Most Impactful Public Person of the Year

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Studio Lux ImagesAs our community’s needs evolve, issues and questions of the moment arise and the individuals that stand up to address these are often already public people, but not always.There are people that take the public stage for only a moment, while a key matter is being decided, and they can have quite an impact, too.

We assume that some of these impacts can be seen as either positive or negative, and in fact our staff has some opinions about all that, but that is not what this evaluation is about. And, while it may not be their primary drive, the intent to have an impact can be assumed of all these individuals, so our current task evaluates only that: the impacts these people have actually had on our community.

1. Anne Schuster, Newest County Commissioner
Eleven months have passed since Anne Schuster gained reign as a Benton County Commissioner. Poised in every direction, Schuster’s kept busy peppering board after board with meaty ideas. She’s been involved with the Library Board, the Workforce Investment Board, the Council of Governments Board, the Corvallis Sustainability Committee, the Homeless Oversight Committee—and the list goes on.

“Everything I do, I’m learning,” said Schuster, driven by her curiosity and an insatiable need to serve. Her constant volunteerism is what landed her on the Corvallis School Board and, ultimately, led to her commissionership.

Proud to reach a wider population and undeterred by breaks or lags, Schuster understands the need to keep rolling, her scientific background easing the constant research aspect she finds enjoyable. With her Ph.D. in molecular biology and five-acre farmland, Schuster brings a rural insight to the Commissioner team, an understanding of issues like succession, given the lot of farmers reaching retirement age and their offspring uninterested in inheritance. Also climate change, given her gardening experience and extensive history with sustainability efforts.

Organic gardening and watercolor painting are Schuster’s spare-time therapies, though recently she’s been overwhelmingly preoccupied with the whole Commissioner gig, an experience she equates to heaven, calling on Benton County’s air of progressiveness, its plethora of proactive people and opportunities.

Most remarkable are her efforts on the Homeless Oversight Committee, which Schuster co-chairs alongside Mayor Biff Traber. Schuster spews off a long list of organizations—Housing First, OSU, Habitat for Humanity, etc.—all involved in committee efforts. She expresses a needed effort in collaboratively cracking Corvallis’ homelessness case. Shuster shares a personal interest in mental health, one major driver of homelessness alongside our county’s chronic lack of housing.

Advocate staffers were especially impressed with her willingness as a new commissioner to initiate and engage in a mediation process between Corvallis Housing First and the downtown groups that have been affected by their men’s cold weather shelter. Currently, the shelter and a neighborhood advocacy group have walked away from the process, but quite often these efforts require more than one try.

Schuster’s newest idea is a work program for our county’s homeless, which would pay in vouchers for food and other necessities, such as a new pair of boots or needed health services. The program would ameliorate income spent on drugs and alcohol and allow homeless folks public acknowledgement as they gain self-sufficiency and gateways to full-time employment.

Realizing this kind of project will take extensive planning, Schuster, ever the optimist, insists we must at least try. Her other ongoing efforts involve the Greenberry Gap, an Education Workforce Pipeline, a Young Farmers Program, and a Young Women’s Leadership Group.

Schuster’s intellectual rigor, sheer energy level, and willingness to work at finding consensus are impressive.

Eleven months and Schuster’s fired up, facing our community full-force, and despite her modest distaste of campaigns, she is undoubtedly deserving top-rank recognition amongst Benton County’s most impactful persons of the year.

2. Biff Traber, New Mayor
Biff Traber spent 30 years as senior vice-president in the computer systems and software industry, as well as time on city council and in various committees around Benton County before he ran for mayor, he was inaugurated earlier this year. Since then, he has shown himself to have a different style than his quite effective predecessor, but it works well for him and he has accomplished a lot since he took office.

He’s had a number of major work areas to handle, including building a budget in difficult times.  When we talked to him in January, his goal for the year was to succeed building bridges between the city council and voters. “Success to me is a council that works well together doing its business and a community understanding that the preferred approach to issues is one built around conversations among the stakeholders in the issue.” He seems to have accomplished that goal this year.

Traber says that his biggest accomplishment as mayor this year has been the significant things that the City Council have moved forward on and what he expects to deliver on during this term. “My job in many ways, or most ways, is to work with council to help them set policy and move forward. So my biggest accomplishment, I view, as being measured by what they’ve been able to accomplish.”

3. David Grappo, Chairman of Citizens Against a New Jail
David Grappo was a man up against the wall, a man low on resources but high on confidence. His campaign against Sheriff Scott Jackson’s jail proposal felt lopsided from the outset. Against a panel of law enforcement officials, he was the only member of the opposition in public forums, as the chairman of Citizens Against a New Jail. Grappo had work to do.

Despite all odds, he delivered on a promise made to his community and stopped a jail, that he deemed unnecessary, from being built. Grappo made his presence known through the press and public appearances and he worked almost singlehandedly to push the breaks on plans for a new jail, and it all worked.

The Advocate came out supporting the jail, but we have to admit Grappo’s impact is undeniable and you can expect his presence to loom large over any future plans involving the jail.

4. Scott Jackson, Benton County Sheriff
Benton County Sheriff Scott Jackson’s main takeaway in 2015 may have been his lost bid for a new jail, but his undeniable public presence and his slow evolution from a cop’s cop to a man of the people make him one of the most impactful people in Corvallis this year.

Jackson has been and continues to be the model public servant. He lives to serve our community and he does so with an earnest and approachable manner. His dedication to our citizenry brought him out to a near constant schedule of public forums, where he sought out public input and shared the message that law enforcement is here to help, not to simply put people away.

Corvallis has always been a fairly safe city and Jackson looks to stay that course for years to come. More than that, he successfully articulates that his department is about helping inmates turn their lives around.

Some have blamed the jail measure defeat at least partially on Jackson not arguing some of the points in favor strongly enough, we believe this criticism to not only be unfair, but patently inconsistent with Jackson’s demonstrably impressive communicativeness.

5. (tied) Corvallis Housing First vs. Citizens for Protecting Corvallis
One can believe any number of ways about the fairness of impacting downtown neighborhoods as the emergency cold weather homeless shelter has, but what is undeniable is the impact its operators and surrounding neighbors are having on local conversations, and city and county politics.

The county has worked to engage opposing groups into mediation, the mayor has been working to find temporary mitigations around the shelter, and there have been any number of public forums, most of them standing room only.

The primary players are Citizens for Protecting Corvallis, a group that is concerned about the shelter’s effect on public safety and livability and shelter operator Corvallis Housing First (CHF). The citizens group is gathering signatures for a ballot measure that would put zoning requirements in place for operations like the shelter and they are working on a possible lawsuit against the shelter.

Crime reports have increased with the shelter’s presence—some of a sexual nature have affected middle school age children—so a fight was probably brewing anyhow. But, the new CHF executive director is seen by some as more polarizing than the prior director and mediation fell apart after the shelter completed a purchase of a lot that borders their current location.

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