NOTE: THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN EDITED
JOHN DAY - Local candidates running in the primary election May 18 were all in the hot seat last Thursday evening, April 29. Candidates running for Grant County commissioner, Grant County surveyor and Representative for Oregon State Legislature House District No. 59 all vied for attention and clarity during their time in the spotlight at Candidate Night.
Women for a Viable Community, a loose knit group of approximately 10 women dedicated to keeping dialogue going in the community, organized and sponsored the event at the John Day Senior Center. True to their goal of creating conversation, the evening gave each contestant a chance to get their message out to the community.
Moderated by Don Jones, a retired teacher and Canyon City council member, each candidate was introduced with their biography, after which they spoke to the crowd for five minutes. Once the candidates from each race were introduced and given their five minutes of fame, Jones opened the floor to questions. Questions from the audience could not involve inquiries into the candidates' personal opinions, rather had to be specific questions pertinent to the office for which the candidate was running.
The entire slate of county commissioners was present: republican incumbent Scott Myers; Steve McKern, the republican from Mt. Vernon who is trying to unseat Myers; and the two democratic nominees, Bill Harrington from Prairie City, and long-time Grant County resident Terry Sowa.
Myers has lived in Canyon City since 1982 and has been a public official since 1991. During his five minutes, he focused on the successes of the County Court - in particular the court's "good working" relationship with the Forest Service, and the county budget. Myers sees the Forest Service changing and added that the court's continued relationship with the agency would not depend on who is elected as county commissioner. Myers also noted that during his term as a county commissioner and budget chair the court has been able to secure and budget more than $1 million for the schools and more than $1 million for infrastructure improvements, namely street and bridge improvements.
Myers sees three major issues pressing Grant County, the first being the local economy.
"The local economy can't afford to lose more of its population. The people moving in are not bringing children or adding to the workforce, so they're not adding to the economy. I think the industrial park is good for our future in attracting new business and jobs," he said.
The two other factors Myers mentioned that have affected Grant County and need to be addressed are land use and school funding. Myers said that appeals on forest projects have been tough on the economy, but in reality the court has little influence over those matters. Regarding school funding Myers said, "If rural funding falls away we are in dire straights."
McKern, a native of Grant County, opened his time on the floor by saying, "I'm not a politician. What you see is what you get. With my family being here for more than 100 years I want to give something back. And I'm not afraid to make decisions and I'm not afraid to make things move."
His focus is on support of the hospital and all law enforcement department and he emphasized neither could afford any cuts. McKern also spoke on timberlands and agriculture, saying, "The land is sick. There is so much fuel that needs to be removed from the forests to make it healthy again. And we need cows on the forest."
Harrington, who has spent most of his life working in social services, believes in the county court taking a more pro-active approach in creating a more diverse economy, supporting schools and the elderly, and involving the entire community in the future of Grant County.
"People want to be involved. I don't see apathy here. I want to develop a process, a method, for those voices to be heard and to help apply those to the community," Harrington said. He added that capital to help develop the local economy was present in Grant County, and that the county needs to build on existing assets, but, that it was necessary to look beyond the county for markets.
Sowa, who works in the automotive industry, feels the looming health crisis is a paramount issue for the County Court. With Grant County potentially losing obstetrical services this summer the hospital could face a "financial crisis."
"You have to work with people - I've learned how to work with people and budgets: where to spend and where to cut," Sowa explained.
Another "pet peeve" for Sowa is the use of public vehicles for personal purposes. "I see a lots of vehicles parked at restaurants at night and at the grocery store on Sundays and it's a problem when public property becomes private."
The county surveyor and District 59 forums were less lively as only Bill Bagett and Jack Lorts were present. Bill Bagett, the present county surveyor, has held the office since 1972 and is being contested by Carl Stout, who was out of town for the meeting. Democratic challenger Jack Lorts also had the floor to himself as John Dallum republican candidate from The Dalles and ???? were both unable to attend.
Bill Bagett, who has been the county surveyor since 1972, explained the duties of a county surveyor - that is performing fair and correct surveys, establishing public land survey corners, ensuring subdivisions are legal, checking survey maps and making copies of surveys available to the public. Bagett also spoke on the progress within the Grant County Surveyor's office, which has included continued updating of maps onto microfilm and scanning maps. The Assessor's office has also purchased a large copier for the survey maps,
Carl Stout, who works for the federal government, represented by his wife Carolyn Stout, in a written statement said that he wants to "bring Grant County current with other counties and put survey and records on-line."
The benefit of putting assessor's maps on-line is accessibility. Bagett explained that once the maps and records are scanned, indexed and put on-line anyone could call up a specific survey, view it and print it.
However, he cautioned that Grant County currently does not even have a Web site, few if any counties in Eastern Oregon has such a site, and that putting the maps and records on line would be a sizable expense - which would then require regular maintenance fees once the site is up.
Bagett said that having such a Web site would be an asset and that there were options to going it alone. "I do know one other county is looking at a scanner, which is about $20,000 and costs about $1 a scan. We could hire this service out [the scanning] or share a scanner with other counties."
The evening wound down with informal time between the audience and candidates.