem with the question. Ethically, once the decision is made by council, I support the decision. Even when I disagree. We are a team. If the majority of the voters disagree, I would ask the majority vote to reconsider for more discussion. Our charter has this opportunity to reconsider.

MALYNDA WENZL: There is no benefit in judging past actions of the council. I’m running because I had a good childhood in Forest Grove and I want my children to feel the same way. Representing families and maintaining the strong community values are my goals.

ALEXANDER LAFOLLETT: Besides the Times Litho purchase, I disagree with the decision to create an Urban Renewal District (URD). I have serious concerns about dragging the city into debt for the benefit of private developers. There’s a reason California banned URDs with Assembly Bill X1 26 in 2011. Per p. 15 of the draft URD report, the projection is that in 20 years, on a $15 million investment, the city would make $16.2 million in tax increment revenue at best, and could make as little as $7.5 million—meaning a loss of 50%. Assuming those projects succeeded in bringing in new residents and businesses, that means more people to provide with city services, without the revenue to do so, and many residents I’ve talked with already feel tapped out with existing levies. I wouldn’t have put the city in the land development business, and hope to curtail that sort of thing if elected.

(Mayoral race)

PETE TRUAX: I feel we have kept Forest Grove on the right track as far as economic development, transportation issues, land use and sustainability are concerned. Good decisions so far: backyard burning; smoking and tobacco use in parks and public events; purchase of TLP (Times Litho Property); island annexation; improvement of intersection at Highways 8 and 47; extension of David Hill Road to intersect with Highway 47; and involvement in the safety discussions around Highway 47 north and south of Forest Grove.

TIM MARBLE: One of the decisions I disagree with the most is the decision by the City Council in December 2012 to purchase the Times Litho property. I would have voted against the decision because I do not believe that the city should be using public money in order to speculate in private investment or to attempt to control which businesses should be allowed in the city limits.

NEWS-TIMES: Despite Pacific University’s economic, cultural and educational importance to Forest Grove, there continues to be a level of town-gown separation. Is it important to encourage more crossover between Pacific people and townspeople? If yes, how would you do that?

(Council race)

NATE SEABLE: The difficulty that comes with mixing a student population with local population is not unique to Forest Grove. I am a graduate of BYU-Idaho and also Oregon State University. Both Rexburg, Idaho, and Corvallis, Oregon, also struggle with that. The good news is that students help drive local economies through their purchasing of goods and services, so local businesses naturally do whatever they can to attract and cater to students. In addition to that, I feel it is important that city leaders and University leaders communicate frequently on issues important to students and the success of the school in general. The city should recruit heavily amongst the student population to get involved in local charitable and volunteer opportunities. This is good for the community and for the developing young people and their resumes.

TOM JOHNSTON: I would say we are light years ahead in relations with Pacific than in the past. Recently, the building of the Sustainability Commission and use of business students through the chamber have been great examples of good relations with Pacific. The partnership with Lincoln Park and Thatcher Park was a win-win. We have had several Pacific students applying for city committees and commissions. I would like to see more intern work with Pacific for the city and businesses.

ALDIE HOWARD: Town-gown separation is a myth. There are 500 graduates of Pacific University now living in Forest Grove. The annual Rotary Concours d’Elegance includes a major community effort. The Chamber Corn Roast draws hundreds of local citizens to the campus. Add to this the cultural, historical and relevant social programs sponsored by Pacific and one should realize that Pacific is an integral sector in this city.

TOM BECK: As the former Dean of Arts and Sciences at Pacific and as a professor of history teaching one course in the January term, I have close ties with the university. We should improve our relations with the university by looking to involve both students and faculty in the activities of the city. We should be looking for opportunities to use Pacific students as interns in various city offices, working with the Center for Civic Engagement for projects to help with the elderly and others in need of assistance, partner with the university in furthering developments at Fernhill Wetlands and encourage Pacific students to join our boards and commissions.

RON THOMPSON: I think we have had many crossover projects — Lincoln Park Sports Fields, new parking at the Aquatics Center, new Thatcher Park and the cannery field and parking. The only negative is the moving of the bookstore back to the campus. Also, parking in the residential streets is a growing problem that needs to be addressed.

MALYNDA WENZL: The city has supported Pacific’s growth in the last five years. I would like to see more local business in Forest Grove. Ideally, it would be nice if local business could benefit from the increase in students and people visiting Pacific University.

ALEXANDER LAFOLLETT: Speaking as an academic, I know that “town-gown separation” is not an uncommon phenomenon in college towns, and Pacific University and Forest Grove are no exception to this. I know there is actually a bit of tension in the downtown area between business and the university, particularly with respect to parking, and there had been some initial issues with their partial takeover of Lincoln Park. There are some positive crossover opportunities that could alleviate some of that, however. I remember back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Pacific had Oregon Symphony conductor Murry Sidlin on faculty, he used to hold a class that was open to the public on Wednesday nights, that was well-attended both by students and community members. Providing and promoting shared enrichment activities like that would be one key step in the right direction.

(Mayoral race)

PETE TRUAX: I would use the words “communication” and “cooperation” between Pacific and the community, if — and it is a big if — we do not share the belief that Pacific is part of this community. I have heard about the “disconnect” and frankly, I don’t buy it. There is always a little tension between parts of a community, such as a university, such as a high school, such as a large employer. Pacific has played a key role in the past and present of Forest Grove, and will be a positive partner in the future. Yes, parking is an issue, and we are working on it, but in my opinion, that is not enough of a barrier to our working relationship with a leading cultural, educational and research institution in this community — indeed, in this state.

TIM MARBLE: Pacific University and the City of Forest Grove have an intertwined relationship dating back to the mid-1800s, when they were both in their infancies. This relationship has grown into a strong partnership throughout this time. Like siblings, however, there are often grumblings about inequities. It takes forthright communication and trust to develop and maintain a strong and healthy relationship. We all need to be reminded of the benefits that each brings to the table and the importance of working together in order to build on our common future vitality.

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