Results and response from the May 21 special election

This year’s May 21 election featured a close, controversial Port of St. Helens race and a larger than usual pool of St. Helens School Board candidates.

St. Helens Port Commission incumbent Terry Luttrell retained his seat with 3,843 votes versus challenger Michael Clarke’s 3,257 showing.

Luttrell says he will continue his work with Scappoose Bay Marina projects as they draw near completion, though planned dredging of the marina, which hasn’t occurred in many years, is still on the horizon.

Luttrell’s campaign came under fire following what some community members perceived to be an endorsement by the port in an annual newsletter. He also received support from a third party campaign coordinated through Portland-based PR firm Gard Communications, which represents coal company Ambre Energy. Gard Communications sent out mailers to Port District residents, urging them to reelect Luttrell.

Liz Fuller, a spokesperson for Gard Communications, said the third party campaign was backed by area businesses, trade unions and the railroad. Ambre, which is eyeing port property near Clatskanie for coal export operations, did not contribute, she said.

“I was not aware of any of that being done,” said Luttrell, who ran a minimal campaign, distributing campaign signs and addressing criticism from Clarke in a letter to the editor published in the Spotlight.

“I think we gave it a good fight,” Clarke said about his campaign. “Almost half of the voters agreed with me that the port needs to be more transparent.”

The St. Helens School Board had more candidates vying for open seats this year than in recent years with three candidates per seat. This was due in large part to efforts by a small citizen committee of teachers, district staff and parents to recruit people interested in serving on the board. The committee also organized a well-attended public forum, which gave the candidates a chance to state their viewpoints and qualifications.

School Board Member Nathan Helwig, who will be replaced by Jeff Howell, chose not to run and says the new prospectives coming onto the board can only help the district.

“You have three new people, some that have experience in education, and I think it’s just a fresh perspective,” he said.

He believes the new board needs to focus even more on the kids, given the wide array of new achievement goals and evaluations rolling out.

“What I valued most about being on the board is having a clearer picture of what education means and does,” he said.

One of the school board newcomers is Kellie Smith, co-owner of Oregon Trail Lanes bowling alley in St. Helens. Smith ran a joint campaign with Melissa Dueck and Shanon Kline, who were beat out by Gordon Jarman and Howell, respectively.

“I’ll just do my best,” Smith said. “My number one concern is still classroom numbers, and let’s bring our days back.”

A Columbia 911 operating levy renewal passed with overwhelming support: more than 7,000 “yes” votes and 1,394 “no” votes.

“We had high expectations, but I must admit we were surprised and very pleased to see the resounding support for such a vital service,” said Jeanine Dilley, administrator for the Columbia 911 Communications District. The district would have had to consider shutting down operations if the levy did not pass.

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