City & Government

Council, mayor races heat up in Cottage Grove

Grovers got some decisions to make at the poll in November. 

There are three open positions on Cottage Grove City Council, including Ward 1, Ward 3 and the at-large positions. 

Incumbents Chalace Savage (Ward 1) and Mike Fleck (at Large) face competition at the polls, including Donald Morris (Ward 1),  Darrel Wilson and Robert Kidder (at Large). Dana Merryday and Chris Holloman vie for the vacant Ward 3 position left by Candace Solesbee, who is running for mayor against incumbent Jeff Gowing. 

The Chronicle does not endorse political candidates; however, it offers all candidates opportunities to write columns, answer a questionnaire and provide a brief biography. All candidates but Kidder participated in this opportunity. 

What are three things you most want to accomplish while on council? 

DONALD MORRIS, Ward 1: The first thing I’d like to accomplish is improved communication between the people of Cottage Grove and the city council. I believe in an open door policy. I want to know where I can improve and help the community. Second, I want to be a catalyst for the downtown project. I am concerned about the 

safety of people using the sidewalks, as well as balancing the needs of the businesses. Lastly, I want to increase the fiscal responsibility of this government. I want to be sure the taxpayers money is being used wisely. 

CHALICE SAVAGE, Ward 1: 1. We need housing so the folks who work in Cottage Grove can live here. 2. We have failing infrastructure so let’s put a plan together for maintenance/repair and 3. Come up with creative ideas to fund these projects.

CHRIS HOLLOMAN, Ward 3: Transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility.

DANA MERRYDAY, Ward 3: Focus on civility and collaborative problem solving in dealing with divisive issues such as the unhoused. Work to ensure Cottage Grove will have water, food, and fire security along with emergency preparedness in the face of a changing climate.  Since a large role of local government is to exercise foresight in planning for the well being of its citizens a realistic view must be taken into account with the large issues: housing, growth and being able to use financial resources wisely. 

MIKE FLECK, at Large: 1) Continue to work on housing and homeless issues; 2) Continue to work on street infrastructure; 3) Continue to work on water, wastewater and storm infrastructure.

DARREL WILSON, at Large: Lowering costs of city services to the citizens and business community. Improve road condition and maintenance, attract new businesses to the core of the community as well as our industrial park.

How would you support a decision you did not vote in favor of? 

MORRIS, Ward 1: It depends on the issue. My opinion does not change because of a vote. I still hold my values and those of the people. I would, of course, follow the rules laid out for the city council. My intention is to bring people together. If we can come to consensus among the council, or at least understanding and acknowledgment of each others’ opinions, all the better. The important thing is we listen to each other. 

SAVAGE, Ward 1: As a council we have conversations before the vote. A City Councilor is 1/7th of the decision where the majority will win. Once the vote is done, I would unite and support the majority. Compromise is key and how I respond reflects my character.

HOLLOMAN, Ward 3: I would respect the majority decision, while comparing against my vote.

MERRYDAY, Ward 3: Monitoring the results of the action closely, observing how it develops and offering praise if it demonstrates success in spite of my reservations or guidance in making it work if it fails to be successful from the outset. 

FLECK, at Large: I strive to support the decisions the Council makes including the ones I didn’t initially support. The Armory is an example. I voted against its purchase but have supported all efforts to rehabilitate it since its acquisition.

WILSON, at Large: I’m realistic and understand that others on the council will have differences of opinions and approaches to tackling various issues. If the majority of the other council members support a plan of action that is different, then I can accept that that is how the process works and possibly the issue may come up again in the future. I would have the opportunity to float my ideas then.

What should the City’s role be in addressing homelessness? 

MORRIS, Ward 1: I would facilitate any action that brings addiction services to this community. Having personal experience in this area, with family members, I know the value of supporting healthy behavior, and not enabling destructive habits. I’m big on collaboration and awareness of what the real issues are. I don’t think it’s the government’s responsibility to fix everything. I believe in helping people. Personally, I’ve taken in homeless people when they needed a hand up. 

SAVAGE, WARD 1: I appreciate the decision of action has stayed within the city allowing us to have the ability to cater to the diversity and culture of our own town; however, I’m interested in seeking state and county partnerships for long-term maintenance and funding.

