Both candidates for the District 2 seat on the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners stress job development, but have very different ideas for boosting local economic development.
Architectural designer Patricia Roberts and car dealer Vince Williams face off for the seat, one of two up for election this year. Each hopes to replace Commissioner Bob Green in representing District 2, which covers Gearhart, part of Seaside and the Clatsop Plains area.
District 4 Commissioner Sam Patrick faces no opponents for re-election to his seat, which he won in 2000. The retired California sheriff's deputy represents most of the north county stretching from east Astoria to the Columbia County line.
The District 2 contest could be critical for the board, which as found itself split on some issues with Green and commissioners Lylla Gaebel and Helen Westbrook on one side and commissioners Richard Lee and Sam Patrick on the other.
The top vote-getter in the May 18 primary will appear alone on the November general election ballot.
But the May winner could take office earlier, because of Green's planned resignation July 1. The rest of the board has 45 days after Green's departure to pick a replacement to fill out his term.
Patricia RobertsPatricia RobertsPatricia RobertsOccupation: Sole owner of architectural design business.
Occupational background: Teacher, Portland Public Schools; volunteer coordinator; architectural draftsman.
Education: BS, Master's at Lewis and Clark College; BA at Oregon School of Architecture and Design.
Prior public service: Gearhart Landmarks Committee; Gearhart Budget Committee; Clatsop County Historical Society Board; precinct committee person."The sum of people working together and asking questions from different points of view is much greater, much better than working separately," Patricia Roberts said.
Roberts said she gained an appreciation of public processes at a very local level - the Gearhart Landmarks Commission, a group formed in the mid-1990s that researched and inventoried the town's many historic properties and featured them in a book.
"If you had an idea and were willing to follow through, you were able to accomplish something," she said.
A homeowner in Gearhart since the 1970s and a full-time resident for a decade, Roberts said she brings no agenda to the commissioner race.
Economic development is a key priority, she said, and while the benefits of cruise ship stops and the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial are positive, the county also needs to pursue more long-term projects providing stable, well-paying jobs.
Though it's been dismissed by other officials, Roberts thinks a prime opportunity for such job development is Astoria's potential as a deep-water port. "I deeply believe that," she said.
She noted that the renovation of the train tracks between Astoria and Portland for the new Lewis and Clark Explorer Train brought the line up to the standards needed to haul freight, providing an important link for industry.
"Ships go 100 miles up the river, while we're right here at the mouth," she said.
The county's role in such an effort could involve bringing the various parties together for discussion, and helping identify potential sites for facilities, she said.
On the need for a new county jail - an issue that's been in limbo since voters' rejection of a bond measure in 2002 - Roberts said she thinks the proposed Community Corrections transition center, a 30-bed facility for low-level offenders, is a "really good step" and said she wants to see what impact it will have on the need for jail beds before considering a new jail.
Roberts said she has some insight into the jail issue - she helped design a criminal justice center for Marion County. That facility combined a jail, courts and other public safety functions in a single contained campus, and eliminated the spectacle of shackled inmates being led into the downtown Salem courthouse and down public corridors to their court appearances, she said.
"I have seen issues from a design standpoint, and what it takes to make a facility function," she said. Her work on the Marion County project showed the benefits of an all-in-one justice center, she said, but she can also understand the desire to keep the historic Clatsop County jail in use.
Roberts said she's seen the benefits of working cooperatively rather than with a heavy hand. She noted the Gearhart Landmarks Commission has no regulatory authority of its own - "we've done it all with carrots," she said.
Roberts has been involved with some more contentious land-use issues in Gearhart, including the lengthy fight over the condominium development proposed for the Gearhart golf course. Roberts was part of a group of Gearhart residents who hired a lawyer to fight the project, whose developers announced last year they were dropping the plan.
She fought the project, she said, not only because she felt that the developers' zone change request didn't meet the criteria, but that it was a "back-door" effort to open up the golf course to wide-spread development.
"I don't want people to think I'm anti-development - I'm not," she said. "But I want people to be honest about it."
