THE DEADLINE HAS PASSED to file for a chance to be our next port commissioner, sit on the beleaguered transit board, or serve on the myriad district boards and commissions that deal with our waste, water, health, recreation, and education, protect us from fires and enforce the law. But according to Cathie Garber, Clatsop County Clerk and elections chief, it’s not too late to consider serving. “We encourage voters, when they receive their ballots, to consider writing themselves in, or getting together to write in the name of a neighbor that is willing to serve, if there is a position that has no candidates.” Garber stressed that the county elections department would like to see candidates for all special district positions, and they actively encourage districts to seek out candidates for all their open positions.
Tassie O’Neal, Garber’s counterpart in Tillamook County, is happy about the candidate slate for this year’s special district elections. More positions have at least one candidate, and there are several contested races. “We also encourage the districts to look for candidates if none have filed as the deadline approaches,” O’Neal said. She added, “And yes, if there is no candidate in a position that’s on your ballot, then we would encourage you to write-in yourself or a willing neighbor. But please, not Donald Duck.” Both Garber and O’Neal say that there are always lots of votes for Mickey and Donald, and they are not counted.
TIM LIDDIARD, a candidate contesting the port commission race for position 3 in Clatsop County, lives across the highway from the Port of Astoria’s main piers in the western part of Astoria, and has been affected heavily by the new log export operations taking place there. He feels there wasn’t enough of a community discussion on the log export deal before sealing it. “I believe the port should operate in a way that is transparent and engages all the people in the community,” he said.
Born in Mexico, Liddiard is a contractor and a nursing student at Clatsop Community College who also holds a degree in math. He believes in spreading the wealth that port operations bring. “The port is an entity of the county and as such should be operated to the benefit of the county as a whole,” he stresses. He’s a big believer in rail service to the whole county, and working with other agencies to bring that about. He believes in public service (“giving back”), and “putting your name in the hat instead of complaining.”
Candidates like Liddiard are hard to find. Consider the races for the Sunset Empire Transportation District (SETD), the special district that runs the buses in Clatsop County. After a financial meltdown that resulted in the layoff of 36 employees and major reductions in bus service, there are no contested elections for the SETD board on the May 17 ballot. One commissioner (Suzie Conner) is not running for re-election, but Carol Gearin, a retired registered nurse, was asked to file for that position by some current board members, due to her experience sitting on other special district boards in the past, and her stint on the Special Districts Association of Oregon (SDAO) board a few years ago. SDAO is an umbrella organization, composed of special district members, that provides services to members such as training, insurance, consulting, and collaboration. One of the interim directors of SETD, Bill Anderson, who is stepping down soon, was brought in by SDAO to help with getting the district back on its feet.
The chair of the SETD board, Ron Bline, who retired from the board once, only to be recruited again, told me that he hasn’t been sleeping lately, and the whole affair has been very traumatic. “I can see why people don’t run for these boards,” he said. Other SETD board members told me that they would have liked others to step forward, so that they could bow out. Bline and others stressed that special district board members are unpaid, and a passion for the particular activities of the district, or to serve, are often the major motivators for filing to run for these offices.
The Nehalem Bay Fire and Rescue District and the North County Recreation District (NCRD) in Tillamook County both have challengers for all the positions up for election in May. A slate of candidates associated with Jim Welsh, of Manzanita Fresh Foods and a Nehalem city councilman, as well as a former board member of NCRD, is running on a Tea Party platform of reducing taxpayer outlays for both these districts.
There are also challengers in the Warrenton, Knappa and Jewell school districts, the Clatskanie and Tillamook fire protection districts, the Youngs River Lewis & Clark and Wickiup water districts, and the Ports of Garibaldi and Tillamook. For the remaining positions, there is no choice (barring write-ins).
Liddiard, the port commission candidate, has an idea of how to make sure the special districts positions are filled, which could also save counties lots of money – “a lottery system, kind of like jury duty. It probably wouldn’t be any worse than what we’ve got now.”