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Morrow County commissioner candidates discuss solutions, goals

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MORROW COUNTY — Five candidates are vying in this election for two seats on the Morrow County Board of Commissioners.

Jeff Wenholz is challenging Commissioner Melissa Lindsay for Position 2, which opened because Commissioner Don Russell is retiring. Lindsay holds the Position 3 seat, but her move to seek the open seat means No. 3 also is open, and three candidates are in that race: Gus Peterson, Mike McNamee and David Sykes.

The East Oregonian contacted each candidate and asked them to answer the same set of questions and to limit the length of their answers.

1) Biographical information: Name, age, occupation, educational background, etc. (200 words max)

2) What is your current or past political or public service experience? (200 words max)

3) What do you consider the most pressing need or issue Morrow County faces during the next four years, and what is your plan to address that matter to the benefit of county residents? (400 words max)

4) List and discuss your top three goals if you are to be elected. (500 words max)

The EO edited answers for readability, style, punctuation, grammar and to keep answers within the word limit of each question. Due to space constrains in print, the responses to background and experience are online at www.eastoregonian.com.

Candidates are in alphabetical order of last names.

Position 2 candidates

Melissa Lindsay, Morrow County commissioner

Comissioner Melissa Lindsay

Lindsay

Biographical information

I was elected Morrow County judge in 2015 and served as county commissioner for nearly six years. I have over 20 years in the banking industry including manager of regional sales for General Motors mortgage lending, loan officer for Inland Empire Bank and prior to my county commissioner position was vice president at Bank of Eastern Oregon regional home mortgage lending, where I built a profitable division from the foundation.

I have lived most of my life in Morrow County on a fifth generation farm that I run with my husband of 34 years, Todd Lindsay. We are the proud parents of Jake Lindsay, OSU graduate in agriculture whom we are blessed to have returned home to help our farm continue to thrive, and Maddie Lindsay, soon to be graduate of Western State U working to becoming a chiropractor.

Educational background

1986 Graduate Heppner High School.

1988 Graduate Mt. Hood Community College, associate’s degree in social science.

Graduate San Diego State University; B.S. degree in business administration with a finance focus.

Graduate of Association of Oregon Counties — OSU Extension — County College.

Graduate of National Association of Counties sponsored High Performance Leadership Academy.

What is your current or past political or public service experience?

2016 Elected Morrow County judge.

2017-22 Serving as Morrow County commissioner, board of commissioners.

2022 Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission appointment to Local Officials Advisory Committee

2020-22 Treasurer of the Association of Oregon Counties

2021-22 AOC, state of Oregon Regional Solutions advisory committee

2013-16 Morrow County Planning Commission

2018-22 Greater Eastern Oregon Development Corporation Board member

2021-22 Eastern Oregon Women’s Coalition board member

2017-22 Local Public Safety Coordinating Council, chair/vice chair

2018-22 Community Counseling Solutions advisory board member

2020 Census Committee, Morrow County chair

2015-22 Morrow County Cultural Coalition chair

2017-22 Morrow County Budget Committee

Morrow County Emergency Operations Covid Command Team lead

Morrow County School District Budget Committee

Morrow County Broadband Action Team convenor

CAPECO — Community Action Program of Eastern Central Oregon — board member 2017-22

Eastern Oregon Jobs Council/Workforce Board member and current alternate

Morrow County Court Security Committee member

Lower Umatilla Basin Ground Water Management committee member

Morrow County Airport advisory, Road Committee active participant/advocate

Northeast Oregon Water Association member

Eastern Oregon Association of Counties member

Active and past participant, chambers of commerce, booster clubs, Elks Lodge, Community Foundation, economic development committees, basketball coach, FFA and school activitiesWhat is the county’s most pressing need or issue?

I believe our biggest strength is also our most pressing challenge. Morrow County has seen a great deal of amazing growth, much attributed to the good work of the Port of Morrow team following its mission of economic development and job creation. With growth comes needs; housing and infrastructure, road improvements, diversity in representation, public health, workforce, water quantity and quality. While growing we must at the same time maintain our quality of life and current service needs. With so much growth, even with the very best of intentions, it can be difficult for county, cities, special districts and, most importantly, citizens to keep pace. We have a responsibility to be stewards of our amazing resources and more important than ever is the need for collaboration, open communication and planning. COVID brought even more challenges to communication with isolation, but we are getting back on track. We must remain diligent in opening up respectful and meaningful communications with the multitude of partners, residents and perspectives.

