The Harney County Chamber of Commerce hosted a public forum for candidates running for Harney County judge and Harney County commissioner on Tuesday, March 29, in the Memorial Building at the Harney County Fairgrounds.
Candidates for judge at the forum were Pete Runnels, Tom Schaefer, Anna Jo Surber, Forrest Keady, and Herb Vloedman.
Commissioner candidates present were Dan Nichols, Shana Withee, Mark Owens, Rob Frank, and Barbara Cannady. Charmaign Edwards and John M. Hale did not attend.
The candidates were each given two minutes for an opening statement on why they are running for office. A series of questions then followed, with each candidate given two minutes to answer.
Candidates for judge
In his opening statement, Vloedman explained he is running as a write-in candidate, gave a brief history of his education and work experience, and stated that economic development is one of his first goals.
Surber said she decided a few months ago that she wanted to get involved in community government and made the decision to run for public office. She said, if elected, she will ask the community for input on what to do in Harney County.
Following a short talk on his background, Schaefer said he decided over the last few months that he needed to get involved in what’s going on in the community, and in our country as a whole.
Runnels stated that running for office is the toughest job interview a person can ever have. He touched briefly on his past work and budget experience, and said the county judge is the chief financial officer for the county. He said he would do everything in his power to see that the county stays sound, whole, and survives into the future. He said the county is in good shape now, has never been in debt, and he envisions “changes coming our way that would benefit us economically.”
Runnels added that he’s learned a lot in the past six years serving as a county commissioner, and he’d like to carry that forward.
Keady said the reason he’s running for judge is because he wants to see prosperity come back to this county. He said he had to overcome “hurdles” during the renovation of his family’s building on North Broadway, as have others, and he’d like to see some of those hurdles go away.
Candidates for commissioner
Withee said, after spending the last 30 years working for Oregon State University, she’s looking for a change, and she feels she has the skills to serve on county court. She said she has a strong financial background, and has served on a number of budget boards in the community. She said the three things important to her are the county’s economy, education, and quality health care.
Owens said, after moving to his current residence in Crane, he decided to get more involved in county government and has served, or is serving, on a number of boards and commissions.
“Eastern Oregon, Harney County specifically, has allowed my family to live the American dream, and that’s why I decided to run for county commissioner, to give back to the community that’s given so much to me,” he said.
He added that there’s a need for a fresh perspective and fresh ideas in county government.
Nichols, the incumbent, said he decided last year that he wouldn’t run again, but after the course of things this winter, and the positive things that are happening in this community, of which there are many, there are opportunities to strengthen a lot of the work that’s been done.
“We’ve made new contacts. There’s been a lot of work done in the past, the past 10 or 15 years, there’s been a lot of positive changes. We have the opportunity to continue with those positive changes,” Nichols said.
He said he was asked by a number of people to run again, but he said he wasn’t going to. Then on the last day to file for office, things changed, and he thought it’s not fair to this community to possibly leave two-thirds of the county court in new hands.
“It’s too important to what’s going on. It seemed kind of selfish of me, so I decided to run again, and leave it up to the people of this community as to how rapid of changes they want. I have thought hard about it, making sure this is what I wanted to do, and you have my commitment,” he said.
Frank said he wants to see positive changes in Harney County. He stated that he’s not a big fan of change, but understands change is inevitable, and the “only thing we can dictate is our actions that decide whether that change is going to be negative or positive.”
He said his main concerns are economy and education.
“We need to create real jobs, and the only way I see to do so is to utilize our natural resource systems in a fashion that’s been proven sustainable economically, environmentally, and sociologically. And also actively solicit business and industry that we feel is a good fit for our community,” Frank said.
He said county government is the surest way he knows of to see that residents’ needs are met because “no one knows what we need better than us.”
Cannady said she has attended county court meetings for the past nine years and budget board meetings for the last three years. She talked about the funds the county receives from the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act and Payment in Lieu of Taxes and the uncertainty of the continuation of those funds, and mentioned an upcoming meeting of the Oregon Water Resources Department.
Questions for candidates
The questions posed to the candidates ranged from governance of the county and revenue streams to major expenses and the needs of infrastructure in the county.
Most of the candidates agreed the main issues facing the court in the near future are maintaining the county road system, quality health care, improved Internet service, PERS funding, and improving the economy.