by: Stover E. Harger III Last week, News Editor Stover E. Harger III returned to Rainier for the candlelight vigil marking the one-year anniversary of Police Chief Ralph Painter’s death.

There was no small amount of surprise in our newsroom when the St. Helens City Council voted last week to appoint business owner Susan Conn to fill the council position vacated by the sudden death of Phil Barlow.

The surprise wasn't due to Conn's inexperience for the position - in fact, she has ample experience and is well-credentialed, having served extensively on high-profile boards, including seven years on the St. Helens School Board. But her name has largely been absent from electoral attempts to gain position on the council.

Contrast her lack of presence in that regard with some of the other candidates who had greater name exposure. Some of those candidates, however, had political baggage. As such, it was refreshing to learn of the council's decision in favor of Conn.

She has been a frequent, outspoken champion for business interests, specifically in the Olde Towne neighborhood were her bookstore, Word 4 Word, is located. She also sits on the St. Helens Economic Development Company, and her voice, we believe, should provide strong advocacy for the city's many small businesses. It is also the first time in nearly 15 years since a woman has sat on the St. Helens City Council, and we look forward to hearing her perspective on the many issues confronting the city as it seeks to redefine itself in the context of a fading industrial legacy.

Time moves incredibly fast when you work in a newsroom, where weeks are measured in hurried editions and deadlines come at you in an unceasing rush.

Last week, News Editor Stover E. Harger III returned to Rainier for the candlelight vigil marking the one-year anniversary of Police Chief Ralph Painter's death. It seems like only yesterday Harger responded to the police summons on the scanner, arriving in Rainier where he discovered a heavy police presence around the Rainier Sound Authority. Through Harger's reporting on the scene and phone calls from the office to local law enforcement contacts, The Spotlight news staff was the first to piece together the horrific news that Chief Painter had died as the result of a gunshot wound to the head. It was a grim start to 2011. The vigil, as Harger reports, was a mix of sadness and positive remembrance as the crowd of several hundred reflected on Painter's life. And though it conjured painful memories of that solemn day, it also opened an avenue for healing, for moving beyond the tragedy.

I sat down with Mark Davalos, superintendent for the St. Helens School District, early this week to talk about a reconfiguration plan for the district.

I would encourage everyone - whether you have students in the district or not - interested in the direction St. Helens schools is headed to attend the meeting on Thursday, Jan. 12, at Lewis and Clark Elementary School, where the reconfiguration plan will be discussed.

Ultimately, however, it is up to the St. Helens community to make its voice known to the district administrators concerning the proposed change to the current configuration

Our readers should be on the lookout for news benefits via The Spotlight and Community Newspapers Inc. newly formed partnership with KOIN News. This partnership will expand our ability to gather and report news and sports in Columbia County, and ultimately should enhance our overall news product.

Thank you for reading.

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