Citizen health will continue to be a growing area of resource needs into the future as we continue to come back together post COVID. I plan to use my voice along side our partners in public health, mental health and public safety along with our neighboring counties to bring the resources needed to support our citizens and businesses.

Further, Morrow County, will have to work toward building up our internal workforce that can support the growing size and needs of our citizen base at every level from Veterans services and Public Health, roads, planning and transportation. We must further engage our diverse population to ensure we have the resources available to build the county teams that serve the public.

List and discuss your top three goals if you are to be elected.

My first goal is to continue my fearless commitment to transparent and accessible government. I will always support fiscally responsible and transparent budgeting and operations. I will work to improve inclusion of all of the cultures and citizens across our county. I will continue to ask the hard questions and to having the difficult conversations that lead to proactive and responsible decision making, not reactive, agenda filled and costly. My work during the pandemic writing required plans and working tirelessly to keep our county, schools and businesses as open as possible made it very apparent that we lack in mirroring the diversity of our county in many stakeholder conversations. I want to work with our partners to invigorate and institute a better opportunity for engagement across the county.

My career in real estate lending showcased my passion for housing as economic growth and fed my goals in housing and infrastructure, from roads to sewer, water to broadband. I have worked for years to promote housing development. I will continue my focus to support infrastructure that is needed to entice further development. While I appreciate cities jurisdiction over municipal housing I believe the county can be a complementary partner in advocating for zoning, such as the rural residential 10 acre zoning opportunity I supported. My state appointment to the Local Officials Advisory council to the LCDC earned me a voice in land use policy. I will continue my work with the Regional Solutions to bring decision makers and funding opportunities to our communities.

I will further my commitment as the convenor of our Broadband Action Team to bring affordability and accessibility of reliable high speed internet. My focus on government service infrastructure includes the historic county courthouse in need of preservation and improved access to serve customers in court activities. I recently was able to secure our place in line for potential State funding for courthouse restoration and increased services. I believe public heath service locations need to assure respectful and appropriate service levels are available where needed, and my motion to rebuild the government center in Irrigon was a commitment to that community and to our people providing service

My third goal is to maintain level of services to keep pace with the growth. We must have sufficient public health, behavioral health and public safety resources along with general livability opportunities. We can not forget these important aspects to community growth.

I have built relationships with federal, state and local entities that give me the ability to succeed. I will continue to work to make Morrow County thrive as a place work, live and play. I have worked hard to listen and bring energy and passion to work for Morrow County. It is important that we vote, by May 17. Your votes are important. Your vote for me wont be taken for granted and I am thankful for your vote to reelect Melissa Lindsay.

Jeff Wenholz, 53, business owner

Jeff Wenholz.jpg

Wenholz

Biographical information

Jeff Wenholz; 53; self-employed business owner; four and a half years education atPortland State University majoring in accounting.

What is your current or past political or public service experience?

Morrow County Solid Waste Advisory Commission since 2001; Umatilla Chemical Depot

Citizens Advisory Commission 2001-12; Morrow County Planning Commission since 2002; Umatilla

Electric Board of Directors since 2004; LS Networks Board of Directors 2016-21; Morrow County

Budget Committee since 2017; Good Shepherd Board of Trustees since 2019.What is the county’s most pressing need or issue?

One of the most pressing issues for Morrow County is the break down in the relationships between county commissioners, county employees and other entities the commissioners work with, such as cities and the Port of Morrow.

The first step to repair the relationships with the county employees is to treat them fairly and with respect for being the professionals they are and let them do their jobs without interference from the commissioners. The county has seen a complete turnover of non-elected department leaders during the last six years. To repair relationships with cities and the port, I would listen to their concerns and work collaboratively with them for a mutually beneficial outcome for all. This may require compromise by all parties. In these instances, the county commissioners are dealing either directly with fellow elected commissioners, councilors or their appointed representatives.

So, these people need to be treated respectfully and as equals. These relationships should not be viewed as a “County vs…” mentality but one where everyone works for the betterment of the citizens of Morrow County. After all, we are all there representing and serving the residents of Morrow County.

List and discuss your top three goals if you are to be elected.

