Local candidates share perspectives on future of The Grove


Local candidates for mayor and city council participate in Q&A

In the upcoming General Election of Nov. 3, 2020, six candidates are vying for seats in the Cottage Grove City Council. Including the mayoral position, councilor positions for Ward 2, Ward 4 and an at-large position will be on the ballot. With only two positions contested – the seat of mayor and councilor at large – The Sentinel asked all six candidates to participate in answering a series of questions about local issues, giving the public an opportunity to weigh the different approaches of the city council hopefuls.

[Incumbent Councilor Greg Ervin, who is running unopposed for Ward 4, did not participate in the questionnaire]

 

Candidates for Mayor

Jeff Gowing (incumbent)

I was born and raised in Cottage Grove and am a fourth-generation graduate of Cottage Grove High School. I am a U.S. veteran. I am married to my wife Celia, have three grown children and four grandchildren. I have been employed with Weyerhaeuser Lumber Company since 1989 and am currently working as a millwright.

I have served Cottage Grove in several capacities over the years. I have been a city councilor for seven years and mayor for four years. I also serve on the boards of the Community Foundation and Coast Fork Watershed Council. I am active in both the American Legion and Veterans for Foreign Wars. I have been active in the Jay Cees and Lemati Gang and am a current member of the Elks Lodge.

 

Ivan Del Sol

I came to Cottage Grove for a puppet show in 2004, fell in love with the town, and never left.

I have spent the last 16 years restoring the broken down historic building where I saw that puppet show and transforming it into the town's artistic hub. I work remotely in the tech/media industry and am blessed to have time, energy and money to share with local projects and people.

My core values are honesty, non-violence, mutual aid and freedom. I'm running because American society is in the worst shape I've ever seen, with multiple natural disasters adding to the problems. Business as usual is no longer a possibility. The only way out of this mess is deep, positive systemic change. I am not against our current mayor, but wanted to offer a more out-of-the-box option. I am deeply opposed to both major political parties.

 

Candidates Councilor at Large

Kenneth Michael Roberts (incumbent)

I have been one of your city councilors at large for a little more than four years. I was appointed the seat by the council when Heather Murphy stepped down and then I won a term in 2016.

I came to Cottage Grove for Christmas in 1991 and just fell in love with this wonderful town. From 1991 2010 I had many jobs here, but the one I loved most was doing contract work cleaning parks and campgrounds for the Army Corp of Engineers from 1998 to 2007.

In 2010 I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. It was during this time in my life that I learned the true uniqueness of Cottage Grove, when people I didn’t know reached out to help me recover.

Upon my recovery, I decided to give back to this very special town. I joined South Lane Saint Vincent DePaul and was making home visits helping folks with their needs. I then met Cameron Reiten and was given a job at KNND Radio helping him and doing a weekly radio show, which I still do. Working for KNND brought me to the city council chambers to report on the meetings, which led me to an appointment on the budget committee. The rest is history.

 

Chalice MP Savage

For nearly 15 years I worked in many hospitals all over Oregon. During this time, I became a wife and mother to three wonderful Savage kids. In 2014 I left the medical field and joined the board of a local non-profit serving families like mine who had a child with a disability. Soon I was voted President and was organizing fundraising events, doing medial interviews and collaborating with other nonprofits. In 2015 I started my own business Snap Savage Photography and began volunteering behind the camera at many local events. In 2017 I started doing all the graphic design for Bohemia Mining Days and South Lane Relay for Life. In 2018 I was one of the official photographers for the 40th Annual Toga Party. Since early 2019 I have been Executive Assistant, Project Manager, Office Manager, and Property Manager within Blackstone Inc. working closely with the City of Cottage Grove.

 

Candidates Filed for Ward 2

Jon Stinnett (incumbent; appointed Sept. 28, 2020)

Jon Stinnett was born in Springfield, Illinois and grew up near a rural farming community. He worked for several years on a family-owned dairy farm before graduating from high school and earning an Associate’s degree. Next, he enrolled in humanities classes at Florida State University, where he met his partner and later wife, Heather.

After earning his Bachelor’s degree, Jon moved back to Illinois to teach music for a year before enrolling in the University of Oregon’s professional Master’s program in journalism.

A job at Brad’s Cottage Grove Chevrolet introduced him to Cottage Grove, and the roles of Community Reporter and, later, Editor in Chief at the Cottage Grove Sentinel taught him much about the systems and people that make our community a great place to live. He served as editor for over a decade.

