City council election campaigning in Union County this fall may be the heaviest in Union.
The city has contested council races for Positions 2 and 6, the most of any in Union County. The city also has the only council race with more than two candidates — with three people vying for Position 2.
The Position 2 candidates include incumbent Randy Knop and challengers Hugh Johnson and Leslie McMillan. A story on the Position 6 candidates, incumbent Walt Brookshire and challenger Brian McDowell, will be published in an upcoming edition of The Observer.
La Grande, Imbler and Elgin will also have contested races in the Nov. 6 election. A story on La Grande’s race appeared in the Sept. 5 Observer, and articles about Elgin and Imbler races will be published later this month.
Randy Knop does not hesitate when asked about why he is running to retain his position on the city council.
“There are a number of unfinished items I would like to see move forward,” Knop said.
These include the creation of a comprehensive economic program with the help of a marketing and development company.
Knop has strived to get the City of Union to be as open as possible about its activities and decisions since joining the city council 3-1/2 years ago and said he will continue to do so if elected to a full term in November. The city councilor said without transparency, liberty is at risk since the public is left in the dark.
“Transparency is at the heart of what allows citizens to hold their public officials accountable,” Knop said.
He said it is important citizens are made more aware of what the city is doing, like the fact that city officials have had discussions with Union County Sheriff’s Office representatives about the possibility of providing enhanced law enforcement services. Such services have not been provided since late 2016 when the city’s contract for enhanced services from the sheriff’s office was not renewed.
Knop said he would be interested in looking into having a contract restored, but only if the council first took an in-depth look at any proposal. Knop doubts he would support a sheriff contract like the previous one, but said he might support one that called for greater use of new technology to reduce expenses incurred by the city. This might include the use of traffic control devices in areas of the city that have the greatest problems with speeding and accidents.
Such technology would make it possible for the city to get enhanced services from the sheriff’s office without requiring a full-time deputy on duty, Knop said.
The city councilor is also interested in having the city take steps to boost economic development. Steps he supports include the creation of a greenway along Catherine Creek, which runs through Union. The waterway would include items like footbridges to increase public access to Catherine Creek and plantings along the stream to enhance its appearance. Knop said this might draw more people to Union and boost property values.
“It would raise the livability of the city and improve economic outcomes,” he said.
Knop has lived in Union since 1992. He is partially retired and works as consultant for small communities in the region, helping them gain access to renewable energy resources such as wind and geothermal energy. The city councilor hopes Union will someday get a significant portion of its energy from renewable resources, which would save the city, its businesses and residents significantly on energy costs.
Knop, a veteran himself, said he is a strong advocate for veteran programs and will continue to work on their behalf if elected.
“I support pro-active veteran employment programs at the local level, within the business community and state levels. To that end, I would support the creation of a City Veterans Employment and Business Development Committee to support and work with other federal, state and county programs to meet their needs,” he said.
Hugh Johnson is concerned about Union’s business district, which he said “is gradually dying.”
The candidate said downtown Union is in need of new businesses to pump life into the city’s economy.
“(Union) needs industry that will help other businesses, not compete with businesses we already have,” Johnson said.
He said the community needs businesses like a lumber store to replace the one it lost several years ago and a store to serve outdoor enthusiasts.
“They would help bring traffic by drawing customers,” Johnson said. “We need business that appeals to local interests.”
He said the addition of such companies would draw more people downtown, who would in turn provide valuable support for businesses such as Union’s pharmacy.
Johnson would also like to see downtown renovated to reflect a common theme like the Oregon Trail, which ran through Union County.
“We need to get back to our roots,” Johnson said.
He said this would give downtown Union a badly needed distinctive feel.
“Union needs its own culture, one that would make it a tourist destination,” Johnson said. “Right now we don’t have the drawing power we need.”
Johnson is also concerned about the number of people in Union who have substance abuse problems. Many of these are young people, who he said could be helped by a juvenile detour program he would like to see the city get involved in setting up. The program would provide juveniles with adult mentors who could help them redirect their lives.
“It would provide an alternative to kids who need help,” Johnson said. “A lot of times when you get young people in a mentoring environment, they will get out of the drug culture altogether.”
The city council candidate said that such a program would be welcome by law enforcement agencies like the Union County Sheriff’s Office, which does not always have the space or resources needed to help juveniles with drug problems.
Johnson has worked for the Oregon Youth Authority’s Riverbend facility, 12 miles west of La Grande, as a security guard and counselor for 18 years. He said his experience working for OYA has helped him learn how state politics work, which would help him as city councilor since cities often deal with the state.
The candidate said he enjoys living in Union because it has pockets of Norman Rockwell-type innocence.
“There is a lot of this type of culture that needs to be preserved,” Johnson said.
The desire to give downtown Union a boost inspired Leslie McMillan to run for a position on the Union City Council.
“I want to promote new business and support existing business,” McMillan said.
As a city councilor, she said she would strive to promote local business by providing incentives for new businesses and encouraging residents to shop locally. She emphasized if residents do not patronize local businesses, the town will lose them. McMillan believes this is one of the reasons Union lost Community Bank in 2011 and Umpqua Bank two years ago.
McMillan also said she would like to spruce up the appearance of Union’s downtown.
“I would like to see some cosmetic improvements,” she said.
The Union resident knows the downtown of her community well, for she is the former owner of LG Brewskis, a Union pub she operated for almost nine years until April of this year. McMillan opened the business in September 2009 after moving to Union from Yakima, Washington, in April 2008.
She said she enjoys living in Union because of its relaxed lifestyle and its residents.
“There are really good people here,” McMillan said.
Even while operating her business, she was active in the community. She served as president and secretary of the City of Union Chamber of Commerce for two years and was a member from 2009 through 2017.
From 2010 to 2015, McMillan helped organize and coordinate Union’s annual Christmas parade and tree lighting ceremony, and from 2010 to 2016 was the live music coordinator of the annual Grassroots Festival. Community organizations McMillan has been a member of include the Union High School Booster Club, which she belonged to for two years, and the Union County Museum Board, which McMillan has been on the past three years.
She said as a councilor she would strive to keep events like the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show, Grassroots Festival and Fourth of July celebration popular.
“I want Union to be a destination (in terms of events, tourism and shopping opportunities),” McMillan said.
Community safety is another area McMillan would like to focus on. Along this line, she would like to see discussions started about possibly reviving a community volunteer group that used to check all downtown businesses to make sure they were locked and secure.
McMillan said as a councilor she would be open to new ideas.
“I am very open-minded,” she said. “I do not have an agenda.”
She noted that while she operated LG Brewskis she met people with a diversity of backgrounds.
“I interacted with people who represented all walks of life,” McMillan said. “This experience would help me as a city councilor.”