Meet the candidates for Cottage Grove

Photo by Gerald Santana

October 27 - It was a packed house at the Community Center for the Mayoral and Candidate Forum on Oct. 12. It was also streamed live through the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce Facebook page, where it can be replayed in its entirety at https://fb.watch/ gjU7Q15rBW/.

The chamber, along with the Blackberry Pie Society and Cottage Grove 912 Project, held the forum, where nine candidates were given multiple questions and equal time opportunities to express their vision, stances and platforms for their candidacies in the upcoming Nov. 8 General Election. The office of mayor of Cottage Grove, Ward 1 councilor, Ward 3 councilor, and councilor at large will all be on the ballot.

KNND’s Cameron Reiten and The Sentinel’s Gerald Santana served as moderators for the forum, and the Chamber’s Tiffanie Williams was timekeeper. A few hot button topics were discussed by the candidates, segments of which will be highlighted in the second part of our two-part Election coverage in next week’s edition.

The Candidates Running for the position of mayor is incumbent Jeff Gowing, who has held the position since 2017, and local business owner and current city councilor Candace Solesbee. Three candidates for councilor at large positions are Mike Fleck, who has previously served on the council; Robert D. Kidder, a Cottage Grove resident with no prior city government experience; and Daniel D. Wilson, a local security guard and courier. Filing for Ward 1 seats on the council are Donald L.Morris, a contractor foreman with no prior government experience and local business general manager, and Chalice Savage, who was appointed by the city council in 2021.

Ward 3 received two applicants for positions on the council, Chris Holloman, a local business owner who is on the board for SLCF&R and Dana Merryday, a substitute teacher who is also on the City of Cottage Grove Budget Committee. The Cottage Grove Sentinel does not endorse any candidates or measures in the upcoming election. The opinions expressed by the candidates reflect only their own points of view. Below, meet the candidates and listen to their opening statements at the forum.

Mayoral Candidates

Solesbee: I am a mother of three, I’m a grandma of two, and a wife. My husband is Danny Solesbee, he’s the fire marshal division chief at South Lane Fire. I am a fourth generation Cottage Grove resident. I have decided to run for mayor because I feel like the citizens are not being heard. I feel that, what’s being expressed to me, is that they feel powerless on the homeless situation, for drug addiction, they’ve lost trust in our city government. And I would like to bring back old fashion town halls so that citizens can come together and express and exchange ideas and create solutions with the city council so the city council can listen. I feel like small towns are getting lost in the shuffle with Oregon big government. And I think that what works for Portland and Eugene does not necessarily work for a rural community and we’re getting crushed. The House Bill 3115, the homeless on public land, is definitely controversial. Measure 110 that effectively legalized all drugs in our community has really put a strain on our policing, our paramedics. We only have three ambulances in Cottage Grove, in case you don’t know that. Overdoses are on target to double this year from last year. I’d like to put together a coalition of real small town mayors and fight back on this legislation and bring hope and positive change to Cottage Grove. Thank you.

Gowing: I’m the Mayor of Cottage. I got on city council in 2009 and in 2016 I won the election for mayor. I am also a fourth generation graduate of Cottage Grove High School. I was born here in 1961, graduated in 1980. In 1982, I joined the Army. I served in the U.S. Army for six years, got out in ‘88, worked a couple jobs and then got on with Weyerhaeuser in 1989. I’ve been there since as a millwright. I was going to be done with being mayor at the end of this term and then, so many citizens kept coming up to me, asking me to reconsider retiring and putting my name back in. And after a lot of persuasion, I decided that it was the right thing for me to do. I know that homelessness is a hot topic in this community but, there is so much more of this community than just homelessness. We’ve got to deal with our roads and our infrastructure. We’re getting less and less finance for that because of the economics in cars and electric cars. We’re not getting the gas tax that we would normally get, so we have to figure out ways to work around that and acquire more grants. We need to do more development. We need to get more opportunities for more businesses to come in here and contribute that way. So, that’s what I’ve been doing with my time as mayor. And I would continue to do that. I am working with rural mayors throughout the state. I’m president of the Oregon Mayors Association and we have a task force with 25 mayors throughout the state that are working with homelessness, so that collaboration is ongoing. Thank you.


