Election

Willamalane Board candidate Q&A

Candidate Overview: Johnny A. Lake did not respond to requests for participation. Voters are asked to select three 

of the six candidates to serve on  the Willamalane 

Board of Directors. 

What are your top goals for increasing health and wellness in Springfield and how would you work to achieve those goals?

GREG JAMES, incumbent: Willamalane has excellent facilities including two of the best pools in the region, the Bob Keefer Center for Sports & Recreation, miles of trails and paths, and over 40 parks. We also have world-class staff that I trust implicitly to be creative, innovative, and in touch with the needs and desires of our patrons. We must constantly seek new ways to engage and motivate people to lead active lives. For instance, we recently converted underutilized tennis courts at Meadow Park into pickleball courts, which have become incredibly popular among a broad spectrum of users, promoting physical activity for all.

CJ MANN: I would like to see the services we provide at Willamalane’s many facilities increase their capacity to help with food insecurity issues. I would like to see more parks have community gardens, Little Pantries and increase the number of hours and locations that have a food pantry. I would also like to see Willamalane continue to work with Lane Council of Governments in its efforts to provide meals at several more centers.

KIERSTEN MUENCHINGER: My top goals for improving health and wellness in our community are for our children to have opportunities to socialize and to swim. Much as we don’t want to think about it, we are still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic. Parents can see how much our kids would benefit from being with other great children, practicing how to be together, having fun and making positive, fun memories. Willamalane supports our children of all ages with great programming in athletics, exploration, and water sports. At this moment, focusing on these programs and our kids’ well-being will help us all recover more quickly.  

ANGELA C. MICELI STOUT: Food security is an increasingly critical issue all around the country. Springfield is no exception. I think Williamlane has a unique opportunity to contribute to the resiliency of our local food systems by expanding programs like the GROW project and by increasing our efforts to steward our public lands well. In particular, I would like to develop programs like neighborhood farmers markets so neighbors can meet face to face and collaborate on community gardening projects and in strengthening our local food systems. I would like to expand gardening projects especially for our youth and young children.  

CHRIS WIG, incumbent: Working in behavioral health, I know a crucial key to increasing a person’s health and wellness is connecting with other people. Willamalane is in a great position to foster and maintain connections between community members through our Adult Activity Center, youth programs, and creating spaces where people and families can build memories together. A great way for someone to make a difference in their physical health is to begin a walking program, and Willamalane has a good selection of trails at various degrees of difficulty. I’d also like to create more opportunities to grow healthy food in community gardens. 

Local jurisdictions are being asked to comply with state protections for unhoused individuals living in parks and public spaces. How would you work with the City of Springfield to update Willamalane’s policies, if at all?

JAMES: Willamalane is a proud member of TEAM Springfield, which includes the City of Springfield, Springfield School District, and Springfield Utility Board. As elected officials, we strive to collaborate on issues that impact all our jurisdictions. Homelessness is a critical concern we are tackling together. Specifically, Willamalane’s Park Ranger Program is one of our key initiatives. Our rangers provide on-site support, ensuring the safety and security of our parks, and offer assistance to homeless individuals by connecting them with critical resources and assistance. Our rangers are Willamalane’s frontline ambassadors committed to providing wrap-around services and fostering a supportive environment for everyone.

MANN: Those conversations are happening now, as the City struggles to update its policies regarding these changes. I support the proposed ban on camping along the river, as an environmental issue. I was present at the last public hearing at City Hall. Concerns were expressed by commercial business owners. Those issues are currently unresolved. I would like to explore the potential for organizational campgrounds that would include staffing with an expertise in mental health and addiction issues. Campsite hosts and industrial cooking areas, community gardens and sanitary facilities that include showers and laundry buildings. Regular patrols by police and CAHOOTS as community service officers would be helpful as well. 

