Three of the four candidates vying this year for three four-year positions on the John Day City Council are incumbents, while the challenger is a former mayor.
Councilors Gregg Haberly, Paul C. Smith and Shannon Adair and former mayor Chris Labhart will be on the ballot for the three seats. Mayor Ron Lundbom is running unopposed for re-election to a four-year term.
The city is busier than ever with numerous projects aimed at promoting economic development, from a new sewer treatment plant that will produce merchantable reclaimed water and a broadband network to an Innovation Gateway project at the former Oregon Pine mill and perhaps a new aquatic facility.
The council candidates described their qualifications and why they are running.
Adair was appointed to the council last September to fill the position vacated by Lisa Weigum. A 1985 Grant Union High School graduate, Adair has a bachelor’s in business administration from Oregon State University and is a co-owner of the 1188 Brewing Company in John Day.
Adair said she worked outside the area for 10 years after college but returned because she wanted to raise her children in John Day and start a business here. She coached the high school dance team for 19 years and started Body Fitness & Dance in John Day, which she later sold.
“Having a business here, it made sense to be on the city council,” she said.
Adair is a board member of the Grant County Chamber of Commerce. She said part of her job with the council is to make connections between businesses and the council. A goal is to help John Day merchants work together for the good of everyone.
She also serves on the city’s Technical Advisory Committee, which assists in planning for the city’s many economic development projects. The urban renewal plan, Innovation Gateway project, sewer treatment plant and planning for parks, recreation and pool are all tied together and related, she said — one impacts the other.
The public should expect to see changes in the next few years as these projects move from planning to implementation, she said. All projects take time, and it’s important to communicate progress to the public. She encouraged residents to come to council meetings and listen to the discussion.
Haberly was appointed to the city council about six years ago and was re-elected. Born and raised in John Day, he started a Polaris dealership in John Day about 30 years ago.
He is a member of the Grant County Chamber of Commerce, the Oregon State Snowmobilers Association and the Grant County Snowballers. He’s also volunteered for the county’s search and rescue group.
Haberly said he wants to serve on the council to help John Day and Grant County by helping make the decisions that will make the city a better place for people who choose to move here. He said he has no specific concerns and no agenda. Using taxpayers’ money wisely and making wise decisions is his goal, he said.
Haberly said the public may not recognize the future benefits the current projects will provide the city, he said. He noted that the city is not accumulating debt, and people who say that should come to city council meetings and learn about these projects.
Some people may think the city is moving too fast, but Haberly said he thinks everything’s fine. He’s a businessman who tries to make wise businesslike decisions, he said. He credited City Manager Nick Green with obtaining grant money to pay for planning and building.
Proceeding in a positive manner is important, Haberly said. Supporting broadband was the right move for the city because it’s the wave of the future, he said.
Grant County was once a prosperous place until environmentalists got involved, he said. The community needs to work together to succeed. The city also needs to keep the public informed, Haberly said.
Paul C. Smith
Smith has been on the council for six years after being appointed in 2013. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees and worked in education for 30 years. He retired from the Grant County Education Service District about two years ago, where he handled curriculum and grant writing.
Like many candidates, Smith wanted a position on the city council because he wanted to serve the community. He said he’s vested in the community — he built a house here, raised his children here and worked in the community until he retired.
Smith said he’s a fiscal conservative who is concerned about infrastructure, particularly ensuring the integrity of the city’s water and sewer systems and maintaining roads. He supports plans for a new treatment plant that will produce reclaimed water because water is a critical resource in this area. He cited Prairie City’s recent problems as an example.
Smith said he also wants to ensure the financial integrity of the numerous city projects. He hopes financing for the new sewer treatment plant can be met with sales of reclaimed water, rather than by raising customer rates.
Taking on the downtown Weaver Building project was a hard decision, but once the state fire marshal got involved, the city was concerned the building would have been condemned. The goal is to mitigate asbestos, address fire hazards and then sell the building, he said.
The incentive provided in the urban renewal program will help address the city’s aging and inadequate housing stock, he said. The city needs more rental units, he noted.
After two years of planning projects and getting them through bureaucratic red tape, he wants to see them completed in the next four years. He doesn’t want the city to bite off more than it can chew, but he also wants the city to be progressive about the steps it takes to help the community thrive.
Labhart has lived in John Day since 1962 and is no newcomer to local government. He has a bachelor’s in language arts from Western University and taught for 33 years in Salem and John Day before retiring in 2003.
Growing up, Labhart worked on ranches bucking hay and delivering calves, in timber mills in Mt. Vernon and John Day and with the Forest Service’s road department. Today he is a tour guide at the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site and runs the Friends of Kam Wah Chung store. He also taught hunter safety courses for more than 20 years.
Labhart served as mayor of Canyon City and then more than 20 years as a John Day councilor and mayor. He also served one term as a Grant County commissioner. He also has participated in numerous civic organizations, including the Grant County Chamber of Commerce, the John Day Senior Center, the Blue Mountain Hospital District board and a regional health advisory committee covering 12 Eastern Oregon counties.
As mayor, he helped the Third Street extension and new fire hall projects move forward, and he worked to get the Oregon Trail Electrical Cooperative to buy out the previous utility company and take over service here.
Labhart said he wants to be involved in the community and has much to offer the city council. He said he works well with a variety of groups and has a “great network” of local and state government officials.
Looking forward, Labhart noted that increasing broadband access here is extremely important if the city wants to keep young workers. He said he’d rather be proactive than reactive and supports the Innovation Gateway project, but he notes that with the hospital bond soon ending, there will be competition for funding for a new city sewer, junior-senior high school and swimming pool facility.