CitySpeak Debates: Local Candidates, Public Concerns

At the CitySpeak Forum this past evening, The Advocate hosted a debate for candidates seeking local offices. In the race for county commission position two are incumbent Xan Augerot, a Democrat, and her challengers Pacific Green Progressive candidate Mike Beilstein and Republican Tom Cordier.  

County commission position three is also up for vote this year, and longtime incumbent Annabelle Jaramillo has chosen not to run again. Vying for her position are Democrat Nancy Wyse, Republican John Sarna, and Libertarian Cody Serdar, who declined to appear for the forum.  

County commissioners are elected to four-year terms. In the non-partisan city council races, the only contested seat this election cycle is for Ward Seven. Incumbent Paul Schaffer faces challenger Nic Bowman.

County Commission Pos. 2 

Augerot has a background in natural conservation and is a longtime resident of Benton County. She wants to continue working on coronavirus-related issues, the criminal justice system, and homelessness concerns among other topics. She spoke about taking a conservation-minded approach to both natural resources and fiscal budgets.  

Augerot highlighted the need to build on recent criminal justice work by saying Benton County has the smallest jail per capita in Oregon. She said various rental bed options have not provided the solution, and one effect of that is fewer low-level arrests being made by local law enforcement. She added that more citations in lieu of arrest has led to a higher failure to appear rate, jamming up the court system.   

“We need a new facility that is appropriately sized where we can actually help improve the lives of people who end up incarcerated in our local jail, so they can be better neighbors when they come out,” Augerot said.  

Beilstein is a retired research chemist and former city councilor. He cited climate change and environmental concerns as the impetus of his campaign, voicing support for the Green New Deal and adding that he felt this first attempt at ranked choice voting needed a third candidate. 

A supporter of previous attempts at a jail levy, Beilstein backs another try. He’s concerned about the quality of service provided to prisoners and victims alike, saying it’s not simply a matter of punishment, but also about turning lives around. He also said more people could be in supervised housing rather than jail, which would be less expensive.  

Beilstein attributed homelessness in part to larger societal problems such as wage levels and the housing crisis. He said those issues must be resolved as part of the solution. 

“Our economy is set up in a way that real estate is becoming more and more valuable while wages to workers isn’t keeping up,” Beilstein said. 

Cordier is an engineer by training and a former executive. He called for better money management and less influence on the commission from city politics, as well as a close look at county processes. He’s in favor of using masks and social distancing to re-open live public meetings and in-person schooling, which Augerot later agreed with – given science and data are strictly followed.   

On the jail proposal, Cordier was critical of contracts with outside organizations for prison beds, saying the Linn County deal is underused and the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Center deal is too expensive. He added that the local criminal justice system suffers from an inter-agency disconnect.  

“All of the aspects of criminal justice, from the court system, to mental health, to the jails, to parole and probation are just a bunch of silos that do their thing,” Cordier said. “But in a comprehensive way, they don’t connect with each other.” 

County Commission Pos. 3 

Wyse is vice-president of the city council and serves on the county planning commission and budget committee among other liaison roles. Her top priorities include addressing the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, prudent steps forward on the criminal justice implementation plan, protecting county resource zones, and improving transparency including public records access. 

“I have focused on these goals because they’re all inextricably linked,” Wyse said. “The local economy, crime, mental health, wraparound services, land use – all these are tied together and make up the fabric of livability for Benton County.”  

A lack of enforcement has emboldened criminal offenders, according to Wyse. She said a larger jail as well as more comprehensive services should be prioritized. Sarna agreed that a so-called “catch-and-release” doctrine due to limited jail space has only hurt the community.  

Wyse supports a permanent housing approach to solving the homelessness problem. She noted needed temporary measures such as legal car and tent camping and tiny homes as shelters, which she said should be hosted on private property and run by social services.  

Sarna is a Vietnam War veteran who’s had many varied jobs and holds a doctorate in environmental science engineering. He’s been active in volunteer work but sees an opportunity to serve more people on the commission. His four-pillar platform includes improving disaster preparedness, supporting and fully funding law enforcement, making government more accountable and fiscally responsible, and ending political divisiveness.  

Homelessness is tied to many other issues and creates a community divide, Sarna said. He referred to a proposal that would offer space and building materials for shelter-making purposes as an example of ways to help the homeless on a path to self-improvement.  

The most important topic for Benton County is disaster preparedness, Sarna said, advocating for more readiness work. If a disaster such as the predicted impending mega-quake should occur, he worries the area would suffer greatly. 

“Suddenly, we’re without power for a month or even more … especially following COVID, I think it would be huge problem to recover from,” Sarna said. 

City Council Ward 7 

Bowman has experience as a school teacher and in customer service management. He read a newspaper article that said there were no opposition candidates in this year’s election, and he felt compelled to throw his hat in the ring. He admitted he has nothing against Schaffer’s work on the council, he just wants to give the people a choice. 

“I bring to this job nothing more than the desire to serve the city,” Bowman said. “I’ve spent a lot of months in quarantine, as many did, looking for a new purpose and things to do. I think that this is the opportunity that could be the start of a very long future serving Corvallis.” 

To help the homeless, Bowman suggested addressing upstream issues of a livable minimum wage, housing costs, veteran services, healthcare benefits and mental health assistance – all factors in homelessness. He also acknowledged that throwing money at problems doesn’t necessarily create solutions. 

Schaffer is scientist who worked in technical and policy analysis, and is a longtime Corvallis resident. While he’s new to serving in local government, he feels a responsibility to give back to the community that he’s enjoyed for so long. He’s concerned about the hits city budgets and programs are taking from COVID-19, which will likely have a lasting effect. Housing and homelessness also top his list. 

“I have no ax to grind, I don’t have any hidden agendas, I don’t seek any higher office,” Schaffer said. “What I want to do is be the best representative of the people in this ward that I can.” 

Citing numerous ways in which the city funds homelessness support services and also various networking with support agencies, Schaffer said a lot is being done to help the homeless, but he questioned the value of busting up camps and forcing occupants to relocate when they already have nowhere to go.  

CitySpeak forums are co-presented by the City Club of Corvallis and The Corvallis Advocate. These
debates are sponsored by First Alternative Natural Foods Co-op and Peak Sports.