Jon founded Cascadia Content Creation after leaving the newspaper in 2016. But with much of his promotion work recently sidelined due to the effects of the pandemic lockdown, he now primarily cares for his two daughters, Annabelle and Lucy, and endeavors to enjoy the outdoors with his family whenever possible.

 

Questions

What do you see as the most important role of the position you are pursuing?

 

Gowing: The most important role I see as mayor is being a strong leader. To me, one of the things a strong leader does is gather information from various sources in order to make decisions that are in the best interest of everyone. Making these decisions requires being open to new ideas and opinions that may differ from yours.

 

Del Sol: Maintaining local governance as well as possible while civilization collapses under the weight of our collective greed, mistrust and short-sightedness.

 

Roberts: Reaching out and listening to people and bringing their voices and concerns to the council chambers to bring the best quality of life to them as possible.

 

Savage: The most important role of a City Councilor is first seeking to understand and then researching to make an informed decision which will benefit the community. Secondary is the need for a vision on how to say current in regard to infostructure, technology and communication. Other important attributes include individual transparency, leading by example and expressing compassion.

 

Stinnett: In recent months, Americans have seemingly reeled from one crisis to the next. At times like these, it is vital that we can trust the information and actions of those we choose to represent us in government. And while our national narrative appears grim, I’m still confident that when a community like Cottage Grove comes together to seek real, productive solutions to its problems, great things can happen. Local government can lead the charge toward a vital and productive community conversation and the steps we will take together to ensure a prosperous future here.

City Councilors must work to make connections between Cottage Grove residents and their government, and they should serve as advocates for their neighbors at the local level.

 

How important is housing to your agenda and what ideas would you propose to address it?

 

Gowing: Housing is one of my top priorities and very much needed in our community. I have addressed this issue by collaborating with and supporting agencies that can help us with housing. I played a major role in getting the Legion Cottages built and have been supportive of the Cottage Village Coalition and DevNW housing developments.

 

Del Sol: Most important to my agenda is keeping people housed. I support moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures until the shutdowns are ended. And maybe forever.

 

Roberts: Very important – especially low-income and affordable housing. A big percentage of our workforce earns minimum wage. This fact must be addressed in regards to housing. I advocate for more tiny homes. The council has passed many programs to make this easier on developers.

 

Savage: Housing is my number one item. I have noticed there is virtually nothing on the rental market and the few homes that are being build are often rented/sold before construction is completed because the demand is so high. MUPTE (Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption) helps the owner once the project is complete but exploring competitive pricing for SDCs could help the developer start the multi-unit project. I believe this is the main reason multi-unit housing hasn’t been built since the ‘80s.

 

Stinnett: Cottage Grove’s current lack of available housing has stifled responsible growth in the city and forced many who would like to call this community home to look elsewhere. The city should support options to fill every open niche in its housing market (particularly entry-level and affordable options and multi-unit housing) through subsidies of development fees and pursuit of grant funding.

 

How do you feel about the transportation options currently available in the city?

 

Gowing: I feel that the current transportation options are good for this size town. However, I would like to see options like Uber and Lyft become available.

 

Del Sol: In town, it's acceptable, but LTD 98 to Eugene is inadequate. As far as urgent transportation, I have food and supplies in the trunk of my car in case I have to flee natural disaster or violence. I suggest everyone else do the same. Pack enough to take someone that doesn't have a car.

 

Roberts: I miss the MOD program. It had great reviews. We need to find a way to fund this service again.

 

Savage: To answer that I would need more information. Recently a survey was sent out to learn more about the community’s transportation needs. Roughly 80 were returned, which is less than 1 percent of our community. I believe that we need better results from this research, so I am suggesting that we talk to the existing customers by putting a volunteer on the different buses to conduct the survey questions on an individual basis then turning that report in. With proactive communication I suspect there will be a better assessment of need.

 

Stinnett: For many local residents, viable transportation can mean the difference between the realization of economic and other opportunities or the inability to capitalize on such opportunities. The city council can be a leader in an ongoing conversation about the viability of bringing new transportation options such as Uber and Lyft to Cottage Grove, in addition to continuing to support options like South Lane Wheels and busing through the Lane Transportation District. 

 

Proponents of climate change awareness appealed to the city last year to reduce environmental impact. How well do you think the city is addressing this issue?

 

Gowing: I believe that the city constantly addresses the issue of climate change. This year the city converted all city facilities to 100 percent green power. The golf course converted to all electric golf carts and four electric vehicle charging stations have been installed in town.

 

Del Sol: Regarding the proponents of climate change awareness, the city was open to having a community conversation, which is good. The much greater issue is that there are a number of people within our city government and staff that are skeptical of well-established climate science. Until this changes, the city does not and will not address the issue effectively.

