Keizer City Councilor Richard Walsh will conclude 10 years on the council when his term expires next month.
Appointed to the council in 2000, Walsh has won two terms at the ballot box.
In part one, Walsh reflects on life in the public arena. Next week, Walsh tells us whether he’ll get back into elected politics.
Keizertimes: So the first thing you want to do?
Richard Walsh: “The first thing I want to do is spend some time with my family. They’re all getting to the age where they’re close to moving out and I’d like to spend some time with them before that happens. My oldest daughter’s 20, my son is 18. They’re both getting into college now. My youngest son is 15, he’s a sophomore in high school. So these are important years, and I want to spend more time with the family.”
KT: You grew up in the Portland area. What made you want to build a life in Keizer?
RW: “Well, I got a job offer in Salem, and so I was living in west Salem, and as I was living in west Salem we were looking for a church to go to. We visited the various different churches, and I thought St. Edward’s was the most welcoming, the most-down to earth and what we were looking for in a church. So we started going to St. Ed’s many, many years ago and we kinda had our toe into Keizer, going to St. Ed’s every Sunday.
“And then the floods happened in ’96, and I was really amazed by all the people who were helping, and all the people that rallied around, all the community feelings I got. When they were sandbagging … everyone coming together, that was kind of a beautiful thing and I wanted to be part of that community.
“When we decided we were going to relocate – we were always planning on building a building for the law firm and we wanted a bigger house because we had three kids – we looked in Keizer.”
KT: Why did you want to be a city councilor in the first place?
RW: “I wanted to make the biggest impact with the time and resources that I had. When I was in high school all I could do was drive, so I did Meals on Wheels, because that was the best thing I could do with the time and resources I had then. When I got a little older I did some other things. I got out of school, started working for Keizer Elementary, getting involved with church.
“After having 20 years experience as a lawyer I felt the time has come I could step it up. I graduated in political science, so I had a natural interest toward politics. And so when I became a lawyer, I had enough years’ experience and the business was stabilized and successful, and I had some time I could devote to the community, that’s what I did.”
KT: What do you think you’ve learned about governing since 2000?
“Everything takes a lot longer than you think it should. (Laughs) That is one thing. I’ve also learned it’s a lot easier to destroy an idea or stop an idea than it is to start an idea or pursue a goal. It’s like anything else. Building things up is just so much more complicated and takes more cooperation. Tearing things down just takes one or two misplaced words, and comments, and rumors, and things can fall apart. It’s kind of frustrating in that.
“But I’ve also learned if we all get on the same page and we pull that rope … that if we all get on the same page and pull in the same direction, we can do anything. Money does come to good ideas. …
“The other thing I learned about council is that no matter what you do, whether you turn two steps to the left or two steps to the right on any decision, whether you say yes or no, on the most important issues there will always be people angry with you. And the only way to really minimize people being angry with you is to always maintain the status quo.
“But maintaining the status quo is not always the best thing for Keizer, ok? So if you’re going to make a real difference, if you’re going to make a real change, no matter what you do people will be angry with you. Keizer’s not the place to go if you want to make a change and you want to make a lot of people like you. … And that is something you just have to accept, you know? That people are going to be angry with you.
“… And sometimes it’s some of your best friends, some of your professional colleagues and things like that who truly get upset. And I understand and respect that. That part I perhaps underestimated when I started. But on the other hand, when you take a look back, usually as long as you make the right decision, with time people will understand where you were coming from, and with time you can build those relationships back up. Usually.”
KT: What does being involved in city government at the level you are, what does that take away from your home life?
RW: “Well it does have a cost, you know? The most precious thing we all have is our time. And it does take a tremendous amount of time. That is a very big cost of taking on this position, is dedicating the time to do it as best you can. I thank my wife and family for the many sacrifices they have all made over these last 10 years to make my service on the council possible.”
KT: What are you thinking about right now? What’s the thing that’s consuming your mind as far as the city?
“Right now, what I’d really like to happen, and I’ve really been struggling to make this happen before my term (ends) is to get the Keizer Rapids Park finished in terms of the acreage. I’ve been working for 10 years to get the Buchholz and the Buchanan properties annexed and to make them part of the park. That’s been part of the original vision. … I think it would be one of the greatest things that the city does in terms of setting a footprint for the future, and I’m really looking forward to it happening.”
