Ridgefield candidates discuss key issues at public forum

Candidates for Ridgefield City Council positions 2, 5, 7, and the Port of Ridgefield Commission Position 2 speak to voters at moderated meeting

RIDGEFIELD — Candidates for both Ridgefield City Council and commissioner for the Port of Ridgefield spoke to voters last Friday evening during a moderated forum at the Clark County Fire and Rescue Station 21.

City council positions 2, 5 and 7 each have races with two candidates, and the Position 2 race on the Port of Ridgefield Commission also has only two candidates. Council Member Lee Wells (Position 3), is running unopposed and did not attend the event.   

Each set of candidates received eight questions 30 minutes prior to the event to review them and prepare with candid responses. Pastor Ken Stewart of God’s Word Baptist Church in Ridgefield, was chosen to moderate the event.

Each candidate was afforded two minutes to deliver his or her opening statement, and then was given one minute to respond to each question. Finally, each was allowed a one minute closing statement.

The Port Commissioner Position 2 candidates, incumbent Scott Hughes and challenger David Kelly, opened the evening with their answers to eight questions on topics ranging from environmental clean-up to future development by the Port of Ridgefield. 

Incumbent for the Port Commissioner Position 2 Scott Hughes. Photo by Jacob Granneman
Incumbent for the Port Commissioner Position 2 Scott Hughes. Photo by Jacob Granneman

Hughes began first, outlining his belief in new technologies such as utilization of dark fiber and the importance of the Boschma Farms project with Clark College. 

“As we move into this era, right now, it’s kind of the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Hughes said. “Right now it’s data management and data transportation, or transporting data. And this is extremely important. And right now, if we do not keep up with these technologies, we will be left behind. And that’s one thing we’ve done at the port is identify these things.”

Kelly began by explaining he wants to give fresh perspective to the position through moving the port’s focus from environmental cleanup to growing jobs and the economy.

Challenger for Port Commissioner Position 2 David Kelly. Photo by Jacob Granneman
Challenger for Port Commissioner Position 2 David Kelly. Photo by Jacob Granneman

“I’m running for port commissioner as a fresh set of eyes, ears and ideas,” Kelly said. “There has not been a competitive election for port commissioner in 20 years. I see the port as transitioning from being focused on environmental cleanup, which they’ve done a great job on, to be fully focused on job and economic growth important and feel my experience in the private sector can help speed this important and needed transition.”

The first three questions presented to Hughes and Kelly focused on the purpose of the port and it’s alignment with the city’s Comprehensive Growth Plan, as well as their own priorities.

Hughes answered first, explaining his quality over quantity policy when it comes to expansion of the port and its role in the community. 

“We want to help our people get ready for the 21st century,” Hughes said. “We want to make sure that the town is little and we have things that you want to live here and also do it in an environmentally sensitive way.”

Hughes elaborated, with regard to the waterfront development and the nearby wildlife refuge. 

“We did a $93 million cleanup, I think at this point is close to being finished. And those are the things that we have taken on. A lot of people didn’t think we could,” Hughes said. “We are sitting on the edge of 5,200 acres of wildlife refuge and the water down there. We need to develop that thing properly. We shouldn’t do it fast. If we do it fast, we will lose quality.”

Kelly responded to the questions with excitement and a theme focused on the economy.   

“The purpose of that port is economic development and economic development can take on several different things,” Kelly said. “Some of them are, you’re going to see, their wide open. The Rosauers store, wide open thing you can you can see readily. Others like dark fiber, lot less glamorous, but somebody’s got it got to do it.” 

Hughes agreed with Kelly’s ideas on the importance of economic development, but cautioned against moving towards it without certain specific purposes. He also mentioned a strong desire to be in lockstep with the city’s Growth Plan and to work closely with them on future development. 

Kelly spoke about his personal interest in having a greater engagement with the community.

“My feeling is it’s got to have much more public input,” Kelly said. “I attend most board meetings. We don’t have a lot of folks showing up to board meetings. The Port can actually do more to get more folks out there as well. But our focus is got to be on economic development.”

The next two questions centered around the current status of the environmental cleanup and challenges therein, as well as the challenges they see in developing the waterfront area with the construction of the Pioneer Rail Overpass set.