HOLLOMAN, Ward 3: The homeless situation must be viewed with compassion while making sure the citizens are safe and financial impacts are kept to a minimum. We should not attract homeless people from outside our area, the burden can become overwhelming.

MERRYDAY, Ward 3: Homelessness is a problem in nearly every community in America.  In my view it comes from an ever-growing population that exceeds the available housing options. The lack of affordable living space threatens not just those who are currently unhoused. Many Grovers are just a few paychecks from being homeless themselves. The lack of starter homes, a living wage, and pressures on working families lead to despair and the likelihood that an individual may turn to drugs or fall into a mental health crisis. The City should support existing support organizations such as SLMH, Looking Glass, FRN as well as pursue housing options through MUPTE and other tools at its disposal.

FLECK, at Large: Several court cases and HB 3115 have put expectations on cities to provide shelter if they want to limit sleeping at certain public properties (parks, streets, sidewalks, etc.). I believe it is in the citizens’ best interest to follow these requirements and provide shelter while keeping most of our parks available for the uses they were intended for. I also believe that the State Legislature should be providing these funds since they have put these expectations on cities.

WILSON, at Large: To work with professional organizations and law enforcement to identify the root cause of the rampant rise of the homeless population. My opinion is the influx of illegal drugs. We need to stop enabling and work on a plan to treat those that want to become productive members of our community. While protecting our citizens from those that have no desire to turn their lives around.

What additional resources will you seek out to improve the quality of life for Cottage Grove residents? 

MORRIS, Ward 1: People are our greatest resource. Let’s utilize what we have here, provide training as needed and address issues as they come up in the community. Too often we look to the outside to fix our problems, when we should be more like a family and work together. 

SAVAGE, Ward 1: Housing will allow our adult children to remain here and will create the ability to live/work/play right here in Cottage Grove. I believe we need to get creative on how to fund our failing infrastructure but having shovel-ready projects so we can apply for grants has 

proven to be very successful.

HOLLOMAN, Ward 3:  We must take advantage of all available county, state, and federal grants and assistance.

MERRYDAY, Ward 3: Pursue funding sources through state and federal programs such as the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act to assist in developing housing, economic opportunities and encouraging the agricultural producers to expand to be able to develop food security. Forest management in the face of the drying effects of changing climate could be eased through conservation corps style crews. Water is and will be crucial to our lives which if forgotten will lead to real problems down the road.

FLECK, at Large: As mentioned above, we should be lobbying the legislature for homeless shelter funds. We also need to continue to seek street, water, wastewater and storm funds. The city has recently received two large grants for Bohemia Park and for Main Street downtown – we need to continue these efforts.

WILSON, at Large: Redirect spending to systematically improve the roads neighborhood by neighborhood. Currently the water rates are so high that it is nearly impossible for the average homeowner to maintain their properties. Lowering these costs will give incentive to bring the beauty back to our community and in turn attract new people and tourism to our area.

What policies would you implement to maintain or better improve oversight of police policies? 

MORRIS, Ward 1: Body cams will help keep everyone accountable. This will decrease many issues. I’d want to talk directly with the officers to see how they can serve the community better.

SAVAGE, WARD 1: I would like to see a policy for required yearly mental health education and training. 

HOLLOMAN, Ward 3: The chief law enforcement official should be chosen by and managed by the city council, as the judge is.

MERRYDAY, Ward 3: With the improvements in body camera technology would benefit both the officers and the public by adopting the use of body cams by CGPD. The funding to do so should be pursued and found.  The development of a CAHOOTS style response team locally as well as training in de-escalation tactics for our officers would aid in having less incidents such as the recent violent arrest. With the resignation of the current department leadership there is the opportunity to hire a new team that has experience and commitment to a department that focuses on the community policing model.

FLECK, at Large: Our interim chief has suggested several changes that I completely support. Body cameras, de-escalation training, use-of-force reports and the evaluation of those reports are some suggestions. 

WILSON, at Large: At this time the city is seeking to hire a new Police Chief as the position is now being filled by an interim individual after ours resigned amid an investigation. Currently our city charter places responsibility for hiring of the police in the purview of the city manager. I would like to see the charter changed to have the city council hire the top police official. I would also like to implement a citizens review board to look into and review cases as referred to them by the council.



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