KT: What makes you smile when you think about your time on council?
RW: “See, the thing about being on council is there’s a lot of things that happen that might happen otherwise. Some wonderful things have happened in this town, but I do appreciate the opportunity to be able to work on things that seem to make a difference. In other words, everyone wants to look back on their term on council and say, ‘did I make a difference? Is this town a little different because I was there versus if I wasn’t there, just anybody else was there?’
“And I think there’s been some things that I’ve made a difference on besides just Keizer Rapids Park. … Actually, I didn’t make the difference at Keizer Rapids Park. I’m just proud to be a part of the community effort.
“… Another example where we did a lot of work, and I think had a pretty good result, is Keizer Station. When I started on council there was no Keizer Station plan. It was the Chemawa Activity Center. … There was a big controversy about should we do anything at all, or should we just abandon the Chemawa Activity Center as a failure and just stop and let people break up the parcels and develop them independently. That was the first big decision that I was involved in, and we made the decision to move forward with a new plan, which is now known as the Keizer Station Plan. …
“There’s a constant tension between, ‘What can you make the developer do,’ versus if you break it, and it becomes economically infeasible so it doesn’t happen at all. I was constantly in that mode of pushing, but trying not to push so hard it would break. And I enjoyed that process, and I feel like we made a difference.”
KT: Do you feel like Keizer Station has turned out the way it was envisioned when you sat down for planning?
RW: “Well, there was no, you know, per se vision of exactly what it would look like because it is a private development. If we would have bought the land ourselves, which we did not have the financial resources to do, then we could have started visualizing our own things. What we wanted to do was make the government investments in key strategic areas so we could have the best development possible with the resources available.
“And because of our, you know, geographics and our economics and socioeconomic statistics and so on, we couldn’t get something like Bridgeport … that maybe would have been a little nicer because we didn’t have the socioeconomic basis to back that kind of commercial investment by the business community.
“But I think what we did do is we got the best we could with the resources that were available to us and with the business interest that was in existence at the time. And I’m proud of that.”
KT: What’s the issue you’ve gotten the most blowback on outside of council chambers?
RW: “I don’t even want to mention it again. But this fluoride thing was probably, uh… and that’s one of those things I was talking about. It was hard to push that issue through. I was chairman of the Budget Committee. There was this very large item, in my opinion, that was accelerating in cost that needed to be discussed … needed to have a full airing and decided. Because it was an impact to our budget, and our water rates were going to go up, and this is one of the factors why it was, and we could eliminate over … $80,000 a year if we didn’t do it, so it was something that needed to be looked at. It hadn’t been looked at in over 25 years. But yeah, there was a tremendous amount of personal attacks, and, um, angered citizens. But I felt we had to go through the process.
KT: What’s the meanest thing anyone’s ever said about you as a result of your council role?
RW: “Well, people would say that we’re not listening to them. … It was really frustrating to me when people would keep saying that. I’d want to scream back and say, ‘I did listen to you. I heard what you said. I just disagree. If you’ve got a better idea you run for Council and you make the decisions.’”
KT: What was your biggest disappointment on Council?
RW: “The amount of time it takes to get things done is just probably my biggest frustration, not being able to get everything done I wanted to get done. I was hoping to have an indoor sports facility issue decided, the Something Special, I thought, was a very good plan and I’m disappointed that didn’t happen. That the funds for that were used by River Road Renaissance and by the city hall complex, and there wasn’t much left over for things like that. I thought it would have been a great program.”
KT: Tell me what you felt like River Road Renaissance would do, and do you think it’s done it?
“Well yeah. What I wanted it to do was very simple: I wanted it to keep a promise to the River Road community when we built Keizer Station, (they were) very concerned that we weren’t going to put any resources into River Road, that everything would be sucked dry from River Road and invested into Keizer Station. They were very fearful that we would abandon River Road and we wouldn’t pay attention to what their needs were.
So we created a River Road Renaissance program to listen to their needs and to address them, and to improve River Road in the way the business community wanted. We have done that. It doesn’t matter to me, really, whether it’s a wavy sidewalk that reflects a river flow, or whatever it was. It didn’t matter to … They decided what was important to them, and they got the funding necessary to get those things done.”