By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Elizabeth Smith’s crash course in how Keizer grows began 23 years ago when she moved to the city working in the banking industry.
Smith was often one of the first people new residents met when they came in to open accounts, but changes at home added other dimensions.
“Before Weddle Elementary School happened, my kids went to three different elementary schools and we never moved,” Smith said.
Smith is running to replace Keizer City Councilor Amy Ryan who is stepping aside. Her opponent in the contested election will be Shawn Lapof.
Smith, who is now a home loan sales manager with Caliber Home Loans, said the close attention she’s paid to Keizer growth throughout her career make her a good fit for the council, particularly as some of the biggest conversations happening at City Hall are turning toward the city’s future.
“I’m very detail-oriented because the person I have to convince in my job is an underwriter dealing with data and rules,” said Smith. However, as wife to a disabled veteran and mother to a child who struggled with addiction in the past, she’s gained appreciation for the social aspects of fiscal decisions.
“We often think a system is working, but then hear that it is not working from the people using that system. When people get emotional it’s because there’s something behind it,” Smith said.
Aside from her work in the financial sectors, Keizer’s current growth trajectory has had a direct effect on her business. She recently had to relocate her office to Salem because Keizer simply didn’t have the type of office space required by Caliber Home Loans’ corporate office.
“It was still difficult to find in Salem, but we don’t have that here at all,” Smith said.
As Amazon prepares to open an enormous warehouse in south Salem, Smith said Keizer needs to decide whether it wants to be part of the growth Salem is experiencing and, if so, how it will provide the types of housing Amazon’s employees want.
“Home ownership is the backbone of every community, but we have to make sure it is affordable. If we push people out, we have a bigger homeless problem than we already have,” she said. “What I hear is that people feel as though Keizer doesn’t want them here. It’s not that we don’t want them, it’s a supply and demand issue and we have to strike the right balance.”
Keizertimes also asked Smith for her take on some recent council actions as well as those on the horizon.
In regard to expanding the Urban Growth Boundary hemming in the Keizer’s ability to grow, Smith said, “If we do move [the boundary], what about the infrastructure? Something has to happen, but there are a lot of areas of concern. If we don’t, people will come in and buy the properties in south Keizer to build top-of-market places. If you don’t do something, it’s going to do it on its own.”
Regarding fees the council put in place to maintain and improve city parks and pay for additional police officers, Smith said she didn’t notice an impact on her personal finances when the fees came online, but watching them get used to improve the city has been gratifying.
“When I truly noticed it was when I saw the new playground at Meadows Park. We don’t have a lot of places for youth to spend time. With the police fee, I think the huge impact was seeing the officers get sworn in at the council meeting last week,” Smith said.
On the topic of the city adopting an inclusivity resolution, Smith said she has been operating under fair housing rules and regulations that include such clauses for much of her career.
“I don’t know all the details and I will definitely be asking about it. Let’s take a time out and look at the law and the charter and make sure that we’re looking at it from a factual standpoint,” she said. “We have to make sure that what’s happening at the federal level is not messing up our backyard.”
Finally, Keizertimes asked for her take on the state of volunteerism in the city. Several recent efforts have fallen short of needed volunteers and a dependency on volunteers baked into much of what the city does.
“What I have found out from people that are new to the community is they don’t know how or where to volunteer. In other communities, churches take on the leadership role in volunteering, but the Pacific Northwest is one of the least churched areas in the country. I think its going to take reinvigorating neighborhoods,” Smith said.