A standing-room-only crowd of about 100 filled the Chetco Community Public Library meeting room last Thursday to hear the last candidate forum before the Nov. 6 general election.
The event, sponsored by KCIW radio, brought to the table all Brookings City Council candidates and one of the two county commissioner candidates — Jeri Lynn Thompson. Thompson’s opponent, Chris Paasch, was unable to attend.
Running for the mayoral seat on the Brookings City Council is incumbent Jake Pieper and contender Teresa Lawson. Running for Position 3 on the council is Carla Gottlieb, Dane Tippman and John McKinney; for position 4, it is incumbent Dennis Triglia and Ron Hedenskog, who currently holds Position 3.
Each candidate expressed their love of the community and all had a clear grasp on the issues facing it — affordable housing, inadequate health care, the homeless problem, the challenge of growth — but none had definitive answers for any.
Thompson cited housing, health care, mental health, and jobs as the biggest issues facing the county, and noted they all weave together, making it difficult to address just one.
“It’s a new day,” Thompson said. “I’ve heard of the challenges we have. I really would like to bring ideas to the county.”
She would like to gather input from citizens and elected officials to make informed decisions at the county level, develop solutions and find the resources to solve the problems.
The 2017 Chetco Bar Fire ripped through Thompson’s neighborhood, prompting her to make forest management a primary issue of her campaign. Thompson believes bringing back “the traditional ways” of regular burns in the backcountry to manage undergrowth will work best to help reduce the chance of wildfires.
She particularly wants fire management to at least consider ideas offered by those in the community who know local terrain and weather.
“We need to create our own plan for our own community — run by us, not by someone out of state, someone on the East Coast telling us what’s best for us,” she said. “We need to get with other tribes and take it back to the old ways and help prevent fires from coming to Brookings.”
She would like to see some of the harvest money go to reforestation — and to county coffers.
“I am a very solutions-oriented person,” Thompson said, “and I’d like to hear from all parts of the county to find solutions to our problems.”
At the city level, Tippman said he likes to look at how people vote to determine how the populace feels about a given issue.
“I encourage people to stop talking about it and get involved,” McKinney said. “Words are one thing; actions are another. I’m not going to stop. I want to do what’s right for Brookings to make it better than it is now. We have a great jewel here.”
Hedenskog said any citizen interested in truly being involved would join a city committee.
“What a great way to grab hold of the purse and control planning,” he said, citing the budget committee. “It’s how it works. Get involved. A lot of decisions are made at the committee level.”
“It’s a pat answer, to encourage everyone to get involved,” he said. “And I get that that’s not everyone’s bag. Most people would be surprised how few calls I get, how few people ask to get together and speak with me. I’d never deny anyone a meeting.”
Lawson said she would actively recruit citizens to join committees, saying there is a lot of untapped talent in the community.
Triglia said he’d like to hold more workshops at which public comment is allowed.
Pieper and Lawson
Pieper said his 10 years in city government have given him the insight and experience needed for continuity. He spoke of past councils that were anti-growth and how, with the guidance of former City Manager Gary Milliman, the city was able to break out of that mold to foster growth.
His rival, Lawson, cites her financial experience — she has also served on the city’s budget committee — among the reasons for voters to cast their ballot for her.
She also said she felt Milliman’s leadership strength has resulted in a weaker council.
“There was an important issue where the city council wouldn’t ask many questions,” she said. “I knew more about it than they did. And we have some serious challenges ahead. I don’t feel the current city council has the initiative to take on where Gary left off.”
Asked about the possibility of a hospital opening in Brookings, Lawson said she was glad voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot question in 2015 asking the south end of the county to join the hospital district in the north.
“We’d be on the hook for their debt,” she said of the $30 million new hospital in Gold Beach. “I understand why (the facility) was (rebuilt) there, but more research should’ve been done. I think there are opportunities; we can work it out.”
“We might just have to put that behind us,” Pieper said of divisiveness in the county. “There’s all these Mason-Dixon lines. I hate to say it but a bunch of people are going to have to die off to erase (those).”
