Local candidates express views at forum

October 15, 2012 01:52 pm

Dan Pokorney
Dan Pokorney

Wednesday’s candidates forum at La Grande Middle School was short on attendance and long on civility, a brief, polite discussion of local issues by people seeking office this year.

A crowd of 20 to 30 people looked on and listened in as Island City City Council candidate Kevin Bradshaw, La Grande City Council candidate John Lackey and La Grande mayoral candidates Daniel Pokorney and Michael Brasure introduced themselves, explained their reasons for running and fielded questions from the audience. Starting with Bradshaw, all the candidates gave brief opening remarks. The Island City resident, who owns a business called the Potter’s Shack and also works for Yellowbook, said he is running because he believes in community service. 

He and his wife, Joanna, have four children, and they are concerned for their futures.

“I decided to run because I felt I needed to get involved. I’m doing it for my children,” Bradshaw said. “My wife and I are community minded and we do our best to serve.”

Bradshaw’s opponent, Harry Thomas, was not present. The two are involved in Island City’s only contested race.

Lackey opened his portion of the forum on a humorous note, saying that running for office is like taking a trip by boat. The reality of such a trip, he said, doesn’t always match expectations.

“You rush to the boat and get on, and find out you’ve climbed on the Titanic,” Lackey said, but quickly added he wasn’t slamming the city.

“It’s not that the city is in disarray. We have good councilors and managers. I’m proud to put my name in,” he said.

Lackey, who is running against Rebecca Hartman for a vacant seat on the council, gave some of his personal background first, saying he has been a businessman in the insurance industry for 45 years and has lived in La Grande the past 20.

He served on the La Grande planning commission seven years, was a member of the Shrine Hospital Board of Governors in Portland five years and also served as president for two Rotary Clubs.

Lackey said that as a council candidate, fiscal issues are a primary concern for him.

“Fiscal constraint is the name of the game. We need to maximize services and minimize the costs,” he said.

He also said he wants to ensure that efforts continue to improve city infrastructure, including water and sewer systems.

“Systems have aged and deteriorated, but we have a good long-term plan for replacing them,” he said.

Lackey also talked about the relationship between the city and its employees, saying he thinks it’s important for employees to have the tools needed to do their jobs, and also to make sure they have opportunities for continuing education and advancement.

Hartman did not appear at the forum.

Brasure, a write-in candidate for La Grande mayor, told the small crowd that he recently moved back to La Grande to care for his ailing father after a long time away. He said a part of his reason for running has to do with a promise he made to his father.

“It was something I wanted to do. I made a promise years ago to my dad that I’d one day be a mayor of a town,” he said.

Brasure said that when people ask him about his platform, he tells them he is leaving that up to them.

“I have the hammer, nails, saw, knowledge and skill. I want the citizens of La Grande to tell me what my platform should be,” he said.

Pokorney is a former La Grande city councilor and La Grande school board member who is nearing the end of his first term as the city’s mayor. In opening remarks he talked about projects the city has worked on during his time as mayor. 

Those include reconstruction of the Riverside park pavilion, the Big H streetscape project downtown, reconstruction of the Morgan Lake Dam and major repairs on Second Street due to a slipping hillside.

“It’s been an unbelievable honor to serve the city, and I believe I have more to offer,” Pokorney said.

The highlight of the evening came when Pokorney and Brasure fielded questions from the audience. Conversation during that segment heavily emphasized economic development.

Both candidates were asked to give their positions on formation of an economic improvement district for the downtown area. Brasure said he was against it.

“If we’re trying to get businesses in here, why put a license fee or a tax on them?” he said.

Pokorney countered that the city isn’t planning to set a tax. He said that while a district is being considered, final approval rests with voters within the district’s proposed boundaries.

“It will go on the ballot. If they approve it, they have requested that for themselves,” he said.

Another question from the audience asked the candidates to explain the mayor’s role in economic development. Pokorney said the mayor should be a positive force and act as outreach between city staff and businesses.

“By knowing the community and what it feels is important, knowing how the community is feeling about economic development, I feel confident in pushing that forward,” he said.

Brasure said he thinks economic development equates to bringing new businesses in.

“I think we need to start looking for economic development. We’ve talked about it a long time, but we’ve gotten nowhere,” he said.

Also during the question and answer session, the candidates were asked to define the term “economic development.” Brasure replied that the city needs growth. He said when he was growing up in La Grande, the business district was more vibrant than now.

“When I was growing up here, all of downtown La Grande was full. We used to have fun downtown, but now we don’t,” he said.

Pokorney said he thinks diversity is a key to the future. In the old days, he said, the community depended heavily on a few major employers in the wood products and recreational vehicle industries. He said he thinks a multifaceted economy is important now.

“Instead of finding one business that employs a hundred people, I’d like to find five that employ 20,” he said.

Wednesday’s forum was sponsored by the Union County Chamber of Commerce.