Springfield mayor Sean VanGordon on Feb. 17 delivered his 2021 State of the City Address via video online.

SPRINGFIELD – The Springfield City Council this week interviewed half its candidates for the vacant Ward 1 interim council seat. The vacancy comes after councilor Sean VanGordon was appointed interim mayor in January. Council plans to reach a decision in March. Eight candidates have filed, and Kelly Mason, Michelle Webber, Thomas Lawrence and Raymond Suit were to be interviewed Tuesday. 

“I am eager for the opportunity to serve the community that raised me,” said Kelly Mason, life-long Springfielder in her candidate application. “I see this opportunity as the next step in my public-facing career as well an exciting chance to make a difference in Springfield.”  

Mason is a financial aid counselor at the University of Oregon and chair of the Community Development Advisory Committee. She is bilingual in English and Spanish, received a bachelor’s degree in planning, public policy and management from the UO and is mastering in public administration. 

She said her experience on city committees, her familiarity with Springfield and her education will help Springfield “fill the gaps” in the city’s “lack of diversity, gender, and representation of the community as a whole.”

Council candidate Michelle Webber said in her application that she wants to be a councilor and help “foster vision, respectful discussion and positive outcomes’’ in Springfield. Webber is the chair for Springfield Education Foundation, the treasurer for Springfield Rotary and is on the Springfield Public Library Foundation. She works in loan operations, has been in the banking industry for 28 years and has lived in Springfield for 11 years. 

“I have attended several council meetings over the past few months and understand the challenges we face as a community. I hear the voices and agree that we need to find solutions to the concerns around diversity and equity, police and citizen tension and the unhoused,” Webber said. “This is an opportunity to bring voices from all sides of the issues together, understanding we must agree to engage in respectful conversations which will move us forward, to solve these issues together.

Thomas Lawrence has lived in Springfield for most of his life and is a mental health counselor for Laurel Hill Center. He received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Western Oregon University. He does not serve on other boards or committees. 

Lawrence said he has been becoming more involved in the community in the last year, and believes in “starting at the local level” to improve quality of life. “I have been involved in meetings for the majority of the past year and to increase my role in them would be an honor.”

Ray Suit said his 25 years of involvement in the community will be a benefit to help “ease community tension on key issues and help to provide an accurate representation of concerns.”

Suit is a principal risk analyst at NortonLifeLock for 16 years, and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Oregon. He is a father of three, and has volunteered for Kidsports since 2011, where he was head coach for over 25 youth teams. 

For over 20 years, he has been a volunteer coach, judge, and mentor to high school students in a program that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs to be college and career-ready. 

“I am always willing to jump in feet first and take on unexpected obstacles to help the youth of our community thrive and dream the possibilities,” Suit said. “In the last year, I have witnessed the City of Springfield manage multiple issues from protest and riots, community perception of police, school and business closures due to COVID-19, unemployment, to homelessness. I recognize the challenges the City of Springfield is facing are not easy to overcome but I would like to contribute to the solutions.”

The remaining candidates, including Troy Allen, Grace Bergen, Timothy Canter and Damien Pitts, will be interviewed by the council at the Feb. 22 meeting, with a final decision to be made on March 1. Community input may be given at both meetings. 

The Springfield City Club will also host a candidate forum on Thursday, Feb. 18 at noon and will be live-streamed on the City Club Facebook page. 

Contact city manager Nancy Newton at [email protected] or mailing to 225 Fifth St., Springfield, OR 97477.

The next term for Ward 1 is January 2023, with an election in the May 2022 primary. 

Five of the eight Springfield City Council Ward 1 candidates submitted biographies to the City Club for the Feb. 16 meeting. The other council candidates are Kelly Mason, Troy Allen and Thomas Lawrence. 

CANDIDATES AT-A-GLANCE:

TIMOTHY S. CANTER 

I have lived in Springfield for over 20 years and worked for the Springfield School District that long. I work as a Transition Specialist for Adjudicated Youth and coordinate the Springfield Safety Net.  

I have also been a foster parent for many years, I am a veteran, a former United States Marine and have volunteered for many agencies. I strongly believe in participating in the community. I have been homeless as an adult in the area for a period of time as well.  

The areas I want to work or focus on are supporting small business. Generally but also coming out of COVID-19. Public Transportation and making the city more bike-friendly are also important to me. I also believe we need to continue to work on serving the homeless in Springfield, especially youth and families. 

RAYMOND SUIT 

I have lived in Eugene/Springfield my entire life and proudly call this community my home. I have been a volunteer for Kidsports for over 10 years serving as the head coach for over 25 youth teams. Also been a volunteer coach, judge, and mentor to high school students in the DECA program that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs to be college and career ready for over 20 years.  

I have been employed with NortonLifeLock (formerly Symantec) for 16 years where I have acquired a strong background in financial analytics, risk management, budgeting and cross-team collaborations. My educational background is in politics and legal. I am also an active member of Technology Association of Oregon (TAO), which is the force behind the regional tech industry. 

The areas I would like to focus on would be community and police relationships, safe openings of businesses and schools, and park and recreational development, specifically bike-and-walk paths in Ward 1.

MICHELLE WEBBER 

Thanks to the vision of previous and current city leadership, the Springfield we call home today is vastly different from the Springfield my father covered as a reporter for The Register-Guard 40 years ago. Downtown Springfield is safe, vibrant, and welcoming to new businesses. We have improved infrastructure, beautiful parks, and excellent afterschool programs for our children. As we look to the future, continued focus on all six council goals is important but fostering an environment that values diversity and inclusion, strengthening the relationship between police and citizens, and finding a solution for those that live without shelter are of utmost importance.

GRACE BERGEN

Now that we have been in this “new normal” for almost a year we have had to change the way we interact, the way we run our businesses and the way we connect within our community.

I have the energy and tenacity to keep our city moving in the right direction for citizens and businesses. I served the city on the Planning Commission the past several years where we have made important decisions for the city which makes me ready to serve as a city councilor. As a realtor, I know the impact the housing shortage has on our community and businesses. This is a pivotal time to lead with integrity. 

With your support we can achieve great community growth. 

DAMIEN PITTS 

Pitts hails from Memphis, Tenn. After high school, he joined the United States Army where he served as a human intelligence collector/Korean linguist for 10 years, serving in such places as California, Arizona, Korea, Hawaii, Afghanistan and Iraq. He later attended the University of Tennessee, where he earned a bachelor in global studies and a masters in sociology. 

He works as an academic adviser and diversity initiatives specialist in the Lundquist College of Business. He also is the advisor of the University of Oregon Diverse Organization of Business Students. He serves as a board member for the Oregon Trails Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and is a past member of the Lane County Equity and Access Board.