LA GRANDE — The wildfires that devastated portions of Western Oregon last month should serve as a wake-up call for people living in Union County, according to La Grande City Councilor Nicole Howard.

“The fires from the west side are stark reminders that we have to be prepared. We need a comprehensive plan. Now is the time for the city to take the lead,” Howard said at a virtual La Grande City Council candidates forum Thursday night, Oct. 15.

Howard, running for reelection to Position 2, is one of nine candidates in five contested races, including the mayoral contest, who took part in the forum, which internet-based Eastern Oregon Alive TV hosted.

Candidates addressed several issues, starting with how to best help businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Steve Clements, who is completing his sixth year as mayor, said the pandemic has revealed a number of businesses have not maintained records they need when applying for COVID-19 grants from the state.

“We need to help them do this,” said Clements, who is running for his fourth two-year term as mayor.

Position 6 candidate David Moyal praised the council for working hard to get funding to businesses hurt by COVID-19. Moyal, the husband of Nicole Howard, credited the council with making swift decisions that allowed critical funding to get in the hands of business owners in short order.

Denise Wheeler, a Position 2 candidate, said she wants more businesses that have had to curtail their operations due to COVID-19 to begin increasing their presence.

“They need to do so. They can soar again,” Wheeler said.

The candidates also addressed allowing the sale of recreational marijuana in La Grande.

David Glabe, a candidate for Position 3, said he opposes the sales. Glabe said people using recreational marijuana are much more likely to be involved in an automobile accident.

He also said at least 10% of the people who use marijuana become addicted to it.

Moyal spoke in support of allowing the sale of legal marijuana, noting he worked for 25 years in an emergency room as a physician assistant and never saw any patients there who had suffered serious and lasting health effects from marijuana.

Candidates also discussed how to make La Grande’s downtown more vibrant. Howard said she believed continued devotion to the La Grande Farmers Market would boost the area. She also said improving La Grande’s downtown parking situation and adding bike racks would draw more people downtown.

Position 2 candidate Kristine Alf Rippee was among those who spoke in support of the La Grande Urban Renewal Agency. She noted it once had an advisory committee and said she would like to see that again. Alf Rippee said this would give more community members a chance to provide input to the agency.

Candidates were asked what they liked most about La Grande.

Mayoral candidate Alex McHaddad spoke of the striking scenic qualities of its location.

“It is one of the most beautiful places in the world. You are so instantly close to nature,” McHaddad said.

Position 4 incumbent Mary Ann Miesner also spoke of the area’s beauty. She noted that 45 years ago the company her husband, Arlan, worked for gave him a choice of working in a number of Oregon cities, including La Grande. The couple then visited the towns and she said she will never forget how she immediately felt while traveling into La Grande’s west entrance for the first time.

“I said, ‘This is it,’” Meisner said.

Position 3 incumbent Corrine Dutto spoke of how people in this community look out for one another. Dutto recalled that one winter one of her sons was walking home in the dark and in inclement weather after a wrestling practice at his school.

A concerned man offered the student a ride home in his vehicle, but the boy declined, stating he would not get in a stranger’s car. The man remained worried and drove alongside the boy until he reached home safely.

“I never learned who that was,” a grateful Dutto said.

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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