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Preparing for the hand-off: Cathy Clark’s vision for a third mayoral term

Cathy Clarks greets a family moving to Keizer (KEIZERTIMES/Eric Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

Mayor Cathy Clark announced she will be seeking a third term as Keizer’s mayor last week, but the crux of her vision for the city is less about what she will do during a third term and more about paving the way for those who follow her.

“I’m very purposeful and I want to reach Gen Xers and the Millenials. I know they are very busy with families and have a lot demands on their time, but we have got to make sure that we are taking the long view,” Clark said. “ If we are going to have a vibrant legacy that continues, the next generation has to be ready for it and the ones working right now have to be okay with them changing it.”

Clark served eight years as a member of the Keizer City Council before being elected as mayor in 2014. Prior to those duties she served on several of the city committees. In her time as public servant, Keizer has undergone widespread changes ranging from nascent stages of what is now Keizer Station to leading the charge to implement fees that created stable funding for parks and police services in 2017.

“We had established great parks and a responsive police department and a fantastic planning department, but a lot of those good things were beginning to show some wear and doing nothing was not an option,” Clark said.

Now she feels that other departments within the city need that same look, not the least of which is the future of Keizer’s Civic Center.

“If we don’t properly staff it and maintain it, we won’t have it,” she said. “We will have to look at all the revenue streams and come to a decision regarding the resources available and how the oversight (of the facility) looks in the future.”

In a city where the most frequent response to any problem is “volunteer,” Clark also wants to take a harder look at the nature of volunteering in the city. While she still believes volunteering is a “deeply embedded” trait in city residents, it is changing. Several of the city’s largest projects in recent years from erecting The Big Toy in Keizer Rapids Park to 2017’s Eclipse Festival fell short of the hopes for volunteer involvement. That led to human resources being stretched paper thin over days and sometimes weeks.

“We have to be honest about what volunteers can and can’t do. Volunteerism isn’t suited to long-term sustained operations. Volunteerism works well for specific duties with defined timelines and positive outcomes,” she said.

Like many in the community, Clark has been regaled with tales of how the community banded together to build Keizer Little League Park in the 1980s, but times are changed and continue to morph.

Clark’s family is a prime example. None of her three adult children participated in Little League offerings but all three are athletes who chose different outlets.

“Even back then when the choices were fewer, they chose other things,” she said. “People are now volunteering in more varied spaces like the food bank or sitting with an elder.”

The key, she added, is respecting those choices even when they doesn’t line up with the goals of the city.

“The real key for us to maintain the small town feeling is to stay connected and get involved in something outside your norm,” Clark said.

Where Keizer once defined itself as “not Salem,” Clark said the city is now at a different stage in its development.

“We have established ourselves as a community with its own distinct personality and own distinct destiny and we are in the process of discovering that. That’s where I believe my experience will be important,” she said.

On the regional level, she said her experience will be key as Keizer discusses the potential expansion of the Urban Growth Boundary it shares with Salem. She advocates for expansion of both residential and employment areas if it ever comes to fruition.

On the local level, she is eager to dig into new visions for River Road North and Wheatland Road North, the latter is on a list of projects set to be tackled in the coming years.

“For so many people, the answer on Wheatland is reducing the speed, but design works better than signs.  I’m excited to be a part of for long-term, safe and sustainable solutions on Wheatland,” Clark said. “The key elements of River Road Renaissance got worked into the (development) code, but it’s always good to look at a long-term plan mid-stream. What does the next generation value and how do we build to that vision?”

She would also like to engage the community in a broad conversation about completing the network of sidewalks throughout the city. Currently, the city can establish local improvement districts for neighborhoods to band together and pay for improvements, but she said the city can prepare to tackle all of the gaps if that’s what the residents decide to do.

“The most underserved area are the oldest neighborhoods. It’s an equity issue, a livability issue and I think we need to talk about it,” Clark said.

While any change comes with a cost, Clark said setting the goals will allow the city to work toward it.

Among the projects she was glad to have had a hand in are the fees for police and parks, implementation of the roundabout, the Eclipse Festival, and shepherding in recent changes at the Keizer Heritage Center with the addition of Keizer Homegrown Theater.

Despite having served for a number of years already, Clark isn’t putting an expiration date of her time in Keizer’s elected offices.

“It’s not the time it’s the quality, that has to be the deciding factor. That’s the way my family has treated it each time we’ve made this decision,” she said.

When the time arrives that the decision goes another way, she’s hoping that she’ll have done all she can to facilitate a clean transition.

“I am looking for future mayors and doing what I can to encourage them. I would love to do for them what Lore (Christopher) did for me to put them in a position to learn and develop the relationships that are essential. I want to be prepared for the  good hand-off and keep it going,” she said.