Hermiston City Council Candidate Face Off in Monday Night Forum

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Candidates for the three contested Hermiston City Council seats met at a forum Monday night to share their views on a range of topics. In the background are Loris Davis, Jackie Linton and Roy Barron. (Photos by Michael Kane)

Six candidates vying for three Hermiston City Council seats in the May 17 election shared their views on the state of Hermiston and their vision for its future during a candidates’ forum Monday night at the Hermiston Community Center.

Hosted by the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce and moderated by KOHU’s Angela Pursel, the forum gave the candidates an opportunity to share their opinions on a range of issues from homelessness to the city’s future growth.

On the topic of city services that could be enhanced, Jackie Linton, a frequent council attendee who is challenging incumbent Lori Davis for the Ward I seat, said more needs to be done for veterans and the mentally ill, and more resources, if available, should be directed toward affordable housing for seniors and job training for the homeless.

Davis said the city has a number of capital improvement projects on the back burner that need funding. She also said more improvements are needed at the Eastern Oregon Trade & Event Center, and additional funding is needed for youth programs.

Roy Barron, who holds the council seat for Ward II, agreed that several capital improvement projects need to be a higher priority, but also said additional money should go to the police department in order for it to be fully staffed.

His challenger, Stan Stradley, said there is “a big gap in funding” for mental health and drug and alcohol addiction. “Sooner or later, that has to be met head on,” he said.

Stan Stradley, left, David McCarthy, center, and Phillip Spicerkuhn listen to answers from other candidates Monday night.

David McCarthy, who served on the council for six months in 2020 and is challenging incumbent Phillip Spicerkuhn for the Ward IV seat, said the city needs better accessibility, safety and visibility for walking paths in town. He also said the city needs to work to “make sure our water situation is taking care of.”

Spicerkuhn said the city needs to help low-income citizens who are struggling with recent utility rate hikes. He and Davis voted against the recent water rate hike.

“We need to come up with ways to mitigate those rate hikes,” he said.

On the issue of homelessness, Barron said the city can’t take on the issue by itself, but can “serve as a facilitator in this conversation. One entity won’t be enough to solve the problem. It takes the whole community to solve it.”

Stradley, who spent years in the construction and real estate fields, as well as serving as director of the Umatilla County Housing Authority for 21 years, said many who are homeless struggle with alcohol and drug dependency and mental health issues. “That hasn’t been addressed by any community,” he said.

McCarthy cited a lack of affordable, multi-family housing in Hermiston as a key factor and said the city should do more to provide incentives for developers to build more apartments.

Spicerkuhn agreed that more affordable housing was needed for low-income people and more resources were needed to treat those drug and alcohol addictions.

Davis said the city “has been addressing the issue for some time,” including looking at the possibility of a homeless shelter in town. The problem, she said, is finding a suitable location. “We will come up with a solution soon, I hope,” she said.

Linton said she’s been working with Cathy Lloyd of Stepping Stones, a nonprofit looking into the issue of a homeless shelter in Hermiston, and added she hopes to “spearhead” a renewed effort to tackle the issue if elected.

Regarding affordable housing, Spicerkuhn said a big problem in Hermiston is there is not enough zoning for multi-family housing. Re-zoning areas for multi-family dwelling would encourage more apartment complexes, he said.

Davis said the city has focused on the housing issue for some time and more housing permits were issued in 2021 than previous years. She added that the new water tower in the northeast part of town will further facilitate more housing. “The issue is getting a lot better,” she said.

Linton, however, said most of the new homes being built are out of reach for more many homebuyers. “We need more lower-income housing as well as housing for seniors,” she said. “I’m very concerned about them.”

Barron said housing is a priority for the city, citing plans for a new urban renewal district along Feedville Road that could result in 1,300 new homes.

Stradley said most of those new homes will be in the range of $350,000-$400,000. “A lot of people can’t afford that,” he said.

When asked if the city should spend resources on improving broadband reliability and accessibility, only McCarthy said it should be a high priority. He said the pandemic, which forced students into distance learning from home, highlighted gaps in internet accessibility.

Pursel turned to the issue of Hermiston’s growth and asked “how big is too big?”

And while the candidates couldn’t define what is “too big,” they all agreed that the city plays a big role in planning for future growth.

“We don’t want to grow too fast, but at a steady rate so we keep up with needed services,” said Spicerkuhn. He added that while it is important to attract big companies such as Amazon, smaller businesses need help, as well.

McCarthy said the city should continue to create programs to help small businesses, citing the Façade Grant Program that awards matching funds for exterior work which improves the appearance of downtown properties.

Davis said the city needs to address the issue of increased traffic and attract more retail businesses, but added that the downtown area “has improved greatly in recent years.”

Linton said small businesses are the “backbone of any town” and should be supported by the city. Smaller businesses are important, she said, because they provide jobs “for people who are already here.”

Barron said Hermiston “is a town that is transitioning to a city and with that growth we need more services.” However big Hermiston gets, Barron said “I want to keep that small-town feel of Hermiston by supporting small businesses.”

Stradley said the city should consider developing incubator spaces for new small businesses that can’t initially afford the overhead that comes with a typical building lease. He also supports re-zoning areas of the city to support future growth.

To watch the forum, visit the chamber’s Facebook page.

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