MUENCHINGER: Willamalane has expertise with our park structures, maintenance and public use. These three pieces of information are valuable for the City of Springfield in our new plans for the unhoused. This is an opportunity for Willamalane to be an expert in the initial conversations directed toward our July 1 compliance, and in continuing advising about how changed policies affect our parks. 

MICELI STOUT: Williamalane staff, park rangers, and our law enforcement officers are doing an excellent job of keeping our shared public spaces both safe and accessible. I want to applaud their efforts, and I look forward to supporting their good work. Our parks should be safe for all residents and our neighborhood parks should be a place for our community members to strengthen friendships, creatively collaborate, and enjoy the many amenities that our city has to offer.  

WIG: Willamalane has worked closely with the City of Springfield throughout the review of ordinances to ensure they comply with state protections for unhoused people. Neither Willamalane’s park and facility rules (Ordinance 100) nor the proposed update to the City’s camping code allow for camping in public parks. Willamalane and the City do our best to connect people we encounter with appropriate shelter, social services, and basic needs. Responding to the housing crisis will require continued collaboration between TEAM Springfield and our partners at Lane County, which provides human services, Homes for Good, and many heroic local non-profit organizations. 

What Willamalane programs are being underutilized and how would you work to bolster public engagement? 

JAMES: Willamalane works with Springfield School District to provide our Kids Club program to provide before and after school activities for kids. This program has been extremely popular, especially with working parents. Unfortunately, since the Covid crisis, we have struggled to fully staff these programs at all elementary school locations. Willamalane staff are working diligently with the school district to bring this program back to its full pre-pandemic level of service. I encourage anyone having an interest in working to support the kids club program to contact the Willamalane Human Resources office or visit our web site at willamalane.org/district_info/employment.php. 

MANN: I am a frequent user of the services and programs. Since my retirement and post-Covid restrictions, I have been averaging nine-12 classes per week and at four different Willamalane sites. In the classes I participate in, the classes are well-attended in general, there are a few that could use support, like Tai Chi, QiGong, and AiChi. I am not sure why these classes are at minimum capacity. I believe that outreach might be needed and increased instructors hired. More swim instructors and lifeguards are needed to increase the Splash! hours. 

MUENCHINGER: Willamalane did an amazing job keeping our parks and trails open during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the public use of these areas surged. Our open spaces, trail, and parks are so strong, we can tap the collected strategies people developed in that time to show off these areas in new ways. Public ratings for parks, like “most accessible with a multi-generational family” could be collected. Playlists for different walking or jogging paces to complete the Middle Fork Path could be published. Promoting what we all have learned and sharing our fun will engage and show off our community strength.

MICELI STOUT: As Willamalane looks into the future with its 20-year comprehensive plan, I would like to see continued improvements of structures and facilities in our neighborhood parks and education and outreach about food security and community gardens. Willamalane hosts a community garden at Lively Park and the GROW project are both excellent examples we can continue to develop. We also have wonderful Master Gardeners who are eager to share their talents with our community. Local, nutrient-dense food is something everyone in our community should have access to, and I hope to work toward making that reality and a community-collaborative project.  

WIG: Willamalane provides a broad array of programs for community members across age groups and areas of interest, and I can identify few examples of programs that are underutilized. We advertise upcoming classes and activities both online and in a triannual print recreation guide that is available at Willamalane facilities. On the other hand, two areas where we need to increase capacity to provide services to more community members are aquatics and childcare – and Willamalane leaders are working hard to expand these offerings based on feedback received from our community members.

How would you gauge the effectiveness of TEAM Springfield in its current state, and how would you help strengthen it?

JAMES: As a long-serving elected official on TEAM Springfield, I’ve witnessed first-hand the tremendous impact this collective brings to our community. Our four Springfield agencies work together seamlessly, earning the envy of other community leaders throughout the region. At Willamalane, our executive director, Michael Wargo, understands that collaboration and innovation are essential to achieving our goals. That’s why he works closely with the Springfield city manager, superintendent of schools, and SUB executive director. Our fellow elected officials share this vision, and we believe it’s vital to onboard new officials so they can fully grasp the benefits of this unique partnership.

