The race for Linn County commissioner position No. 1 includes an experienced Republican incumbent, an energetic Democratic newcomer, and an Independent Party candidate.
John Lindsey is seeking re-election to a sixth term on the Linn County Board of Commissioners. While he possesses an excellent understanding of the issues, he’s created some recent controversies largely due to his own temperament.
Democratic Stephanie Newton doesn’t have as much government experience, but she wants to use her background as a business and marketing consultant to bring more large companies and visitors to Linn County, as well as usher in more government transparency.
Independent Party candidate Gary Sullivan of Sweet Home declined to be interviewed for this article.
Lindsey has already worked on the Board of Commissioners for nearly 20 years, so he has a grasp on subjects such as the rural economy, the county budget and affordable housing.
“I think it’s the greatest advantage for the citizens to have someone who is locked in on these issues,” said Lindsey, a Navy veteran.
And his perspective on topics such as the timber industry stems from his background, as well. “My address has been Lebanon, Oregon, pretty much my entire life,” he added.
He said one way the county can boost rural areas throughout Linn County is by helping create an intermodal facility in Millersburg, where commercial trucks and trains would congregate to load and unload products.
And that includes farm and natural resources products grown and harvested in the mid-Willamette Valley. “We could see a lot more benefit per dollar for producers,” Lindsey added.
Linn County also has helped local economies with enterprise zones to attract and keep businesses and bring quality manufacturing jobs, he said.
The county has already been watching its budget and searching for efficiencies, such as putting some permitting processes online, Lindsey said. Should a downturn come, priorities are spelled out by law, such as courts, law enforcement, roads and elections.
“In hard economic times, do you get icing on the cake or do you just get the cake?” he said.
The affordable housing issues in the Albany and Lebanon areas, to a large degree, stem from Oregon State University in Corvallis, Lindsey said, and some experts believe enrollment is likely to decline in the next few years due to high student debt.
Oregon remains one of the most difficult places in the United States to build a home due to issues such as wetland mitigation, and that drives up housing costs, he added.
Controversy has dogged Lindsey lately.
He recently apologized to Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa for berating her in front of other government officials before a September meeting of the Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments board of directors. Konopa’s offense was that she reportedly encouraged Newton to run for office.
An investigation regarding Lindsey removing derogatory signs from private property has been referred by the Linn County Sheriff’s Office to the Oregon Department of Justice. Lindsey has admitted to removing some of those signs, and said they drove his wife to tears.
The signs were put up by a man whose family owned property near Lindsey’s, William Templeton.
Templeton's in-laws developed a medical marijuana growing operation on their property, and Templeton helped by building a greenhouse on site, according to Templeton's family. Lindsey and other neighbors have filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging the operation was a commercial marijuana business.
In June, Templeton filed an ethics complaint against Lindsey, alleging that Lindsey improperly used his position to put pressure on property owners and illegally gain information from departments within the courthouse regarding the marijuana operation.
In an interview this week, Lindsey declined to address the controversies, except to say that the people against him in the legal processes have donated to Newton’s campaign.
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“I think that shows where we’re at,” he said.
Besides her business and marketing expertise, Newton also is positioning herself as an alternative to the incumbent as far as ethics and disposition.
“I’m a moderate person. I’m very practical. I’m a very planned person. I like to listen to all sides,” she said.
As far as the economy, Newton thinks local farmers should be able to add more value-added activities, such as cider pressing, farm stays and more. She’d like to see more assistance for entrepreneurs, and hopes to create a marketing plan to bring large businesses to Linn County.
She also wants to use the numerous outdoor activities in the mid-Willamette Valley to draw visitors to the area. Her family loves hiking, for example, and she thinks that Linn County has easy access to high quality trails.
Newton said she has ruined shoes on the campaign trail, as she’s been knocking on 100 doors a day in recent weeks, making sure to visit communities far from Albany, such as Mill City.
“People don’t know what commissioners do, and this is the position that most impacts their day-to-day life,” she said.
She hopes to get audio and video recordings of meetings online, so people don’t have to come to Albany to witness their county government at work.
“Our county is gigantic and this is a disservice to our communities,” she said.
Newton said that she’s helped spur Linn County to make more of its meeting details available online, such as minutes, agendas and informational packets.
She added that in every town she’s visited, people talk to her about affordable housing, and she’s like to see more created for residents. “We need to make sure we’re taking care of people,” Newton said.
According to Newton, Lindsey lacks good judgment and responsibility and she pointed to the confrontation at the Council of Government meetings and the sign controversy as examples.
“I frankly believe it was unethical behavior,” Newton said. She added about the campaign signs, “You’re literally admitting to a crime. Does he think he’s above the law?”
Newton also said that Lindsey has let his personal views on marijuana impact his actions. “Do you really think you can treat constituents that way, especially when they’re within their legal rights?” she said.
She added that Lindsey has not agreed to any debates with her in the run-up to the November general election, and she said that’s another sign that Linn County needs a change.
“I want to represent everyone here,” Newton said.
The Independent candidate
In his Voters’ Pamphlet entry, Sullivan said he would not be beholden to any special interest, group or party.
He added that he will always put people before business, be a strong advocate for property owners, propose changes to the property tax system, refuse to support frivolous spending on expensive computer programs, advisers or self-glorifying projects, and end discrimination and special privilege in county hiring and more.
Sullivan also complained about how his property taxes have increased in the Voters’ Pamphlet.