Mayor Chas Jones will retain his position in city governance with a sizable lead over Lawrence Johnson. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath Mayor Chas Jones will remain in place for another two years, the City Council saw a very close vote for the fifth and sixth seats and the school district’s local option levy renewal passed by an overwhelming margin.

Those were among the takeaways of unofficial results released at 11 p.m. Tuesday by the Benton County Elections office.

For mayor, Jones, the incumbent, led Lawrence Johnson by a 75-25 margin. Jones had 1,550 votes to Johnson’s 526.

A program director for the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, Jones has been involved with city governance since 2018 when he was first elected to the City Council — attracting the most votes among nine candidates. In 2020, he opted to run for mayor and defeated Doug Edmonds by a slim 51-49 margin. Now, he appears to be on his way to defeating Johnson for a second term.

“I feel like I’m well balanced in my perspectives and feel like I’m relatively neutral,” Jones said when asked about his ability to do well in these past three elections. “I never really know how I’m going to vote until the votes come (in council meetings). I really try to come with an open mind and I feel that’s something that voters appreciate.”

The race for the top six positions on Philomath City Council has revealed four frontrunners with 1,250-plus votes. Newcomer Christopher McMorran led the pack with 1,443 votes with incumbent Teresa Nielson at 1,374, incumbent Matt Lehman at 1,307 and newcomer Diane Crocker at 1,264.

Christopher McMorran attracted the most votes for Philomath City Council. (Campaign photo by Christopher McMorran)

As for the other two seats, it was a very close race between the five remaining candidates. As of the 11 p.m. release, incumbent Ruth Causey was fifth with 1,079 votes and challenger Peggy Yoder was barely in sixth with 1,042 votes. Incumbent David Low was only three votes behind Yoder at 1,039.

Incumbents Jessica Andrade and Catherine Biscoe were eighth and ninth with 1,027 and 1,023 votes, respectively. But as another example of the tightness of the race, Andrade was just 15 votes and Biscoe only 19 votes behind Yoder for the sixth spot.

The election process for the city entered a new phase beginning with this next election. In 2020, voters approved a change to the city charter to begin staggering terms. As such, councilor candidates could designate their preference for a two-year or four-year term.

If the top six remain the same when results are certified, it appears that Nielson, Lehman and Yoder would serve four-year terms and McMorran, Crocker and Causey would serve two-year terms. If by the time results are finalized Low slips into the sixth spot over Yoder, he had also requested a four-year term. Andrade and Biscoe both requested four-year terms.

Two years from now, three councilors will be elected to four-year terms. At each subsequent biennial general election, the ballot will then include positions for three councilors with four-year terms.

The councilors and mayor will be sworn into office in January.

A trend of voters having choices for who sits on the City Council continued for the third straight election cycle. Before the nine this year, 12 candidates ran for a council seat in the 2020 election and two years earlier in 2018, nine candidates were trying for a position. The minimum six candidates ran in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

Two Philomath measures were on the ballot and the “yes” votes had the advantage on both issues.

Measure 2-137 to renew the school district’s local option levy is leading by a 72-28 margin (3,366 yes votes to 1,315 no votes). Approval means that the tax that’s already in place remains for another five years. The K-12 operating levy carries a tax rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Voters approved Measure 2-138 to place a moratorium on psilocybin manufacturing and service facilities in Philomath. The margin on this issue is closer at 53-47 — which comes out to 1,204 yes votes to 1,054 no votes.

For Benton County commissioner, incumbent Pat Malone of Kings Valley defeated challenger William Kughn of Monroe by a 67-33 margin. Malone’s numbers were 25,311 votes compared to Kughn’s 12,664 votes.

In House District 10, incumbent David Gomberg (D-Otis) outdueled challenger Celeste McEntree (R-Newport) for state representative by a 57-43 margin throughout the district. Among Benton County voters, it was very close with Gomberg getting 3,910 votes to McEntee’s 3,839.

For the 8th District state senator’s seat, incumbent Sara Gelser Blouin (D-Corvallis) defeated challenger Valerie Draper Woldeit (R-Albany) by a 60-40 margin. Gelser Blouin had 32,636 votes to Draper Woldeit’s 22,143. In Benton County alone, Gelser Blouin’s numbers were more favorable at 21,984 to 8,680.

Jef Van Arsdall ran unopposed for Benton County sheriff.

Back to the mayoral race, Jones said he felt encouraged by the early returns and that he appreciates the citizens of Philomath have chosen him moving forward.

Asked about the next two years, Jones expressed excitement over some of the big projects going on in the city — streetscapes being one — and what that will do for revitalizing the local economy.

“I’m looking forward to doing more work to bring more local jobs,” Jones said. “Personally, I’ve been trying to work with local businesses and regional businesses to go entice them to come. So there are things that we’re trying to do and I think slowly but surely, we are working toward larger goals.”

One of those bigger goals would be to attract a grocery store to Philomath.

“I hear about it all the time and I bring it up pretty regularly to make sure it’s on everybody’s radar as something that we all recognize and something that we would like to have,” Jones said.

Among the other state contests of interest, Benton County voters are favoring Ron Wyden (D) for U.S. senator with 66.8%, Val Hoyle (D) for U.S. representative with 62.8% and Tina Kotek (D) for governor with 60.0%.

Benton County voters approved of Measure 111, which amends the constitution that the state must ensure affordable healthcare access and balance against the requirement to fund schools and other essential services (58-42 margin). Measure 112 to remove language from the constitution allowing slavery and involuntary servitude as a punishment for crime has a 65-35 approval margin.

Measure 113 to disqualify legislators with 10 unexcused absences from floor sessions from holding a next term of office is passing by a 75-25 margin. Measure 114 to require a permit to acquire firearms, authorize police to maintain a permit/firearm database and criminally prohibit certain ammunition magazines is passing by a 61-39 margin.

The unofficial turnout in Benton County as of 11 p.m. Tuesday was 65% with 39,537 of 60,863 registered voters participating.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.