MANN: I believe that there are other governing bodies that could add to the TEAM Springfield concept. I would need to spend time investigating the TEAM Springfield model before I could help in this endeavor. 

MUENCHINGER: TEAM Springfield can be gauged by how well it works together to support our community. At this moment in time, our collective needs are to support our personal economics and our children’s well-being. The collaborations we can have in TEAM Springfield toward these goals will help us all in our collective success as individuals and as a community.

MICELI STOUT: TEAM is Springfield’s best opportunity to end the housing shortage. As a coordinated effort between Springfield City Council, SUB, Willamalane, and Springfield Public Schools, it is an incredible opportunity to get many groups working together to solve the major problems we face in our city and region. The difficulty is that this is a voluntary relationship, and the different groups can be pulling in different directions with different priorities. My hope is that if we can galvanize these different groups behind one mission – housing – we will accomplish substantially more than we are able to with multiple priorities.  

WIG: TEAM Springfield is a highly effective partnership that allows the four Springfield local jurisdictions – City of Springfield, Springfield Public Schools, Springfield Utility Board, and Willamalane – to better serve our shared community and save the taxpayers’ money. One recent example of TEAM Springfield making a difference for Springfield families is the partnership between Willamalane and Springfield Public Schools to provide summer fun and learning opportunities to kids in Springfield by giving them a 1PASS to access healthy activities at 15 destinations. I will strengthen TEAM Springfield by nurturing relationships between Willamalane and our Springfield partners.

What district-wide programs or initiatives are you interested in pursuing, and how would you go about obtaining funding for these programs?

JAMES: Willamalane is in the process of charting an exciting course for the future of our parks, facilities, and recreation programs. We’re currently updating our comprehensive plan – a 20-year blueprint that will prioritize projects and shape our fiscal planning. We’ve gathered information through a statistically sound survey process and community outreach meetings to determine if our goals align with patrons’ needs. Preliminary results can be found on the Willamalane website at willamalane.org/district_info/future.php. I’ll continue to work tirelessly to support staff in securing matching funding at both state and federal levels to bring these future projects to life.

MANN: Community gardens and food issues are vital to the health of our community. I would like to work with native and urban gardeners, Gleaners, Master Gardeners and the OSU Extension service to help the District increase its capacity. Funding through public and private sources should be investigated before moves are made for another levy or bond. 

MUENCHINGER: I am interested in pursuing professional partnerships and personal connections. Professional partnerships with government and non-government entities throughout our District allow us to be synergistic with the funding allocations that we already have. Personal connections depleted from the last few tough years could use some support. We are short on so many bonding and building opportunities: childcare, opportunities for our children, opportunities for connection with neighbors and friends. We are better and stronger together.

MICELI STOUT: I want to see more safe spaces for kids to volunteer, gain work experience, and feel part of something bigger. Many families have parents who work long days or odd schedules. We should not limit these programs to just schools, park facilities, or other groups, but expand them to private groups as well, whether groups like the YMCA, private gyms, churches, or even private employers. Imagine an “adopt-a-student” program where many folks want to invest in our youth and the full burden doesn’t fall to one organization. When more groups buy in, we have more resources available to fund them. 

WIG: Willamalane has four wooded natural areas – Thurston Hills, Georgia Pacific, McKenzie Weyerhauser, and Moe Mountain – and I’m excited by the possibility of creating hiking trails for our neighbors to explore these community treasures. I’m also excited about the opportunity to provide hiking and outdoor recreation on the Allen property adjacent to Dorris Ranch. Creating new trails allows us to maximize the value of property already owned by the public and encourages folks to reap the health benefits of spending time outside. Grant funds are often available to create trails from the state and federal government. 

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