La Grande City Councilor Justin Rock, who is running for re-election, and challenger Ashley O’Toole each have a strategy for winning the community’s vote.

On Tuesday, Rock told The Observer he does not plan to do any special campaigning for his election because he wants to approach the city as a whole and not focus on special groups.

Rock, who owns Rock and Sons in La Grande, said voters are worried about the focus on special groups, which exclude many voters. He doesn’t want to look at a piece of the puzzle, but instead focus on its entirety.

He also said he is a conservative voice on the council and that shows in his approach to fiscal matters.

“We keep getting these (business requests) that we’re investing in, but they’re not producing what they agreed to produce,” Rock said.

Specifically, Rock voiced his opposition to turning the Liberty Theatre’s loan into a grant, because the organization did not raise the amount of money the Liberty Theatre Foundation Board said would be raised in the agreed-upon timeframe.

Rock wants to see investments that will benefit the entire city, not only the specific people who requested the money.

“We need to make sure they’re good projects we’re investing in,” he said.

He said examples of successful Urban Renewal Agency investments include Gust Tsiatsos, who turned a dilapidated house on Adams Avenue into a thriving business, The Wine Down, and Hines Meat Co., owned by Jake Hines.

“They came here and they made their business grow,” Rock said. “They made what were eyesores to the community into really nice places that will draw people here.”

Rock said those two specific businesses should be the “poster child” of URA projects worth investing in.

The incumbent said he
believes the people of
La Grande, for the most part, agree with his fiscal approach to city council decisions.

“I don’t speak a lot (at the city council meetings). I wait until I know it needs to be said,” he said. “I try to be a conservative person. I want to do what the majority of the community wants. I’m doing this because I love the community. I want La Grande to have positive growth.”

Ashley O’Toole

Ashley O’Toole has started to raise money for his campaign and plans to network with voters.

“Our first batch of yard signs went out last week, and it’s caused a number of people to call and approach me asking for one in their yard,” O’Toole wrote in an email to The Observer. “It’s reassuring.”

For the real estate agent, the housing crisis is a main issue.

“I’ve seen this problem firsthand as a Realtor and property manager, and it’s getting worse each year,” O’Toole wrote. “Supply and demand has been a primary cause for both the shortage and rising prices.
La Grande wants to grow. We have several employers offering jobs that are attracting workers from outside of our area. Now we need a place to put everyone.”

The candidate said he has ideas for La Grande’s continued growth.

“I want to meet with local agencies to consider expanding their services to a level that allows them to procure federal funding for development,” he said. “That’s why the recent grant that La Grande received to study (the lack of housing) is so important.”

O’Toole, who is member of the Union County Chamber’s board of directors and also sits on the city’s budget committee, believes the URA needs to be restructured.

“The URA currently has too significant of an impact on how the rest of the city’s budget is written,” he wrote. “We need to identify a long-term solution to balancing the city’s budget while streamlining the way in which URA is organized and administered — and keep the two entities truly independent.”

He hopes that, at the very least, his campaigning will get more voters talking about local issues.

“My favorite part of the campaign so far has been seeing how many citizens are starting to pay attention to the issues that affect us here at a local level,” O’Toole said. “As distracting as the drama at the federal level is, people are realizing that it doesn’t have much to do with which sewer lines are scheduled to be replaced or how much this year’s URA under-levy will be. If anything, I want my campaign to be about getting people more in tune with local policies, and I think we’re seeing that start to take shape.”

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