TILLAMOOK COUNTY PIONEER’S QUESTIONS FOR CANDIDATES – Nov. 2022: Wheeler City Councilors

It’s election time – and in Tillamook County there has been an increase in participation in our government process with many races having multiple choices. The Pioneer is proud to provide this opportunity for our community to make informed voting choices and learn about the candidates. Tillamook County Pioneer’s Questions for the Candidates – November 2022. We will post the candidate’s answers (that we received) in all the national, state and local races, including those from candidates in uncontested races. These questions were gathered from a diverse array of Tillamook County citizens, and provides an opportunity for constituents to compare candidates answers directly.

OCTOBER 21 – Wheeler Candidates Meet & Greet – 10 to 11 am
Please join us at Handy Creek Bakery, 63 Hwy. 101 N., Wheeler for a friendly coffee chat. Linda DeGaynor has graciously allowed us to invite the community to join us for coffee and community conversation.

Here are the candidates for City Councilor Positions – 4 year term, vote for 3 – Garry Gitzen, Karen Matthews, Deanne Ragnell, Walt Porter, Dave Bell, Mary Leverette; City Councilor – 2 year term, vote for 1 – Clif Kemp

Karen Matthews

What is your vision of a thriving community? 

A thriving community is one that all citizens work together for a common goal. Having people of different backgrounds and life experiences working together and collectively finding solutions to create a community of neighbors who support and share vibrant business, recreation and outdoor activities in nature.  Creating and administering to a Vision Plan written by the people, and for the people, builds trust and a clear direction for all.  I encourage more open communications with town halls and coffee chat groups to bring people together in a more casual environment to discuss opportunities and find solutions. In order to have a thriving community we need all store fronts well kept and open for business and give the business community some say in governing regulations.

If elected, what would you do within your position to advance this vision?

Wheeler has so much potential and is a gem that just needs some polish and care with a coordinated effort. I have extended my hand to people with different views and have assured them we all have the same goals in mind. I will encourage open communications and work on common projects for the good of the community. I would encourage more community activities like the crab feed and spaghetti dinners of the past, continue clean up day and expand it to include park and common area cleanups. Volunteer activities are a great place to share these common goals and get to know and trust people. Formal town halls, small project teams, and public events will also help meld people into a common group.

Please provide a SWOT analysis of your municipality/district:

Strengths – We have a “million dollar view” and we have recently made strides in cleaning up the downtown area, added two new galleries, an expanded storefront and street side maintenance.  We are open for business! Our towns’ offerings extend to the waterfront and outdoor recreational use and we should leverage that element more effectively with town events.

Weaknesses – There are infrastructure issues that need to be addressed such as water and storm water systems and we are resource restricted. Additionally, we have some more work to do on a few of the business storefronts and derelict buildings to enhance visitors’ experience and address safety issues. The current council has worked diligently on this issue and will continue to do so. Our enforcement codes for non-compliance are weak and need to be strengthened to allow us to effectively address these issues.

Opportunities – Rural Oregon grant funding is currently strong. Wheeler has applied for infrastructure project grants and the city is targeting other grant sources as well. A new health clinic has received initial funding for development and I look forward to working with them to make this much-needed resource a reality. We have a new city manager who is a breath of fresh air. She is professional and treats people with respect and courtesy. She has a can do attitude and has already begun looking for funding mechanism and has applied for grants to address some of our needs. She is using resources and exploring options in a new and through manner. Her ability and willingness to work with a council that is ready to roll up their sleeves and work together collectively will be a boon for Wheeler. 

Threats – The river is our life-blood and we must protect it from environmental impacts. We need to resolve the issue of our conflicting setbacks. Water does not follow a boundary on a map, and having a much smaller setback than the rest of the county on the Nehalem River is not good environmental stewardship.

Our financial stability has taken a hit due to legal suits filed against the city for following their ordinances and laws. Large-scale development that threatens to change the character of our small town is a real threat to long-term livability. Think of it as a BRAND to protect – Wheeler is a quaint village, peaceful, tranquil and charming. And with the right kind of growth we can keep it that way.  We encourage growth and have a very clear prescribed path forward for welcoming new development. Getting people educated to read and understand the law, as written is a challenge that is undermining the towns ability to move forward collectively and cooperatively.

