The Benton County Elections Office plans to mail out ballots this week for the Nov. 8 general election and in an effort to help voters get to know the candidates a little better, the Philomath News asked each of them five questions.

This is the first of a five-part series of questions and answers to be published this week at Nine candidates are running for the Philomath City Council — Incumbents Jessica Andrade, Catherine Biscoe, Ruth Causey, Matt Lehman, David Low and Teresa Nielson, and challengers Diane Crocker, Christopher McMorran and Peggy Yoder.

For more information, the Benton County Elections Office uploaded each candidate’s filing form. Information on the forms include details on occupation, educational background and prior governmental experience. Click here for Andrade. Click here for Biscoe. Click here for Causey. Click here for Crocker. Click here for Lehman. Click here for Low. Click here for McMorran. Click here for Nielson. Click here for Yoder.

In addition, the Benton County Voters’ Pamphlet is available here.

This is the first of five questions asked of the candidates. Each candidate was allowed no more than 200 words for each individual answer with no exceptions. Answers were edited only for punctuation and typos and to conform to newspaper style guidelines (abbreviations, capitalization, etc.).

What do you envision as the role of a city councilor and what do you believe constitutes appropriate and effective citizen representation?

ANDRADE: The role of a city council member is to act on community members’ priorities for the benefit of our entire community. All city council members must work together to support the goals and values of our community. City council members oversee the work of city staff to ensure the will of the council is done on behalf of the community. Furthermore, they are responsible for holding both city staff and one another accountable for their actions.

Appropriate and effective representation of our community is rooted in providing opportunities for community involvement and feedback. Every voice in our community matters and it is the city’s responsibility to eliminate barriers to community participation. Information becomes accessible to the community when it is widely available, in the language you need, and with disability accommodations you need (for example, alternative text for images). It also means communicating information in a more approachable way to someone not in local governance, minimizing jargon and making it clear that the community is welcome to participate and ask questions. Reframing technical topics and using more accessible language makes it much clearer that you can voice your thoughts, ask your questions and participate how you choose.

BISCOE: The role of a city councilor first begins with trust … a trust that a councilor will look out for the best interests of Philomath through overseeing the business of the city. Philomath’s council-manager form of government establishes the City Council as the governing authority of the city, including the responsibility of leadership and policymaking to be responsive to the needs and wishes of the people.

When this system is out of balance, the business of the city is out of balance.

Citizen representation is essentially transforming the will of the voter to practical and effective policies and procedures. When residents in Philomath say they are concerned about traffic safety, the council should respond with solutions to address traffic safety. When they say they are interested in development criteria that protects their quality of life, the council should respond with development criteria that protects that quality of life.

Citizen representation does not occur simply because a councilor holds an elected title. It occurs through actively pursuing the interests of all stakeholders, thoughtful listening and authentic public engagement. Successful citizen representation ensures the will of the people, not the government, is reflected in the policies and procedures of the city.

CAUSEY: The role of a city councilor is multifaceted, but the first responsibility is to represent and act in the interest of Philomath as a whole. It is critical to listen to all concerns and identify solutions that can be implemented practically, affordably and to the benefit of the entire community, not just the individual.

A city councilor is also a steward of the city budget and must ensure that funds are budgeted and spent appropriately and wisely. In this role and more broadly, the councilor must work with city staff to define, prioritize and help achieve the city’s strategic goals. While the City Council is responsible for holding staff accountable to the community, they must also work effectively with staff.

Finally, the city councilor is a representative of the city and must speak and act in the city’s best interest and in accordance with the city charter and municipal code. The council acts as a body, not as seven individuals. Mutual trust and respect are essential for a highly functioning council. Appropriate and effective citizen representation requires a balance of these: effective listening leading to thoughtful and collaborative solutions guided by the best interests of the community and governing documents.

CROCKER: The role of a city councilor is to work together with the mayor, city manager and city employees to serve and protect our community. The City Council is the highest authority within the city government and works to set ordinances, resolutions, proclamations and motions following law and our city charter.

Our city charter was written in 1882 and rare changes to the charter must incorporate a vote of the people. This charter helps to define the role of the City Council. As a city councilor, I will work to represent not only the people of Philomath, but their hard-working, family values and community-minded volunteerism.

LEHMAN: The city manager and city staff are responsible for the day-to-day running of the city. The City Council is responsible for oversight, development of the strategic plan and updates to the comprehensive plan.

Public opinion can change rapidly. Government policies do not change rapidly. This is the intentional design of the system. Effective citizen representation involves balancing the long-term goals outlined in the comprehensive plan and the strategic plan with the day-to-day operations of the city and the changing circumstances and perspectives of our community.  