My top goal is the improvement of relationships as discussed earlier. The next priority is to continue to promote and encourage responsible economic growth and development in all of Morrow County. The growth the county has seen has brought a lot of good family wage jobs, a diversification of industry and an increased tax base which has benefited all of Morrow County. When it comes to economic development, the commissioner’s role is to set policy that promotes economic growth and development while at the same time looking out for the interests of the residents and existing businesses. The next goal is to promote fiscal responsibility. Currently, the county has a large unfunded pension obligation which was a carry over from when the county did not have the revenue it has had the last few years. With the increase in property tax revenue, Strategic investment program money and enterprise zone money now is the time to fund this obligation instead of continuing to “kick the can down the road.” The increase in SIP and enterprise zone money should also be used to tackle infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges that general fund tax dollars can not be used for.

These should be taken care of first instead of adding new personnel or programs. First priority should be taking care of what we already have.

Position 3 candidates Mike McNamee, business operator

Mike McNamee.jpg

McNamee

Biographical information

I was raised in Antelope, Oregon, by a hard-working farming-ranching family of Irish descent. I have been married for 42 years, have two married daughters. I graduated from Madras High School in 1974 and from Oregon Institute of Technology in 1978, with a degree in industrial processes. I spent 10 years at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as a technician focusing on energy development. I returned to Oregon in 1990 as a partner of a custom haying business, my wife and I currently run the business along with other farming activities.

What is your current or past political or public service experience?

I have little political experience, just a willingness to serve, to uphold the Constitution, to strive to return our governing powers to the people, and to bring a fresh common sense with an open mind to the board. I have served two terms on the Morrow County Soil and Water Board also a representative from the Soil and Water committee to the advisory board of LUGUMA, served in various leadership roles with the Knights of Columbus Men’s Organization and have been involved in many community projects.What is the county’s most pressing need or issue?

A commissioner’s duties are to; approve ordinances (county laws); adopt the county budget; setting standards for the use of county property; overseeing the operation of county departments with appointed department heads; and being the spokesman of the citizens. There currently appears to be a tendency to micromanage departments heads and employees, which has caused a turnover in county employees. In my opinion we are to support and advise the department heads. My approach to this issue is to diligently keep the current qualified administrators; hire qualified people at a competitive wage, support them, monitor their performance, and let them do the jobs.

List and discuss your top three goals if you are to be elected.

My top goals if elected would be to meet and be available to as many Morrow County residents as possible, in as many locations as possible, not just in my home area of Irrigon, I plan to represent the entire county. We must get together, to become a county unit, to strive to overcome the north-south division for the betterment of the entire county. I would strive to build a cohesiveness with the other two commissioners so that each could bring our own ideas to the table which certainly will not always match, but through mutual respect strive to come to a tolerable solution to the issue at hand.

The infrastructure needs attention as our county continues to grow, roads for transporting our goods, housing needs, water sustainability, and to continue to work with the other entities in the county regarding these issues.

Gus Peterson, 26, wheat farmer

Biographical information

My name is Gus Peterson and my roots in Morrow County run as deep as our shallow soils allow for. I am a fifth generation wheat farmer, the son of Joel Peterson and Lea Mathieu and was born and raised in Ione. I graduated from high school there in 2014 (making me 26) before I went to Oregon State University and got a bachelor’s degrees in both political science and agricultural science. I then came home to farm, and my wife Sami and I have bought our own farm.

What is your current or past political or public service experience?

I am not running my campaign on the basis of my previous experience but rather upon my ideas for the future, and my dedication to leadership that makes our county a better place for everyone, both now, and in the future.What is the county’s most pressing need or issue?

I see the most pressing needs for Morrow County to be twofold and interrelated: The world is changing quickly, and we as a county are divided. Because of the rapid changes that have occurred in technology, our society is changing with it, this change can be good or bad, but it is far more likely to be change for good if we face the future with open eyes and careful planning together. Which leads to the second interrelated issue. Morrow County is divided and wastes energy and resources fighting with itself. If we wish to create a future where we are not taken advantage of, but rather take advantage of the opportunities that come with change, we must work together.

My plan to address this is to work with the communities and partners in this county to ensure that we are creating a long term plan that benefits the whole of Morrow County. We have an abundance of resources and advantages in this county, managed wisely they can be used to ensure that Morrow County is better for everyone.