 

Roberts: I feel the city is doing fine on this topic. As the council liaison to the Community Development Corporation, we talked about putting a solar farm on city land by the maintenance yard. The city could help more with citizen programs like EcoGeneration recycling and more tree planting programs. Overall, I think we’re doing fine, but more is good.

 

Savage: I support awareness and conversations on how to reduce our environmental impact. We can always do better, but I also feel that we need to be financially aware of how the city money is being spent. I appreciate the new bicycle lockers and electric car charging stations which promote greener commuting, but I would like to see recycling offered to businesses and I am open to have the conversations about hearing ways the city could go greener.

 

Stinnett: The city and city council can be leaders in the pursuit of local solutions to human-caused climate change. First, city government must officially acknowledge the crises that are made worse by human-caused climate change. Second, the city can reach out to concerned individuals and organizations to make connections, pursue local solutions and foster a collaborative approach to tackling this vital issue. The city council can create awards for local businesses, individuals and groups that showcase a commitment to reducing their environmental impact to encourage others to take such steps locally.

 

Do you think Cottage Grove’s downtown area is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that?

 

Gowing: I feel that we have a healthy downtown given that we are in a pandemic. Businesses have been creative in offering services while complying with state requirements. However, we are not out of this crisis and need to remember to shop local and support our neighbors.

 

Del Sol: Cottage Grove's downtown has been the best thing in my life since I arrived here. The pandemic and ensuing shutdowns have devastated our local businesses and the city (and community) should do everything it can to prevent further losses. If you feel the same, stop making life harder for employees and business owners and just wear a mask without being a jerk. They didn't make the rules.

 

Roberts: Yes and no! We have discussed many ideas, but none have born fruit. I say, light up the trees using the same LED-size bulbs as I had put on the downtown arch. New paint on the light poles would be nice. I love keeping downtown clean and planting flowers. But to me the real questions is, how can we get the 10,000 people who live here to come downtown?

 

Savage: I shop downtown frequently and see there are many vacancies. I believe this is a result of the housing crisis. People who open shops want to live in the town their shop is in. With no housing availability there are very few businesses going in. The more people are shopping downtown the later the existing shops can be open. The more disposable income we have in our community the more our local economy can grow. By solving the housing crisis, I believe downtown will be revived.

 

Stinnett: In recent decades, many American communities have lost the use and function of a centralized downtown where people can come together to work, shop and play. Cottage Grove is lucky in this regard — our downtown is a wonderful place that’s full of potential. But that potential must be nurtured to be fully realized.

While successes can easily be found here, a future that includes a thriving downtown is far from certain. Supporting existing downtown businesses in the coming months will be crucial to their survival and to the viability of downtown Cottage Grove as a place to live and conduct business, and as a destination for visitors. While keeping in mind current measures designed to control the COVID pandemic, the city must nonetheless work with the citizenry and groups like the Chamber of Commerce and “Downtown Cottage Grove” — a group recently created by the merger of the Main Street Program and Economic and Business Improvement District — to promote downtown Cottage Grove as a wonderful place to gather to make purchases, partake in cultural activities and create community.

 

Fires, snow and flooding have caused evacuations and states of emergency in the area for the past two years. Do you feel the city is playing a sufficient role in improving disaster preparedness?

 

Gowing: I feel that the city has done a good job preparing for emergencies and natural disasters. I do think we need continued improvement. The city staff continue to learn from recent disasters and keep updated on emergency protocols. Communication about procedures with residents needs to be an ongoing goal.

 

Del Sol: The city, like most of the United States government, is in total denial of the true emergencies and disasters our society is facing. They did pretty good with the snowplows though.

 

Roberts: The city has an emergency plan, but needs some updating and modernization. It’s important that the city be proactive and work closely with county, state and federal agencies to ensure that resources within the city are as adequate as possible to handle any emergency or disaster.

Emergency plans should be regularly updated. However, it is also understood that the city does have limited resources due to its size and relative isolation from a large metropolitan area. Therefore, it’s important that all emergency and disaster plans include and address community infrastructure and partnerships as much as possible.

I think it’s important to form and train a volunteer force within the city and identify infrastructure than can be utilized for various emergencies and disasters.

The recent fires taught us a lesson that it is important for the community to have a plan to come together and assists where and when possible. Again, this can be easily implemented through specially trained community volunteers and partnerships with existing infrastructure.

The CERT program addresses some of this, but there are shortcomings, such as additional funding. I think there’s an opportunity for the city to become more proactive and approach this idea in such a way as to be far reaching to all citizens of Cottage Grove.

