Six candidates are vying for the East Lane County Commissioner seat – reportedly the most jam-packed campaign locals have seen since the 2010 Springfield City Council race that was stacked with seven candidates.
The seat being contested is that of current East Lane Commissioner Gary Williams, 66. Last year, Williams was appointed to finish out former Commissioner Faye Stewart’s term, after Stewart left to pursue a job with the City of Cottage Grove.
Last year, commissioners reportedly chose Williams out of 27 candidates who vied for Stewart’s seat – including current candidates Heather Buch, 42, Tim Laue, 64, Kevin Matthews, 59, and James Barber, 40.
Now, Williams, these candidates and one more, Frank King, 61, are contending for Williams’ seat in the Tuesday, May 15 election.
A slew of personalities, accomplishments, ideals and goals have been promoted along the candidates’ East Lane campaign trails. Among other descriptors, King is a comedian and mental health advocate; Williams is a former Cottage Grove mayor; Barber is a real estate principal broker; Matthews is an agricultural producer and local activist; Buch is a principal broker and small business owner; and Laue is a former Eugene City Councilor.
The seat represents all of Lane County south of Eugene and east of Springfield, including such communities as Creswell, Cottage Grove, Pleasant Hill, Oakridge, Dexter, Marcola, Fall Creek and Lowell.
The winner in Tuesday’s election will serve a four-year term on the Board of Commissioners beginning in January. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote on May 15, then the top two candidates with the most votes will advance to a runoff election in November, which is considered a possibility due to the number of people running for one seat.
Below is the Chronicle Q&A with all candidates running for the East Lane Commissioner seat:
Q: If elected, do you have an immediate goal you want to accomplish, or significant changes you intend to make?
A: Frank King: More Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for Lane County Sheriff’s Office (LSCO). Police act as mental health first responders by default. If (police) can recognize whether it’s a mental health crisis or a crime onscene, they won’t have to take everyone to jail (which) frees up beds. Additionally, inpatient beds should be on demand for anyone having a mental health crisis, or if they want to undergo drug rehabilitation at facilities. CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets), can provide beds so that the County doesn’t have to create a new infrastructure since CAHOOTS already has a system in place and can expand on their operation.
A: Kevin Matthews: As a Lane County native, 20-year small business owner and current local rancher, my top goal is working together to build prosperity in our rural communities from the ground upward, instead of the top down. I would move immediately to stop giving away our tax money to big outside companies through big tax breaks, or giving grants to the old-boy network. Instead, I would put our economic development funds into a revolving loan fund, with sideboards to make sure our loans go to help folks like us, who live and work in rural Lane County because we love it here.
A: Tim Laue: My first order of business as Commissioner will be to propose reactivating Traffic Enforcement Units along OR Hwy(s) 99, 58 and 126 in rural Lane County. These roads are among the deadliest in Oregon, with traffic fatalities occurring regularly because of excessive speed, passing across double yellow lines and distracted and impaired driving. Police patrols focusing on rural traffic enforcement will not only make our roads safer and save lives, (but) officers may also be able to more quickly respond to priority 911 calls due to their patrol presence in unincorporated areas.
A: Gary Williams: Several ongoing goals are: Continued stabilization of the County budget. Currently reserves have been reestablished throughout the various services the County provides. No personnel layoffs, but some reductions in staffing in some areas and added staff in others. Just a few years ago most reserves were depleted.
A: James Barber: My immediate goal would be to bring public hearings of the Board out to our rural communities. I expect to be a very proactive commissioner with regard to soliciting input from residents and engaging the community to be a part of our problem-solving efforts. I see this as an essential step in building support for policies to tackle the biggest priorities we face right now, as well as establishing a base for communication for a responsive government.
A: Heather Buch: Housing options at all levels need to rise to a top priority for the Board of Commissioners. The Board of Commissioners is in charge of our public housing authority, Homes for Good, and I would like to work with them to advance new and innovative ideas to expanding housing options in our community. I would also like to find ways partner with our private developers to build more homes for first-time home buyers that are affordable, so that our young people have can start building their families.
Q: If elected, what would be your three biggest priorities for East Lane County?