LOW: Voters elect city councilors as their representatives to exercise governance over city affairs. Persons running for council are effectively saying they will use their personal time to become knowledgeable about council practices, come prepared to meetings, accept assigned duties as requested, attend trainings and other growth opportunities, and importantly listen to citizen input.  

A critical aspect of city governance is the council’s responsibility for hiring a city manager and evaluating performance annually. Individual councilors should not undercut the authority, create added work or interfere with the city manager’s job. As a body, the council has sole jurisdiction over the city manager and acts as necessary.    

Councilors use their voice and body language to express positions and must work effectively with other councilors and mayor to reach a council decision in an efficient manner. Implicit to success is the need to follow rules of order, maintain decorum and respect the process.

Citizen representation takes two forms: 1) Councilors have a responsibility to constituents through listening and respecting thoughts expressed, and 2) Taking informed and appropriate action on behalf of the whole community even if some members disagree and claim they weren’t heard.

MCMORRAN: City councilors need to be proactive members of our community who make a point to seek out citizen concerns and take action. It’s not enough to wait for people to come to City Hall – we need to meet people where they are.

As far as appropriate and effective citizen representation, my rule of thumb is that if the City Council is spending time discussing an issue that doesn’t matter to anyone outside of the council, we should move on. And on the same note, if there’s an issue that is pressing in our community, it’s our responsibility to be responsive to that issue and bring that discussion to the council. Our current City Council doesn’t always do that well and spends hours talking about minutiae that doesn’t directly affect our community while neglecting larger issues that our residents are very concerned about.

The role of the City Council is to govern our city through policymaking and budgeting that delivers efficient city services, spends taxpayer money responsibly, thinks about the big picture and long-term implications, and holds city staff accountable while giving them the tools they need to successfully execute the council’s vision.

NIELSON: The role of a city councilor is multifaceted. First and foremost is a valiant commitment to our community members, to listen, learn and strive to meet their needs through effective, responsible governance. This requires a diligent focus on assuring the city policies, finances and goals are in alignment with the values and priorities of its citizens.

Learning from the past, working hard in the present and efficiently preparing for the future of our city, should be a primary focus of city councilors. Utilizing common sense in decision making, consistently maintaining mutual respect, honesty and integrity, partnered with empathy and compassion, are critical to the success of our city government.

Effective and appropriate citizen representation requires that city councilors adequately prepare for council meetings and responsibly make decisions for the well-being of our city. Consistent meaningful communication and involvement in our neighborhoods, city organizations and city events provides a strong foundation for relationships that will promote a deeper understanding of the needs, interests and opinions of our community members.

Overall, creating an atmosphere of positivity, mutual respect, collaboration, financial, fiscal and fiduciary responsibility are key aspects of effective citizen representation.

YODER: The City Council is the city’s decision-making body, tasked with weighing information from numerous sources to make the right decision for Philomath.The council carries the responsibility of being fair, balanced and not heavily influenced by only one source.That is why it’s important that the council be made up of individuals with different perspectives instead of a body with a “like-minded” majority. A City Council that is made up of varied viewpoints will better serve the community as a whole.

Meetings that reflect differing views will, of course, last longer, but it’s imperative that each member’s voice be heard and considered. A “rubber stamp” majority council doesn’t serve the best interests of Philomath.

Effective citizen representation can be achieved with a diverse council and by a council that is willing to listen to community members. Community members that take the time to write a letter or speak during a council meeting must be heard. Our current rules during public comments state that “council will not discuss topics or make decisions during this time…” but, all too often, those comments get lost in the shuffle leaving the citizen with the feeling that they were not heard at all.

Coming Tuesday: What is your top priority for this city over the length of your public service?

Monday, Oct. 17: What do you envision as the role of a city councilor and what do you believe constitutes appropriate and effective citizen representation?
Tuesday, Oct. 18: What is your top priority for this city over the length of your public service?
Wednesday, Oct. 19: Housing developments have been a major issue in Philomath over the past few years. What’s your perspective on what the city needs to do moving forward to avoid some of the pitfalls that have been seen?
Thursday, Oct. 20: City government transparency concerns seem to occasionally surface. Do you believe transparency is an issue? If so, what would you do to fix it? If not, what do you think the city is doing that’s working?
Friday, Oct. 21: Many in the community believe that the candidates have associated themselves with certain other candidates whether it’s through advertising, yard signs or other means. What are your thoughts on these perceived alliances, including the pros and cons of this election strategy?

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.