The 2017 White Salmon Candidates Night went off splendidly in the view of those citizens that attended, as well as the candidates themselves.
The event took place at the Pioneer Center meal site and was hosted by Six Rivers Mediation in an effort to keep it non-partisan, allowing citizens a chance to get to know the candidates and ask them questions.
Prior to the question and answer portion of the night, White Salmon Mayor Dave Poucher announced that the mayoral candidates from Bingen were invited to the event but due to a scheduling conflict resolved not to participate in the evening’s events.
The night began with the candidates introducing themselves and the positions they are running for, as well as giving a brief introduction of their backgrounds and why they are running. All expressed similar interest in solving problems in the city, such as housing costs and availability, infrastructure, community engagement, and the seemingly never-ending debate around what to do with the community pool.
The night was split into two sections: the first for written questions, the second for comments or further questions from those in attendance.
The first written question jumped right into the gossip that preceded the event regarding an invitation extended to some, but not all, of the candidates to attend an event hosted by the Republican party. The question was asked directly to the four candidates who attended the event and questioned how they could serve the public fairly and not just the registered Republicans.
Dan Caldwell, running for position 4, was the first to respond to this question. “I was invited to this event, I myself am not a Republican so it came as a surprise, they were giving out endorsements, but I personally did not accept any. I was there to listen and learn from potential voters who carry a more conservative view.”
Candidate for position 1, Ben Berger said, “I also attended this event: in my view it was more of a social event similar to the “Drinking Democratically” event, a chance to network and meet people. I will be honest and say I will take an endorsement anywhere I can get it regardless of party. It will not affect my ability to serve in this position fairly.”
The following questions moved on to address key issues facing White Salmon with regard to growth, expansion, maintaining sustainability and the rural character of the town in the face of an ever growing push to modernize.
Addressing housing, candidates Maurice Tunstall (Pos. 5.) and Jason Sabourin (Pos. 3) agreed the city council needs to actively pursue annexing more land for housing development, as well as find a way to work with the Gorge Commission in protected areas.
Sabourin also said, “I’ve worked on many projects to get more housing in this area, the real trick is making sure it is affordable. We have no control over the market which clearly has a huge impact on families’ ability to buy, rent or build homes.”
Berger suggested looking at other towns that have seen similar spikes in growth and how they handled it.
Amy Martin (Pos. 4) suggested looking in to what Hood River has done with regard to vacation rentals and how that could work in White Salmon.
Answering questions regarding maintaining the rural charm of the area, candidates addressed both the aesthetic and personal charm of the town.
Jason Hartman (Pos. 3), suggested limiting the heights of new or renovated buildings on Jewett and other main streets in town to reflect those of existing buildings as well as to establish some cohesiveness with regard to the town’s design.
Candidates Martin and Tunstall echoed this idea stating that “we should preserve and maintain these iconic and sacred places to the town.”
As for the personal charm, all candidates stated that it came down to continuing to talk to each other while out in public, looking out for each other as neighbors and making the effort to get involved in community events.
Candidate Marla Keethler (Pos. 5) a recent transplant from New York, said it best, “What we do as a community attracts people to this town, people that want to be a part of it and that’s one of the things that makes this place retain its charm.”
Following along these lines, a question was asked of the candidates how they would get the community involved in council meetings and local government, in particular, reaching out to the Latino population of White Salmon who continue to feel unwelcome. Many of the candidates in their opening statements said getting the community more involved was a goal for them.
Candidate Martin proposed that city council members should have to attend weekly community events where people can come and chat with them, such as the farmers’ markets. She also suggested White Salmon follow in Bingen’s footsteps and create a council position for high school students to participate in, to encourage young people to engage in local government.
Candidate Hartman suggested setting up a text system similar to the ones used for emergencies that could inform the public about meetings and potential topics.
Candidate Keethler echoed both of their statements saying, “We need to make people feel empowered when they come and speak at city council meetings, we also need to make sure they are informed as to how these proceedings work so that there’s no confusion, which I have witnessed at the meetings I’ve attended.”
Martin and Keethler both voiced a need more information available in both English and Spanish and to engage with the local Spanish speaking coalitions.
Most of the remaining questions centered around the replacement of the community pool. All of the candidates support the project, especially now that the price of the pool has come down to a more attainable level. Many of them have ideas for how to fund raise for the pool. as well as make sure it is a sustainable investment for White Salmon on the whole.
One of the most interesting questions of the night, however, asked candidates if they believed national politics has had or will have an effect on White Salmon.
“On a policy level, we may feel the repercussions of national politics, but I believe we need to be mindful of the problems in front of us locally first and foremost,” said candidate Tunstall.
“It absolutely does have an effect on us, we’ve already seen it with regard to healthcare in the county,” answered candidate Martin.
Candidates for Position 1, Ashley Post and Ben Berger, both agreed that national politics does have an impact on White Salmon. Post saying, “It does, but it shouldn’t dictate how we interact with each other.”
Keethler closed out the question with “the repercussions of the national sphere, will have an effect on us eventually. Like Amy already said, it has had an impact on us at the policy level, but like everyone else it should not impede the way we interact with each other.”