A: Frank King: First priority: Having a dedicated fund for LCSO, rather than having to duke it out with other priorities and agencies over General Fund monies. Not looking for any additional money, but money set aside just for a dedicated LCSO fund. Second priority: Have a world class animal shelter. Greenhill Humane Society does a great job picking up slack, but a county the size of Connecticut should have its own world-class shelter. Third priority: Affordable housing. In terms of rental units available, Oregon’s affordable housing is second only to Seattle in the country. We need to incentivize local developers to construct low- and moderate-income housing along transportation routes.
A: Kevin Matthews: As I’ve said, talking directly with thousands of rural voters in our grassroots campaigns in 2014 and 2018, I’m running to protect our clean water and remaining wildlife habitat, and to build prosperity in our rural communities working together from the ground upward, instead of trying to lure in outside jobs by giving away tax money to big outside companies. It’s also urgent and essential to dramatically improve rural Internet access, housing affordability and rural public safety services.
A: Tim Laue: My highest priority is to faithfully represent the people in East Lane and to be of service to everyone who calls this home. I will listen to issues, give voice to concerns and decide based on the public interest – not special interests or personal ambition. I will be open, responsive and accountable. Security and safety is second. Our seniors deserve to be secure in their homes. Our children deserve to be safe at school, and we all deserve a decent chance for hopeful futures. Improving lives, protecting our natural surroundings and improving rural economies to create quality jobs with good benefits rounds out the ”top three.”
A: Gary Williams: I will continue to advocate on behalf of the homeless folks for greater support of services that can assist them. Affordable housing through public and private partnerships will create homes for the hardworking folks who only wish for the ”American Dream” of home ownership and a stable, secure life. I will continue to support the efforts in serving those who suffer from mental and physical challenges. This, of course, includes those who have substance abuse challenges. Another coequal concern is law enforcement and public safety.
A: James Barber: My three biggest priorities are establishing adequate and stable public safety funding, building housing and shelters to alleviate the housing and homelessness crises we face, and bolstering economic opportunity through education, training and jobs throughout the county.
A: Heather Buch: My three biggest priorities would be to create accessible and affordable housing at all income levels, to support new and existing small businesses to benefit our local economies and jobs, and to deliver real results for rural Lane County in areas such as fully funding public safety services, connecting more people to accessible high-speed internet and (increasing) economic development in our small towns.
Q: What do you see as the most pressing needs for infrastructure or capital projects in rural areas of Lane County?
A: Frank King: Upgrading the service streets that aren’t maintained by the state, for issues like potholes, in Lane County. I would find someone who had infrastructructure knowledge and work out a project, and would also take a look at other countries who are doing it right. Somebody already has a program out there that is working.
A: Kevin Matthews: Properly maintaining what we have in terms of County roads and bridges is fundamental, job one. However, aside from specific safety improvements for motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians, I do not see the need for a lot of new heavy construction in the country parts of Lane County. In terms of new investment, the critical lack of affordable high-speed internet must be addressed. Long term, we should be laying the groundwork for a more reliable, better-distributed power system to help our homes stay safe in case of storms and disaster.
A: James Barber: I see high-speed internet to our rural communities as our most pressing need. There is a lot of talk about economic inequality among people. It’s also very real between urban and rural. In this day and age of the internet, speed often wins. The economic opportunity available in urban areas due to high-speed internet means it will continue to outpace and leave behind our rural communities, making it difficult to compete. We must also address the lack of a maintenance plan for our 415 bridges across the county.
A: Tim Laue: Infrastructure projects should be prioritized based on safety, usage needs and service improvement. Bridges and buildings should be regularly inspected, evaluated and rated in those terms. Priority rankings should be based on specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely indicators to determine where limited resources are best spent. Maintenance of existing facilities should generally come before building new facilities, and the public’s money should be spent only to address a specific, real need in a way that makes for a ”good deal.”
A: Gary Williams: Highway safety in maintenance and improvements are a key piece of public safety. County roads are being made safer. Better signage for speed control and hazards, as well as ”rumble strips” on highway shoulders and centerlines to prevent lane departures. Guard rail installations and vision obstructions mitigation, bridge maintenance and many other actions are taken to make our roadways safer. Ongoing maintenance of aging infrastructure is an increasing challenge that requires strong budgeting disciplines. Several areas of great concern have to do with gridlock. The West 11th corridor and Beltline/Delta area are very difficult areas at various times. Developing better relationships with state and federal agencies for funding of capital improvements is critical in solving these problems. Economic development is crucial to ”fixing” all of the challenging needs. Family-wage jobs are essential. Mentoring and apprenticeship programs at all levels, public schools, private and public entities, all working together in fostering new opportunities for all. Assess regulations that affect business of all types to determine if they may impede economic development. Examine the need for expansion of ”buildable lands” inventory to provide housing as businesses expand or relocate to our region.