People come and go, influences may change over time, but as our last visioning process stated

 “With remarkable consistency the citizens of Wheeler have had many of the same concerns and priorities for the past 40+ years.I recognize that we need to be open to re-measuring and reevaluating our path forward but for now I intend to follow the rule of law.

 

Let’s focus on the positive things going on. Tell our readers about what you will do, if elected to make positive contributions to the community.

My emphasis has been on beautifying Wheeler and retaining the village character to make it a place people want live and tourists want to stop and visit. I have, and will continue to engage volunteers who help with community service projects.

I hope to help reinvigorate the business association to work collectively on tourism and other opportunities.

I am excited to hear that the Regional Solutions team is now engaged in helping work on a solution to the waterfront development. Having an extension of our business district continue on the waterfront in a manner that blends and compliments our existing businesses is a welcome path to growth.

 

There are many challenges facing our community. What are the issues you think are NOT being adequately addressed? 

If elected, how would you work to address these issues?

Affordable housing is a dilemma facing all of Oregon but is particularly difficult in our area that has a need for seasonal workers. This issue is being worked on by several agencies with varying success. We as a society are struggling to find solutions due to regulations and market forces. Finding some creative ways to address low cost housing and incentivize available housing is an area that I would like to pursue. Wheeler is reviewing the development ordinance and ADU’s were not included in that proposed code revision. I would like to revisit that part of the process. We have homeowners who have the space for ADU’s and it could be a good solution for added income as well as more long-term rental properties. I do not support short-term rentals as some of my opposing candidates do, the problems and costs of management outweigh the benefits of revenue.

 

What is your experience in municipal government service?

Served on City Council for the City of Wheeler 2008-2015

Led corps of Park Committee Volunteers and participated as volunteer for 8 years.

Participated in dozens of town hall meetings, clean up day, crab feeds, craft festival, etc.

Wheeler Emergency Response – Map Your Neighborhood, Block Captain

Deanne Ragnell

What is your vision of a thriving community

The economic focus of this time in history focuses on inventorying the assets that  a community has – and capitalizing on those assets.   That is where my vision begins.  Fortunately Wheeler citizens identified the unique values of their town ten years ago and documented how they could preserve those assets..  That vision included ensuring that the small town values,  the historic character,  the scenic beauty and sense of community were not going to be lost by unregulated development.  I intend to uphold the Wheeler Vision Plan.

What would you do to advance this vision

I will work to capitalize on these assets rather than trying to adopt a different identity.  I will honor the work that has been done to assure that the very qualities that define our town will  be respected and maintained.  Tourism is now the economy that has  replaced the early fishing and lumber economy of Wheeler.   Our town has so many natural assets and yes, we have opportunities for increasing small business development that can capitalize on our beautiful bay and surroundings.  We also have opportunities for housing to support our workforce.  I am willing to put in the work to find ways to make these changes in a manner that honors the assets we currently have, and to maintain and enhance the town we are proud to call home.

What are issues not being addressed

I believe that Mayor Honeycutt and the present council have to worked hard to identify and  address many issues which have been long-standing needs.  Major upgrades and  replacements (such as that of our water system); nuisance codes; more affordable housing for our workforce are all issues which I believe will be addressed  and prioritized in the coming term.

What is your experience in Municipal Government

I have no professional experience in municipal government.   I have, as a volunteer, formed a group dedicated to improving and enhancing our downtown area.  I have written grants and received funding that has enabled us to restore some of our aging town fixture

Mary Leverette

What is your vision of a thriving community?
My vision of a thriving community is one where many diverse opinions come together with a common goal to solve problems.
My vision also includes a thriving Wheeler with an active business association, a place where residents are eager to volunteer for community projects (ex: Wheeler Clean-up Day, the Paddle Classic), our community garden is fully tended, and where annual community gatherings are on everyone’s calendar. I also see a thriving Wheeler as a place that welcomes visitors to fish, kayak, shop and eat.
If elected what would you do within your position to advance this vision?
As a general practice, I would gather information to make informed decisions and facilitate community discussions to move forward.
I would like to work with our business owners to re-establish a business association and I would ask our community leaders to promote annual activities where residents participate.
I would also talk with Council members and residents about how best to make our waterfront as functional and inviting as possible. This might mean working with neighboring cities to coordinate dredging efforts of the Nehalem River. I would enjoy seeing more year-round food vendors near our waterfront and perhaps a small farmer’s market in spring, summer and fall.