Ward 1 Candidates

Savage: I’ve lived in Cottage Grove for almost 10 years. I grew up in Ashland, Ore. My husband and I were married there 15 years ago, we got together 17 years ago. I’ve lived in Portland, I’ve lived in Salem. We came down here when my husband started working at UofO and we have three beautiful children, one of them has a disability. So, when we moved to Lane County, I was very active in a local nonprofit, working with families that have members who have a disability, whether it’s a child or sister, a brother, it didn’t matter. I found myself involved, wanting to help people network. I have a really unique perspective on how to help families navigate really tough scenarios. And I found myself working at home with the kids, leaving the nonprofit, focusing on the kids and really focusing on my community. And gosh,we’ve just fallen in love with Cottage Grove. We are so blessed and honored to raise our family here. I’m really interested in keeping Cottage Grove“Cottage Grove.” We don’t need to change. We don’t need to grow into something big. Let’s stick to our roots. Let’s honor the heritage that we have and let’s thrive within ourselves. Let’s figure out how to fix this infrastructure.Let’s get some roads fixed. Let’s get water and sewage fixed. Let’s work together and come up with ideas that work with each other. Thank you.

Morris: I’ve been in Cottage Grove just over two years, though I have lived in small towns in Oregon and Washington most of my life. I love the feeling of community, people helping people.I come from a family of 13 — his, hers, and ours.Some of you may know what that’s all about. My dad had me on the back way at the age of 12, I’ve been working ever since. Being here in front of you is way out of my comfort zone. I’m not a politician or a public speaker. So, if this is so hard for me, why am I running? Over the past many months, I have seen decisions being made that appeared to be rushed and the people don’t have much of a say. I don’t think this is safe for our community. Rather than complaining, I stepped up to make a difference. If all we do is criticize without acting, then we are part of the problem. As difficult as this is for me, I knew I had to do something. I want to be part of the making real collaboration happen. I’m big on transparency and I have nothing to hide, I don’t think the city should either. If elected I want to hear from my constituents,the people we would make decisions based on what they want, not just what I personally think. I am committed to keeping this conversation going. I’ve been in construction over 40 years, currently working as a foreman for CT Utilities. I’ve had to make decisions all the time that affect the safety of the people around me safe. Safety is key, I think it’s the same in our community. We should have decisions that make all our citizens as safe as possible. Nothing is perfect but we can learn as we go along and be willing to admit when we make mistakes. Again, I’m just a regular hard-working family guy who wants to help and give back to my community. Thank you.

Ward 3 Candidates

Merryday: I chose very consciously to move to Cottage Grove after years and years of due diligence. I was born in a small town, much smaller than Cottage Grove, in the panhandle of Florida. I was a fifth generation Madisonian; there I grew up in a pivotal time, in the south, when we were trying to erase years of civil and racial injustice. It had a vast impact on me. The climate in Oregon, both socially and physically, is what drew me here. It reminds me of the South, without all the negative parts, like humidity, insects, etc. The spirit of the town when we first came here was quite a bit different than today, and that’s kind of what got me off the sidelines. I like living in the past, as you can tell from my attire. The rent was cheaper, I mean there were some downsides. You could lose four children in a month to diphtheria like David Mosby or we could treat the Willamette as an open sewer but, by and large it was much simpler. When there’s less people there’s more freedom, more people, less freedom. It’s a simple law of physics. And now we are faced with a lot of big social issues. It’d be wonderful if we could put a dome or a bubble over Cottage Grove and keep it that cute little town that we love and we want to preserve. I think that we can still come together and talk through our issues and work collaboratively. I have a reputation in town for getting things done and also working with anyone for the greater good. Thank you

Holloman: I’ve lived in Lane County my entire life. My family has lived in Lane County since 1882, 140 years so, I grew up on a farm. When we sold the farm and the cattle ranch, I moved into downtown Cottage Grove, and I’ve lived in town since 1975. I’ve been kind of teased and harassed through the years to run for city council and have always not wanted to do so. Then recently, I thought, with all the homeless situations confronting our community, that I needed to be a more active participant. My history in town is I own the Ford dealership here for 23 years. Then, after that, I did corporate turnarounds. I would fix companies. I did that with companies as large as 200 employees and as small as 30 employees. So, I have a good grasp of legal understanding and structure. I also know that sometimes you need to be a bit of the disruptor to an entity to insist on getting good change. Every company that I was involved with and worked with, who brought it to the highest standards of ethics, customer satisfaction, indexes, and a return to the owners. So, these jobs are difficult but they need to be done and I think right now looking at the city of Cottage Grove with all of our challenges we need somebody that understands organizations and can help get us going in the proper way. Thank you.