A specific example would be to set up zoning and funding opportunities using current renewable energy projects to allow for solar panels to be installed on residents homes, with grant money lowering the cost. We do not have to be a county where change benefits a few lucky landowners, that is a policy choice, and as a commissioner, I will work to ensure that county policies benefit us all.

List and discuss your top three goals if you are to be elected.

My top three goals if elected are housing, economic growth and education. I will discuss these separately, but they are interrelated and to a certain degree inseparable.

As mentioned, I grew up on a farm in Morrow County. As far as I am concerned, it was an ideal place to grow up, and I came back largely because of the rural lifestyle. Because of this, I want to do my part to ensure that others who want that lifestyle can have it in Morrow County. There is plenty of room in Morrow County for growth, and if we plan wisely for it, we can ensure that our communities are places that our young people wish to return to.

If we are to have young people stay in Morrow County, if we are to have a place we are proud to call home, the reality is economic growth is necessary. Being in support of growth does not mean that I support uncontrolled growth, but rather I want to ensure that we live in a place that is rich with opportunity. The potential areas for growth in Morrow County go beyond just concentrating in the Port, though it is absolutely important, and with vision and leadership we can make Morrow County whatever we wish it to be.

The control that the board of commissioners has over education is limited, I want to make that clear right out of the gate, I will make no promises that I cannot keep. The board of commissioners can play a role however in creating opportunities, we need schools that prepare our young people not only for college but also for entering the workforce after high school. We can work with schools and local businesses to create the kinds of opportunities that change kids’ lives. College isn’t for everyone, and our education system should work for everyone.

We as a county are truly blessed, but with that blessing comes responsibility. I hope to have your vote this May 17 as a commissioner you can trust as a steward over these resources. Let’s grow together.

David Sykes, 72, newspaper owner

David Sykes.jpg

Sykes

Biographical information

David Sykes. 72 years old. Owner and publisher of the Heppner Gazette-Times newspaper since 1980. Owner of Sykes Real Estate since 2003. Owner Sykes Brothers Printing in Pendleton since 1988.

Graduate of Reedsport High School. Attended the University of Oregon majoring in journalism.

What is your current or past political or public service experience?

I was chairman of the Morrow County Planning Commission for 10 years, a member of Willow Creek Economic Development Group for 39 years, including president for four years and treasurer for five years. I am past president and current member of Heppner Chamber of Commerce. I was chairman of Heppner St. Patrick’s Day Celebration for four years and am currently a member of Heppner Lions Club, Oddfellow’s and Elks Lodge. I am currently serving on the Heppner City Planning Commission and the Morrow County Board of Property Tax Appeals. I am also a past member of the Willow Creek Park District Board.What is the county’s most pressing need or issue?

Morrow County has a diverse, growing economy, including renewable energy production, agriculture and industry, which is a positive thing as it provides good, above average wage jobs. We are experiencing tremendous industrial growth in the north part of the county and, along with this progress, comes growing pains. County government must do its part to ensure this growth is done responsibly, with good planning, proper construction and proper operation of these new and expanding businesses. I support a strong, diversified economy and the jobs not only for ourselves, but for our young people, so they can stay, find jobs and one day call Morrow County home. As a newspaper reporter I have attended and written hundreds of articles about county government as well as the Columbia River Enterprise Zone. I know the workings of our county government very well and if elected I will bring this knowledge with me on the very first day on the job.

Another current need is the county must work hard to attract and retain a good work force, which will provide the best possible government services to its citizens. We need to ensure we are paying competitive wages but also fostering a work environment that encourages employees to care about their jobs and give their best for the county. We can have the best buildings, computers and equipment, but without a decent work force we will not have the best county government possible.

List and discuss your top three goals if you are to be elected.

Goal No. 1 — Encourage good relations between the people in all regions of the county. We have different economies, demographics and needs across the county. People will have differing opinions and strong discussions over county government, but I believe if we respect each other’s needs and intentions, we can work out those differences. I have lived and built businesses in Morrow County during the past 42 years, during which I have made contacts and relationships in all regions and cities of the county. I will work hard to understand and represent these areas.

Goal No. 2 — Promote openness so the citizens can see what their county government is doing and why it is being done. To accomplish this, I plan on staying in contact with people all across the county, ensuring their concerns and opinions are heard and considered, during the decision making process of their elected representatives.

Goal No 3. — Make sure the county taxpayers’ dollars are being spent prudently while providing the best services possible to the citizens of Morrow County.

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