Please provide a SWOT analysis of your municipality/district:
Strengths: Our city is a small, beautiful community on the North Coast. We have magnificent views of the Nehalem River and Bay, wildlife on and around the water and two parks for public enjoyment.
Weaknesses: Wheeler currently has only small, reliable income streams, compared to our history when lumber mills and fisheries dominated our waterfront. We may not wish to return to the days of mills and a fishing industry, but we need to find the means to be financially stable. For example, systems for water delivery and storm-water management are wearing out. Sections of both systems — water delivery & water draining — need repair or replacement. These tasks are challenging when funds are limited. Grants and loans have supported these efforts in the past, but regrettably, grants may require matching funds and most loans need to be repaid in part or whole, funds that our City currently does not have. Again, without a reliable stream of income, other than property taxes, grants and loans may not be fully feasible. Wheeler needs a great team effort to find regular, reliable income to address our long-standing and complex system needs.
Wheeler has minimal services for all ages. This is an area that I hope will see improvement as the Nehalem Bay Health District plans to build a new clinic and pharmacy along Hwy 101. Currently, the local Food Bank is looking for a new space and I hope that this important service will continue
within our City boundaries.
Access to emergency services is critical and these services must work well all the time. We are fortunate to be close to Nehalem Bay Fire and Rescue and to have limited, contracted time from Manzanita police. However, these services are indeed limited and response times may be highly variable given the demands of other communities.
Opportunities: Our current City Manager is smart, creative and works well with residents and other city managers on the North Coast. In doing so, she learns of opportunities to coordinate beneficial projects with other cities and she is in a good position to learn of potential funding opportunities. With her, and a “refreshed” City Council, I believe that we, city representatives and residents, will find the means to stabilize our financial situation, support growing businesses and be able to address many of our long-standing City challenges.
Threats: There are at least two types of threats facing Wheeler. The first is the threat from natural disasters. Wheeler Emergency Team (WET) has us as prepared as possible to face fire, floods or moving earth. We are fortunate to have this dedicated network of volunteers. The second type of threat is the one posed by the continuing division of public opinion about how to stabilize the City’s financial situation. This second challenge is more complex. Residents have historically supported new ideas, but have become distrustful when plans have changed and they feel they have not been heard. Again, these are long-standing complex issues will take renewed resolve and energy from all concerned parties to come together in good faith to move forward.

Tell our readers about what you will do, if elected, to make positive contributions to the community:
I have the time and energy to contribute to enhancing Wheeler’s future. I plan to be available to meet with residents, to hear not just their concerns, but their ideas for improving Wheeler. I have a long history of volunteering that I wish to continue and I will eagerly seek out others to volunteer for local projects. I would like to work with others to update our state-required Comprehensive Plan, the City’s Vision Plan, and to coordinate these documents with the City’s zoning ordinances. I believe work on these tasks will help energize our City and serve as needed guidelines for future decisions.

There are many challenges facing our community. What are the issues you think are NOT being addressed?
I believe Wheeler staff and Council are aware of the several unaddressed challenges facing our city, specifically code enforcement. For example, there are several derelict buildings within our city limits that pose safety concerns (ex: hazardous building conditions). One City Councilor has worked diligently to prompt owners to renovate or remove these buildings, whichever is appropriate. However, because of a lack of code enforcement options, he has struggled to bring about any corrective action. Many business owners do not have current City business licenses. This situation needs to be corrected by code enforcement. I believe these issues, among others, need to be prioritized based on the health, safety and welfare of our residents and available funds.
How would I work on these?
Again, I would gather information, share my findings with Council and residents and develop plans to review, discuss and resolve complex issues. I would not, could not, do this alone. Our challenges need team work to find the best, most effective paths forward. I look forward to working with the
residents and staff of Wheeler to manage our challenges and make progress on needed issues.

Municipal Government Experience?
I have two decades of experience in policy development and projects management for the State of Oregon and the City of Portland. I have regularly attended Wheeler City Council meetings for the past two years.