Five people are running for four spots on the Keizer City Council in November.
The five candidates were all present Tuesday for the Keizer Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum luncheon at the Keizer Quality Suites and Conference Center (the former Renaissance Inn).
Current councilor Cathy Clark is the only candidate to run for the mayoral position being vacated by Lore Christopher after 14 years.
Brandon Smith is looking to rejoin the council, while former longtime city employee Roland Herrera is running for the first time.
The only contested race is between Amy Ripp and Matt Chappell, who ran unsuccessfully against Marlene Quinn and Eamon Bishop two years ago.
Each candidate responded to questions from Dan Clem in a rotating order, then responded to several questions from the audience.
In regards to city government’s role in job creation, each candidate gave a version of the same answer.
“Jobs are the No. 1 priority,” Clark said. “Government can’t create them, but can get out the way and not be a hindrance.”
Each candidate also expressed support for funding River Road Renaissance.
“We do want to move forward with the Keizer Renaissance when (funding) becomes available,” Chappell said. “The ultimate goal is to provide that funding. It should be private and public sector funds.”
While supporting the RRR plan, Clark noted a refresh is necessary.
“I want to implement that plan,” she said. “However, that plan was written in 2004. We need to take a fresh look. Some of the projects in it are done. Transit has built a beautiful facility elsewhere. I want to see it updated.”
All expressed support for the proposed third bridge over the Willamette River in Salem.
“We all agree we will eventually need something,” Herrera said. “When I look at the issue, we are talking about $500 (million) to $600 million. We need to get working on it. It’s not going to get any cheaper.”
In response to a question from audience member Rich Duncan about the importance of chambers, Ripp noted she has experience.
“I’m a proud member of three chambers,” Ripp said. “It’s important to listen to the businesses. We need to connect on a deeper level.”
In response to a question from state Rep. Kim Thatcher about what to do when the city runs short on revenue, Smith noted the city is well positioned.
“We’re going to get a new cell phone tower, so they will be paying the city rent,” Smith said, referencing an AT&T tower going in soon at Bair Park. “The money goes into the parks department. It’s pretty rare we have a funding shortfall, because we take a long-term look. We take a very long and conservative approach.”
Herrera was among those emphasizing the collaborative approach.
“Keizer seems to come together in a crunch time,” he said. “I support whatever it takes when coming to revenue. People here know each other. We will work something out in the crunch time.”
Ripp and Chappell both pointed to safety as their top priority, with Herrera mentioning his desire to engage more people in the city government process. Smith pointed to the budget as his top priority, while Clark pledged to “build on the successes” of the last 14 years under Christopher.
During closing remarks, Ripp expressed enthusiasm at being able to help with “exciting opportunities” in the future.
“I have always been a leader with youth and the programs I’ve been in,” Ripp said. “I want to continue that leadership with grace and humility.”
Herrera noted his 37 years in Keizer.
“I’m a community guy,” he said. “I love this place. People with a passion who do things from the heart, they always do better.”
Chappell said while he’s lived in Keizer for 22 years, he considers himself an outsider.
“I have a heart for the disadvantaged and underprivileged,” said Chappell, noting he used to go with his late father and visit residents at retirement homes. “That’s what Keizer is about, we care. We share a spirit of concern for those less fortunate.”
Clark invoked her inner Christopher.
“We’re neighbors,” Clark said. “You don’t see a single politician sitting up here. We’re just neighbors. Our kids played together. We are a community. My husband and I chose this community. We raised our children here and it’s been a great place for them. I want to continue to make it a great place for our kids and grandkids. Pride, spirit and volunteerism is not just our motto, it’s our way of life.”
Typically, homeless camps are not an issue in Keizer.
Recently, however, such an issue arose at Wallace House Park, off Rivercrest Drive at the south end of town.
Officers with the Keizer Police Department got several complaints about transients camping in the park last month. Lt. Andrew Copeland led the effort in dispersing the camps.
“It’s not just one or two guys,” deputy chief Jeff Kuhns said. “There’s been a pretty good number of people taking up residency in the last couple of months. I’ve never heard of any problems prior to this year. It’s not usually a problem here in Keizer.”
In late August, officers posted 12 no camping signs and several eviction notices. At the time, about 10 different transient camps were found in the park boundaries. Copeland noted city staffers Elizabeth Sagmiller and Robert Johnson are working on a plan to clean up some of the underbrush in an effort to make the area less appealing to transients.
“Most of our parks are located in residential areas and are pretty open to the public,” Copeland said. “If someone set up a tent in 90 percent of the parks, we’ll know about it. Wallace House is in the south part of town, with a lot of wooded area. A lot of the area will take you to the river or the south.”
Copeland said nearby residents started noticing the issue when observing transients washing clothes in the park’s drinking fountain.
“We contacted a couple of people and walked down the other trails,” he said. “That led to finding several transient camps dispersed over the south part of the park. With eight to 10 separate transient campsites come issues like garbage and feces. Whether into the river or the woods, it’s going somewhere.”
While walking through the park trying to find how many camps there were, Copeland ran into a couple down on their luck.
“They are the kind of transients you want in your city,” he said. “They are respectful, polite and courteous, clean up after themselves and are seeking employment. They have nowhere else to go. They are trying. They have made mistakes that got them into this situation, but they are working to get back to where they can sustain themselves.
“The ones we’re concerned about are the ones using drugs in the park, mentally unstable ones that are a danger to others, bring garbage sacks of property, break into cars and sell items for drugs, alcohol and food,” Copeland added. “Those are the ones we don’t want.”
Recently, Copeland made an arrest in the park that highlighted concerns.
“This guy had a warrant, ran and got tackled,” Copeland said. “He got tackled on the river’s edge. He’s doing drugs. There are 10 to 15 kids playing on the playground with five or six moms watching us. It’s those type of livability issues we’re trying to combat. I don’t want kids to see a transient come up drunk or abusive, or to see an altercation. I don’t want people to think that.”
Copeland heard from one neighbor who made changes based on the transients.
“After she witnessed transients several times, who seemed to be following them, she’s no longer allowing her kids to play in the park because she no longer feels safe,” Copeland said. “That was sad to hear, because it’s a safe park. We’ve had nothing in the park; it’s just down below. It’s not in the playground area. But the perception is of transients coming back up. If someone perceives a safety issue, to them it is true.”
One concern for Copeland is the environmental impact, especially with wetter fall weather likely just around the corner.
“When the rains start to come and the water starts to rise, where these camps are, all the garbage and property left will get washed into the river,” he said. “That’s an environmental hazard at this point. There are a lot of nasty, dirty clothes, beer bottles and torn sleeping bags. The main issue now is getting the garbage out before it is washed into the river. It will be a large effort.”
Copeland is hoping to work with the two neighborhood associations in Keizer, especially the West Keizer Neighborhood Association due to the proximity.
“We would need probably 20 to 25 people doing cleanup,” Copeland said. “We would provide a dumpster. We want to get a group going.”