A: Heather Buch: First, we need to close the digital divide in Lane County by bringing first-class internet to our underserved and rural communities. That means expanding high-speed internet to rural Lane County at an affordable price. Supporting and coordinating with public benefit internet corporations is critical in accomplishing this goal. This helps students have better access to educational materials, and it also supports our small businesses that are increasingly relying on online services to run their businesses. Second, we need to continue to work on transportation needs throughout Lane County. Quality, reliable and smart transportation systems will help everyone. We also need to find ways to fix our crumbling roads and bridges. I want to make sure that the monies coming from the transportation bill are going to our greatest areas of need.
Q: Policing in Creswell is an ongoing hot-button issue, as we do not have 24-hour police services and contract with Lane County Sheriff’s Office. What are your thoughts on rural policing issues in Lane County?
A: Frank King: We need more sheriffs. I think (the state) is taking in money hand-over-fist for the sale of weed and I don’t think that that’s gonna slow down anytime soon. Why can’t we dedicate some of that money to policing? The County receives three of the 20 percent marijuana tax revenue. I want to see where every part of that three percent goes, because that’s a lot of money, and that amount is only going to grow – pardon the pun. Using marijuana tax revenue for policing and also for drug rehabilitation and recovery seems only natural, common sense.
A: Kevin Matthews: I am a steadfast supporter of essential law enforcement services. The inadequate level of rural sheriff’s patrols in East Lane County is a ticking time bomb. Overall, we’ve been relatively lucky so far. However, odds are that someday a violent crime will occur in one of our far-flung country villages, and be reported in progress, yet no law enforcement will be able to respond in time to prevent a terrible outcome. Then, everyone will want to solve the underlying problem. Let’s roll up our sleeves and fix our rural law enforcement situation – before something like that comes to pass.
A: Tim Laue: Rural policing isn’t working. Police response (when there is one) can take an hour or more. There are (fewer) patrol deputies in rural Lane now than there were 35 years ago – by a lot – while our population has almost doubled. Families in rural Lane feel they’re on their own. We feel isolated, left behind, insecure and, too often, unsafe. During the wildfires last summer, some refused to evacuate because they felt their possessions and property would be in jeopardy with no police. We must do better. We can do better. Traffic enforcement would help, as would reopening a Justice Court. More deputies would help as would small public safety districts. It won’t be easy, but what we have now isn’t enough.
A: Gary Williams: Rural patrols are very limited as the federal funds that supported law enforcement protections in the past have expired. Looking to a stable County budgeting process by redirecting some departmental reserve funds (through the budget committee process) is a possible funding component, among other ”options.” Lane County’s passage last year of a renewed jail levy insures more lawbreakers will be held accountable for their actions. I was co-chair of that committee. Nearly 73 percent of County voters approved that measure. Since 2014, the jail bed capacity has increased by nearly 300 percent! Many lawbreakers who once terrorized our communities are now held in jail or under supervision of law enforcement until they have their day in court. The District Attorney is prosecuting offenders for crimes that were previously not prosecuted. I am the only candidate in District to have full support and endorsement Sheriff Trapp.
A: James Barber: Our rural policing is critically underfunded. The Sheriff’s Department relies on nearly 400 volunteers to meet essential services, traffic patrol is nonexistent and crimes go unaddressed and underreported. Ideally, we would find a way to increase and stabilize public safety funding, which has been underfunded and unstable since the loss of federal timber revenues. We will look at and discuss all options, not just on the Board but within the community as well. The ultimate solution will have to be a grassroots effort through countywide dialogues that build support from the bottom up.
A: Heather Buch: We all know that we have severely underfunded police and Sheriff services in rural Lane County. I live in unincorporated Lane County, and it can sometimes take days for a Sheriff to have the time to look into concerns. We need to find a way to get community support to have a fully-funded Sheriff’s office. This is going to take a lot of work and community input, finding innovative and supplemental ways to support safety services as well as utilizing our public-private partnerships. As Commissioner I would be up to the challenge of bringing our community together to keep people safe.