Hedenskog v. Triglia
Triglia is a retired research scientist, and said he’d bring his discerning eye to the city’s complex issues, including affordable housing, health care, attracting new business and protecting the quality of life here.
“I will research, I will compare and make what I feel is the best decision for the citizens,” he said. “We must begin to think and act outside the box for the short- and long-term. If we all work together, we can create miracles and improve the quality of life for the citizens of Brookings.”
Hedenskog, who has cited “experience, experience and experience” as his qualifications to remain on council, said he remembers the “no-growthers” who had held the city so far back the state had to step in to make it address its sewer problems. On the planning commission, he said he learned about land use issues, around which other issues — affordable housing, homelessness among them — orbit.
Triglia and Hedenskog were also asked their opinion of opening a hospital in Brookings.
Hedenskog pointed out that the Oregon Health Authority said a hospital can “absolutely not” be in Brookings because it would cause the other two hospitals (Sutter Coast in Crescent City and Curry General in Gold Beach) to fail. And he then cited his involvement with getting a state administrative rule changed to allow Curry General Hospital to “split” its hospital beds and open an emergency room here.
That hasn’t happened, yet, because the district doesn’t have the $1 million-plus needed to open one.
“I don’t blame the voters for turning it down,” Hedenskog said of the ballot measure, citing the tax rate involved to join. “It was doomed to fail in a tax-averse rural area.”
Triglia and Hedenskog were also asked about their stance on sanctuary city status to which Triglia said law enforcement had more important issues to worry about than finding and detaining immigrants “who’ve done no crime other than being in this country.”
“Oregon is a sanctuary state, whether you like it or not,” he said.
Hedenskog said the issue goes much deeper, and city councilors swear to uphold the laws of the U.S., Oregon and the city’s municipal code.
McKinney, Gottlieb, Tippman
McKinney, a newcomer to politics, cited his 40 years in law enforcement — the bulk of which was in Brookings — as his qualifications. He said affordable housing, the lack of medical care and the homeless situation are all issues that need to be addressed. Another issue he hasn’t addressed in past forums, he said, is getting a resource officer into the schools.
Gottlieb said her “absolute love” for the community is the driving force behind her running for office.
“I’ll be able to ask really good questions,” she said. “Most things we decide will have an impact.”
Tippman, too, said serving the community is what’s important to him, and getting a hospital in Brookings could be a major economic boost.
“I wish it were built down here, but I don’t see it moving any time soon,” he said.
“I don’t know a lot of information about Curry Health Network,” Gottlieb said, “but at least an ER. We’ll figure it out.”
McKinney said he “definitely” supported joining the hospital district.
“As a city, we need to (attract) professionals to come to our city,” he said. “Try to get more doctors, nurses, mental health. How we accomplish that, I don’t think there’s any straightforward answer.”
In closing …
“I can’t talk about what to do (in the future) without talking about what we’ve done,” Hedenskog said. “We’ve had a great run in our city the last 12, 13 years. And there’s a large learning curve (for the job); it’s two years or more before you feel you’ve got your feet under you.”
“No one seems to know what we want for our future,” Triglia said. “No one regularly convenes the citizens to find out. They need to have a say in what Brookings wants to be when it grows up.”
“I look at voter statistics,” Tippman said. “Count on my experience on boards; I’m data-driven, I have discipline and I do my research.”
McKinney said while this is his first stab at politics, he is a hands-on person, a hard worker, ethical, honest and has a lot to offer.
“Even though it’s my first shot, I think fresh eyes are really important for a city council to have,” he said. “You look at it a little different way than it’s been looked at for the past 10, 20, 30 years.”
Lawson said while Milliman was a great city manager, she didn’t approve of the money he proposed the city spend each year, nor that the city hasn’t done anything to address accessory dwelling units and other options as affordable housing options.
“It’s not a coincidence how things have been the last 10 years,” Pieper said. “I look at some of the other dysfunctional bodies in the county; we haven’t had that. The last time that happened was when we had a rookie mayor. We have a well-run, functional city, and I want to keep it that way.”