Councilor At Large Candidates

Fleck: I first moved to Cottage Grove in 1989 with my wife, after the birth of our first son. My wife’s family is from Cottage Grove and so we wanted to be closer to Mom and just really grew to love town over the years. I first got involved with city government in 2000, when I got on the planning commission and the budget committee. I served there until 2002 when I was first elected to city council. Between planning and city council, I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and it’s been an honor. I’ve learned an awful lot over that time. We’ve had bringing in the water plant down from Lane Creek. We’ve had our biosolids, [when they] started fermenting and the stink issue hit. We’ve had some real turmoil lately, of course, we’ve had the homeless issue. So, we’ve had some real challenging times and it’s been my honor to serve with really good folks through all of those tough times. I guess that’s where I would say my focus is. I try to be that middle of the road person that reads everything, that tries to do my homework and make the best decisions possible for our community. I do think the input from the citizens is just critical. It’s so wonderful to see everybody tonight because, as anybody who spent any time a city council knows, most of the time there aren’t very many people in the audience. So this is awesome, to see folks out here, engaging in your local government. As mayor Gowing mentioned, we have some real serious issues with our infrastructure. We have our streets which are millions behind in deferred maintenance. We have water, wastewater and storm issues where our capital improvement plans just keep pushing those pesky water bills up. So, what we need to do is continue to write grants, try to get projects like our $5 million for downtown, the improvements to Bohemia Park, etcetera. I’m committed to helping the city form through those.

Kidder: I was born and raised in Eugene but my grandparents lived down here. So, I basically grew up in two places because when I was a kid, Cottage Grove had a better sports program than Eugene did for summer. So, I’d come down here and play summer baseball. I’ve been a part of this community since 1972, when I was born. My grandfather was a city councilman so, I thought hey, why not? I’ll give it a try. I’m not much of a politician. I work hard, I provide for my family, I’m just a blue collar worker. I drive a truck for Lane Forest Products. I don’t do any white collar work. I’ve been working ever since my first job, mowing the lawn when I was a kid at 12 years old, like most kids. I just want Cottage Grove to go back like when I was a kid. I used to enjoy coming down here and having fun. Everybody goes, woah, Cottage Grove, that’s a nice little nice little timber town. I mean, on a bad note, I remember hearing stories of miners and the timber guys coming into off the mountains, and off of the timber, coming into the bars, and getting in fights all the time. And as a kid, I thought that was a cool story. Then, I remember my grandparents when they moved down here in ‘64. I believe it was from Minnesota. They remember walking down Cottage Grove when the sidewalks were made out of wood. And in the summertime, you had to be careful because rattlesnakes stayed under the wood. So, I’m just a boy, hoping to get back to the roots of Cottage Grove, where it was a timber and a mining town and everybody enjoyed coming to this town. Now, I talk to people, and they don’t really want to come to Cottage Grove. And they say, “Oh, Cottage Grove?” And, I see where it made the top ten in one of the worst places to live.

Wilson: My name is Darrell Wilson and I have been a resident of the area for 27 years and raised, with my wife and our adopted son. Ran into some issues there. There was one of our candidates mentioned a lack of racism in the area, that’s not the case. It’s here. It’s unfortunate, in this day and age, that it is. But it is. Actually, had to transfer our son to Eugene to finish his schooling. It was sad, he hated having to go but, it was a case of the school district environment [was] just was not something that he could survive. He missed his friends a lot through that, but he survived where he was at.And he is now working for the school district in Eugene, so, we’re very proud of him. I also have an 11 month old grandchild that I’m very happy to enjoy being a grandfather to. My background is, for the last 20 years, I have worked in the armored car industry. I serve this area, actually, and we love Cottage Grove as a city, when we moved here. It has changed considerably, recently, and some of that I believe is preventable changes. And it’s something that I feel strongly, that through cooperation, that could be taken care of.

Readers can read more about the Nov. 8 General Election in the Oregon Voters’ Pamphlet, which can be viewed online at www.oregonvotes.gov. Learn more about the local election at LaneCountyOR.gov/elections.

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