The two candidates vying for Ward 1 of the Hermiston City Council clashed Wednesday night at a forum at the Hermiston Blue Mountain Community College Center.
The incumbent, Lori Davis, touted a number of actions and developments initiated by the council during her two terms she has served, while her challenger, Mark Gomolski accused her of nearly always voting with the majority and supporting rate hikes and tax hikes across the board.
The forum was hosted by the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce and KOHU & the Q.
“I have seen and observed the city council and I know a change is needed,” Gomolski said in his opening remarks. “There are too many unanimous votes, issues decided behind closed doors. She just votes to go along.” On at least two occasions during the evening, Gomolski talked about decisions made behind closed doors and out of the public view, but did not give any examples.
Davis never directly criticized any of Gomolski’s positions. Instead, she talked about what Hermiston has accomplished in her eight years on the council including the new Downtown Festival Street, the new Holiday Inn on Highway 395, the new logo and tagline on the water tower, the Eastern Oregon Trade & Event Center (EOTEC), investments in the airport and the creation of the Urban Renewal District.
Each candidate was asked to address the issue of growth and whether Hermiston is getting too big, too fast.
“Hermiston is growing at a good pace,” Davis said. “In order to bring in new businesses and new jobs, we need to grow.”
Gomolski said Hermiston has no choice to grow, but added the city needs to find ways to generate new revenue through means beyond just raising taxes.
“Everybody wants to come here,” he said. “But we don’t want to put the burden on taxpayers to the point where they don’t want to come here.”
Gomolski criticized the city for paying for and developing EOTEC without a clear management plan. Davis agreed that a long-term management plan is needed.
The two disagreed on the city’s finances. Davis praised city staff for its fiscal responsibility.
“Hermiston is in a good financial situation and it will remain that way,” she said.
Gomolski said the city could have used the $1.5 million to build the Festival Street and used it to make improvements to Main Street, something he said would have benefitted more people.
Davis said the biggest challenge facing Hermiston in the future is available housing. She said the city has identified available land and adopted zoning and building code designations to incentivize developers to build new homes. She said she would like to see more multi-family dwellings developed.
Gomolski said Hermiston needs to provide better training for its future workforce by supporting more trade schools. He praised the Hermiston School District’s Columbia Basin Student Homebuilders Program, but said more is needed to develop plumbers, electricians and other skilled workers.
In her closing remarks, Davis she has common sense and wants to continue working to make Hermiston an even better place to live.
“Hermiston is prosperous and thriving and I want to continue to see it be robust,” she said.
Gomolski touted his service on the Hermiston School Board, the Hermiston Hispanic Advisory Committee and the Agape House Board of Directors. He said he would not be counted on to vote with the majority.
“I will be a voice for the public,” he said.