Roberts was involved in another contentious local land-use issue when she fought a couple's construction of a shed in their backyard. She claimed the owners built the structure in violation of the city's building rules and failed to prove they were due a variance to keep it in place. The issue eventually went to LUBA, which ruled against the couple.
While the dispute grew bitter at times, Roberts said she pursued the fight for a simple reason - "Either the rules apply to everyone, or they shouldn't apply to anyone."
Vince Williams, Roberts' opponent, claimed she was "hand-picked" for the commission seat by outgoing commissioner and fellow Gearhart resident Bob Green.
Roberts acknowledged that Green did urge her to run for the seat.
"It's not a matter of any stance on any issue - we just know each other as friends, and I was supportive of him when he was recovering from his stroke," she said. "We've had no discussions on policy of any kind."
Vince WilliamsVince WilliamsVince WilliamsOccupation: General Manager, Vince Williams Suzuki.
Occupation background: U.S. Navy; Washington, D.C., Police Department; Washington, D.C., Fire Department; auto sales, auto dealership general manager.
Education: De Matha High School, Hyattsville, Md.; submarine school, U.S. Navy.
Prior public service: Warrenton Plannning Commission, Warrenton visioning committee, transportation plan committee and Goal Five committee.Zeros don't scare Vince Williams.
The Warrenton car dealer points to his four decades in business and his experience balancing budgets and meeting payrolls as some of his best qualifications for Clatsop County commissioner.
Williams signed up to run for the seat just before the deadline, saying he didn't want to see an uncontested race for the position. He also said the business community needs more representation, noting that with the exception of farmer Richard Lee, there currently are no businesspeople on the board.
"I know what it's like to have a payroll - we have a payroll of a half-million dollars - and having 10 or 12 people depending on you," he said.
A native of Washington, D.C., Williams worked in auto sales in Portland and Salem beginning in 1966. He moved to Warrenton, where he operates Vince Williams Suzuki, in 1997.
Williams calls his opponent, Patricia Roberts, a "hand-picked" candidate chosen by Bob Green who would follow his environmentally oriented stance on most issues.
"I have heard some commissioners made up their minds before coming into the meetings - I would want to hear what the staff and other commissioners have to say, then make up my own mind," he said. "I have no ax to grind with anybody, or any group."
Williams said he has a unique perspective on the county's economic well-being. As a car seller, he's privy to extensive information about his customers' financial backgrounds - credit reports, salaries, debt loads - and what he's seen since coming to Clatsop County has left him "totally surprised" at how many local residents are struggling to make ends meet in contrast to more prosperous Portland and Salem.
"Here, there are so many couples where both of them are working as hard as they can, and they are just barely making it," he said. "I call it living to the level of brokeness."
Luring big new "smokestack" industries is not the answer to boosting the local economy, he said - it's helping existing businesses prosper and grow by easing the regulatory hurdles in front of them.
That prompted him to join the Warrenton planning commission, where he worked on, among other issues, the city's visioning process, transportation strategy and the controversial wetlands protection plan. The wetlands project, which drew comments from hundreds of citizens, showed him the impact government regulations can make on people's lives, he said.
Williams said he didn't follow closely the disputes over the proposed Gearhart golf course condominium development, or the county's Sunset Beach property, which the county sold of the Oregon parks department last year, although he said "I hate to see us giving away all our public property." While on the Warrenton Planning Commission, he voted for a zone change for a proposed golf course on the Skipanon River, saying it would bring more visitors to the area and create an attractive entrance to Warrenton.
Williams said he's leery of using the county's share of state timber revenue to help pay for operating expenses, something the board agreed to do last year. "They need to live within the budget, and when there's an emergency, go to that fund," he said.
Regarding the jail, Williams said it was obvious that voters weren't convinced about the need for a new facility when they defeated a $15 million bond measure in 2002, and said it would be futile to try again unless citizens are sold on the issue. In the meantime, the county has to be creative with the space it has, he said.