Hughes gave a status update on the cleanup and later commented on the ongoing situation with the new overpass in the mix now. 

“We have a consent decree for the fourth property, the 40 acres down there and for the waterfront,” Hughes said. “I was told that there’s five more yards, five more yards that need to be redone. And at that point, it appears that they finally have a line. And I’m not trying to be a defeatist but quite frankly, you don’t move ecology on too fast. You just work with them the best you can. And that’s been kind of the problem. The line keeps moving, but I can tell you that was close to being done.”

Hughes explained that any development along the waterfront will be a public-private partnership and said he could not supply a timetable currently, with so many variables. 

Kelly agreed with much of what Hughes relayed, and built upon it, saying he was proud of the port and that when development begins it would take a special developer to work on the site. 

“It’s been a great, great job that clean that down there. And the challenges you’re always going to face is the unknown,” Kelly said. “It’s great to see that we’re able to get the funding for the bridge and been able to keep the funding for the bridge and get it completed. I think that’s a positive, but if you live in Ridgefield, should be a nice experience not hearing train horns.” 

The final three questions aligned around balancing rapid city growth and sustainability with port’s current development plan, as well as how to get more citizens involved with the process.

Kelly responded first, outlining his desire to manage growth and garner more citizen engagement.  

“It all went East County, it filled up, you squeeze that the balloon had to come up north and so it’s a matter of doing it well and there’s always going to be hiccups,” Kelly said. “I would love to see more citizen involvement. We have about our same six, seven, eight people at every port meeting which is great. I’m glad to see that, but would love to see the room filled. I’m glad to see that we’re moving forward on looking at the waterfront. I think that’s a critical and important thing. That’s a huge asset that that we have as a community, and I think it’s imperative that we all play well.”

Hughes responded to the questions with anecdotal evidence of things he would like to improve, as well as things he says he is optimistic about. 

“I hear a lot of this at the hardware store. And on a constant basis, so it’s growing pretty quickly. But is it too fast? Probably, but it’s also inevitable,” Hughes said. “ I’ve seen the growth of the city’s planning. So I think it’s a good plan. It’s been developed a long time. We’ve got to make sure that its original plan stays now … I don’t know of a more open port, or a more open public agency than the port of Ridgefield.”  

Ridgefield City Council races

Following Hughes and Kelly, the six candidates for the three positions on Ridgefield City Council began their responses. 

For Position 2, no incumbent is running, as Council Member David Taylor is vacating his seat. Dana Ziemer and Matt Swindell are contending for the position, with Ziemer a newcomer and Swindell having served on the council several years ago. 

Candidate for Ridgefield City Council Position 2 Dana Ziemer. Photo by Jacob Granneman
Candidate for Ridgefield City Council Position 2 Dana Ziemer. Photo by Jacob Granneman
Candidate for Ridgefield City Council Position 2 Matt Swindell. Photo by Jacob Granneman
Candidate for Ridgefield City Council Position 2 Matt Swindell. Photo by Jacob Granneman

For Position 5, incumbent Darren Wertz is running against newcomer Rob Aichele. The two both come to the table with a rich history in Clark County and Ridgefield, with Wertz serving three terms with council and Aichele currently on the City of Ridgefield Planning Commission. 

Incumbents for Ridgefield City Council Positions 5 and 7, respectively, Darren Wertz (left) and Sandra Day (right). Photo by Jacob Granneman
Incumbents for Ridgefield City Council Positions 5 and 7, respectively, Darren Wertz (left) and Sandra Day (right). Photo by Jacob Granneman
Challenger for Ridgefield City Council Position 5 Rob Aichele. Photo by Jacob Granneman
Challenger for Ridgefield City Council Position 5 Rob Aichele. Photo by Jacob Granneman

For Position 7, incumbent Sandra Day is running against challenger Ron Rowan. Day began serving with council in 2012, and Rowan moved to the area two years ago for the small town feel.

Challenger for Ridgefield City Council Position 7 Ron Rowan. Photo by Jacob Granneman
Challenger for Ridgefield City Council Position 7 Ron Rowan. Photo by Jacob Granneman

The first three questions for council candidates centered around their main goals and understanding of the city’s current Comprehensive Growth Plan. They also touched on challenges in the area of growth and sustainability. 

