Hermiston Mayoral Candidates Emphasize Community in Forum

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From left, Hermiston mayoral candidates Jackie Linton, Doug Primmer, Nancy Peterson and Manuel Salazar prepare to answer questions at a candidates forum on April 4, 2024 at Hermiston City Hall. (Photo by Yasser Marte/Hermiston Herald)

The Hermiston Chamber of Commerce hosted the event, which also featured a panel with the state Senate District 29 candidates, at Hermiston City Hall. Angela Pursel, co-owner of KOHU KQFM radio station, moderated the forum.

Around 60 people attended the forum, which did not allow the audience to ask questions of the candidates, who are running in the May 21 primary election.

Pursel asked the candidates seven questions to which each person had about a minute to answer. Topics ranged from budgeting to homelessness to public participation in voting and city committees. Each person also gave an opening and closing statement.

The candidates

Three of the candidates — Nancy Peterson, Jackie Linton and Doug Primmer — hold seats on the

Hermiston City Council, and the fourth, Manuel Salazar, is a Hermiston High School student.

Peterson, a nonbinary person with a disability, said they “have been on both ends of the bread line,” making them attuned to the needs of all residents in Hermiston. Peterson holds degrees in education and business and has served on the city council since 2021. They emphasized being approachable and accessible and said they love that the city council gets along, even when disagreements inevitably pop up.

Linton, a Black woman, said her main values are integrity, honesty and transparency. She shared various committees and boards she’s been a part of, including community accountability and the library board. Linton, who has been on city council since 2023, said she wants to “work for the greater good of Hermiston and all of its citizens.”

Primmer worked for 31 years with the Oregon Department of Corrections and has served with the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office as a rescue diver and reserve patrol officer. He has been a Hermiston city councilor since 2012. He described himself as a “regular guy that just likes to get stuff done,” and not a politician, though as city council president for six years, he has filled in when the mayor is unavailable.

Salazar is a senior at Hermiston High who said his experience in local theater connected him with the community and inspired him to join the race. Salazar said he wants to “give hope to everyone because we deserve a better future here.”

All the candidates mentioned there was no wrong answer in who ends up winning the seat of mayor. They offered similar visions for Hermiston’s future but noted varying main priorities.

The role of mayor

Pursel asked candidates what they believe is the most important role of Hermiston’s mayor and the strengths they would each bring to the position.

Linton said leadership as her strength and the most important thing for the mayor to do right now is reduce spending. She said many Hermiston residents are retired and it’s important to take care of them.

Primmer also mentioned leadership. He said the mayor’s role is to be the “lead citizen” of the city. He said the mayor should “stand behind and push people forward, lift our people up” and create an environment in which people feel confident in bringing issues forward to the council.

Peterson said part of the mayor’s role is bringing the council team together, and another part is representing the city beyond its borders.

“Hermiston is the largest city in Eastern Oregon, and that’s something that we have to be mindful of because the mayor’s voice is not going to be heard just in Hermiston,” Peterson said. “It’s going to be heard in other areas. … It represents a lot, and we have to be stewards of that.”

Salazar said the mayor should make sure every action counts for something and improves the city’s future. One of his major points was it’s important to find a way for Hermiston to stay a close-knit community while it grows, and it is “vital” for the mayor to ensure that.

City’s part in addressing homelessness

Each candidate acknowledged the ongoing challenges of expanding accessible housing and of supporting residents experiencing homelessness. Pursel asked the candidates whether they believe the city has taken enough steps to address homelessness or what else could be done.

Salazar said the work the city has done is good, but could further improve.

“It almost doesn’t feel like we’re reintegrating these homeless people back into the community, it feels like we’re pushing them off, away from the community,” he said. “I want to see them reintegrated back in, and I’m not talking about tents in our streets. … If we simply push them off in a far-away place, we’re not integrating them back. And we can do better in this city. They deserve a second chance. Everyone does.”

Linton focused on the intersection between homelessness and mental health. She said the city has done a “great job in trying to solve this homeless problem.” She mentioned her history of volunteering with the Hermiston Warming Station, saying she believes the government is doing what it can to meet people’s needs.

For Primmer, with the homeless population growing, the population needs additional services and resources.

“We don’t have the resources to rehouse people permanently,” he said. “We don’t have the infrastructure or the personnel to do the mental health portion of this that we really, truly need.”

Peterson said many of the people struggling with homelessness are from the region, and Measure 110, whic decriminalized most drug possession but which the Legislature revised to recriminalize some of it, revealed or emphasized some of the underlying issues, such as addiction. So, while the city has done “some very admirable things,” they said, when the updates go into effect, there will be a “different kind of homelessness coming up, and that will be a hidden homelessness” — meaning it might not be as obvious, but it will still be there.

Available resources

The candidates also mentioned housing, mental health and public safety on questions about what city services most needs additional resources.

Primmer said that public safety is always in need of additional resources, but putting more money toward resources and help for people struggling with mental health is paramount. He said the need is so vital because it and an effect every other issue.

Peterson also talked about mental health, but from the perspective of people’s family members and training for mental health staff in the area to support individuals and their families. If interventions can be made at home, they said, then it could stop mental health problems from being exacerbated.

Salazar also focused his answer on public safety and addiction support to stop the reselling of drugs, even legal ones, such as marijuana. Salazar said he has seen marijuana sold at the high school and believes increasing support for the police and creating more support for people addicted to drugs would help limit the issue.

Linton had a related, but different, answer. She said her passion is to help senior citizens, and she has heard they are in need of more housing, and more affordable housing.

“If you have to pay all your money out for rent and food, then there’s things you just cannot do,” she said. Many seniors like to be able to give gifts or make special memories with children and grandchildren, and having a high cost of living can prevent them from doing those things that bring them joy.

Balancing the budget

Candidates also answered a question on how they would solve Hermiston’s budget gap while offering the same — or expanded — services to the community.

Peterson mentioned two possible approaches. First, if recreational marijuana sales were approved, then that money could go toward helping balance the budget. But, they said, the public is against that. Instead, Peterson suggested considering the length of tax incentives for corporations to start generating revenue from them earlier.

Salazar said he would focus on figuring out how to optimize outward growth of the area while maximizing revenue. The problem isn’t the expanding itself, it’s maintaining those expansions, he said, so he would look more closely at the costs associated with them.

Linton emphasized limiting spending. If the purchase or investment can wait, then it should, she said. If it’s necessary, like infrastructure maintenance, then it’s worthwhile. But otherwise, she said, “let’s wait until we can build up that money.”

Primmer mentioned expanding the urban growth boundary to allow for further expansion, which would bring more residences into paying taxes. Building additional housing could help with that, too, he said. He also discussed something he said recently started, which is pre-buying construction equipment so if a part gets delayed, then costs don’t suddenly skyrocket while no construction actually takes place.

The final pitches

At the end of the 50-minute-long forum, the candidates gave closing statements.

Primmer and Peterson said whoever the residents of Hermiston choose will be a good mayor. They mentioned their history of leadership and their desire to lead the city.

Primmer said he has no desire to be a politician, he just wants to help the people of Hermiston.

Peterson said they want to rebuild the trust of the residents and to be a good steward of the city’s money.

Linton reminded the audience of the value of democracy and making their voices heard. She said she’d take action and focus on ensuring the city’s success.

Salazar said the forum had been inspiring for him as someone who wants to see the city have a better future than it does now, with people feeling more hope and more connected with one another.

“I really want to dream of things that never were,” he said, “and I want to ask: Why not?”

The candidates will be on the ballot during the primary election on May 21, 2024.

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