 

Savage: I believe the city was very well prepared for these disasters but lacked communication to ease the fears of the community. I would take a survey and ask how residents want to receive this type of information. It could be in the form of a text, email, social media post or automated phone call. During the different change of seasons, we could put together a short list of tips and tricks residents can do to stay prepared. Winter, flooding and fire preparedness all look different so each list would be slightly different. List making is one of my favorite things to do and I would be happy to work on this.

 

Stinnett: Natural disasters seldom strike when we’re truly prepared to handle them, and they often wreak havoc on the systems that make our day-to-day life possible. And yet, as recent emergencies have taught us, extremes of weather and other natural disasters cannot be dismissed and must be expected as a fact of life. Thus, we must do everything in our power as a community to prepare for the worst.

The City of Cottage Grove has prepared plans to help safeguard the city’s functions in the event of an emergency. It is now time to widely share those plans with local residents — including information about what agencies and systems can be counted on for assistance and information in emergencies. The city can also undertake initiatives to encourage neighbors to reach out to each other to share their own plans and concerns. In times of trouble, it’s often our neighbors that can — and must — reach out to help us when we need it most. Our city government can and should be a helpful “neighbor” when disaster strikes.

 

How do you suggest encouraging public involvement in the decision-making process in Cottage Grove?

 

Gowing: Encouraging public involvement in decision-making processes is a goal I have for this year. Having city government available through various means would make them accessible to more people. Also, I am going to explore having city council meetings televised locally.

 

Del Sol: Direct communication is most important, such as holding regular town halls about issues that people in town care about. During the pandemic, it would be worth experimenting with online discussion groups and polls. The city should also stop making a show of community involvement only to do what city staff and the big wigs in town want.

 

Roberts: Hold more town hall meetings and more citizen involvement in council meetings.

 

Savage: I would first reach out to those I see daily and encourage their involvement as well as ask them to voice their concerns. Then I would branch out to walking around different neighborhoods, reaching out on social media, attend social gatherings and really listen to what people were saying. If someone cannot attend a city council meeting, I would make sure that folks knew that I am approachable and will listen to concerns. In June I was telling a friend that I was thinking about running for city council and his response was “Oh good! You are known for listening to what people have to say and for getting things done.” I appreciated that feedback and would strive for a similar response from everyone I meet.

 

Stinnett: The recent move to online broadcasts of meetings of the Cottage Grove City Council means that anyone with a suitable device and proper connectivity can access these meetings. They occur the second and fourth Mondays of each month, with the exception of some holidays. Meetings can be joined by visiting the city’s webpage, www.cottagegrove.org, and clicking on the “Agendas and Minutes” tab for that specific meeting. (Note: You’ll need to download the GoToMeeting app prior to the meeting.) Meetings can be attended in person, though attendance is strictly limited to comply with pandemic protocol.

In the coming months, the city should work to raise awareness of the online availability of its public meetings. This development could help introduce many members of the public to many of the processes of their city government. Then, citizens must be encouraged to reach out with any questions that arise and endeavor to make their opinion known to their elected representatives. (My city council email address, [email protected], is a great way to reach me with such questions, and with my newspaper background, I’m pretty good at seeking out answers).    

 

Are there any other issues you are interested in addressing as part of the city council?

 

Gowing: Another issue that needs to be addressed is mental health. Being better able to address mental health would help homelessness, drug addiction and many other issues our community faces.

 

Del Sol: I'd like to see a crisis response team (like CAHOOTS Eugene) for non-violent, non-criminal emergencies. I'd like to pass an Equity and Inclusion Resolution that makes it very clear that social violence and bigotry are not welcome here.

 

Roberts: Roads. The 2020-21 budget has $2,734,225 for roads. Doubling the gas tax would only bring in about $400,000 more and it will take $4,000,000 per year for ten years to fix all our roads. I would love to see roads get fixed, for as we grow, it’s more wear and tear, so we must address this sooner than later.

 

Savage: I would like to address the monthly water bill transparency. I know the reason we have a higher-than-normal baseline because this is how Cottage Grove voted to pay for the water treatment plant when it as installed. What I would like to see is the remainder due and end date for this extra cost placed on every monthly bill so residents could see that amount going down every month. Very similar to a credit card bill (previously due, amount paid last month, currently due). What would be printed on every bill would be the same for everyone so it’s not specific to the individual but specific to Cottage Grove as a whole. Include incentives if people wanted to pay extra to help it go down faster.

 

Stinnett: [Councilor Stinnett did not provide an answer to this question]

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