Day began the round of questions, with the order following around the table accordingly. She focused in on communicating with residents and following through on promises in the Comprehensive Growth Plan. 

“We need to partner as leaders with everyone in the community and communications and keeping the city government relevant to you, our residents, local businesses, is very important,” Day said. “What I would change is more emphasis. We talked about this on the council a lot, but parks and trails and connecting them, we have not done as well as I would have liked.”

Rowan was next to answer and his focus related to expanding citizen involvement and maintaining existing policy on city growth. 

“There’s more people in this room tonight then there has been at the last three city council meetings,” Rowan said. “Communication is key. Communications letting you guys know what’s happening, what’s going on in your town … I wouldn’t necessarily change but look at the ordinances as we move into the growth of the area.” 

Ziemer followed, speaking to the importance of connecting generations as well as needing more affordable housing in the city as growth ramps up. 

“I want to be sure to be someone who could connect maybe the older generation with the newer generation of Ridgefield, and to try and keep, like, everyone talks about that small town feel,” Ziemer said. “ … We’ve kind of started helping with that [affordable housing] with the new apartments. There’s been a few condos so that helps, but I think the challenge of, you know, older retirees and college students that may want to stay here. So we that’s going to be a challenge.”

Aichele spoke next, outlining strategic plans for improving public safety, reevaluating the Growth Plan and affordable housing. 

“I truly believe we need to achieve safe connectivity to all the places that we like to go to. Our comprehensive growth plan access network shows that connect to the vision for the future and I will strive to support the progress to achieve this vision,” Aichele said. “ … The issue of affordable housing, touches so many people. We have seniors that are aging in place, it’s difficult for them to make ends meet … Addressing this concern will help put us on the path to possible remedies in addressing the issue.” 

Swindell followed with information about expanding infrastructure, as well as his past time on council during which the Growth Plan was evaluated and adjusted. 

“My previous time on the city council we went through the comprehensive growth plan. I know that when we set it out in 2007-2008, everything was designed to make sure we had connectivity with all the trails, with all the parks … I think this city council’s continued with that, and I don’t know if I really change too much,” Swindell said. “Right now you only have one overpass, and if you were coming over at night you’ll notice every single semi truck and all of our cars trying to fit in to that one place. I think we also need to be looking at on the east and the west side of the freeway, putting in other opportunities for commerce to be moving north and south.”

Council Member Wertz ended each round of answers, and on the first, explained his confidence in the current city government, along with increasing job density and meeting unfunded mandates. 

“I guess if I had to narrow it down to one it would be my primary goal: job density. You heard it earlier that we have nice jobs here, but what I would like to see is enough jobs to where everybody that lives in Ridgefield can work in Ridgefield,” Wertz said. “We’ve got to have people in the office sitting down there and on the council that understand the finances of the city, how it works, where we get money, how we get money, and have the relationships with the folks from whom we get it.” 

The next two questions focused on the rapid growth of the city and how to best manage the inevitable while maintaining the vibrancy of the downtown, which is core to the city’s economy.

Many candidates focused their responses on solutions to maintain the small town feel of the downtown. Suggestions regarding special signage, artistic signage as well as more connections with the businesses downtown were popular. 

The final three questions touched on differences in goals compared to council 15 or 20 years ago, higher rents and homelessness and the need for additional police officers to patrol the city. 

The following are impactful answers from each candidate throughout the evening’s forum. They are in response to different questions:

“You look at a professional woman here, educated, that is not how I started,” Day said, in reference to her interest in investing with affordable housing. “I started in a small town, and my parents were divorced. My mother had four children, and we moved from house to house because we were evicted because there was not enough money. So I know we were that close to being homeless and living in a car. So I’m gonna do everything I can.”

“As I said before, this is this is my Mayberry. I moved here for the hometown feel,” Rowan said, explaining his reasons for running. “I wanted to learn more about the city, and what’s happening in the town and to grow with the town. And to make sure that growth fits the needs of our people.” 

“I think continuing to be a part of the main street association and the city have revitalization of downtown efforts in place,” Ziemer said, in response to a question about maintaining downtown. “And also collaborating with businesses, the port, school district, and even like the Raptors baseball team. Tailgate things downtown or have businesses at home games. The players come and citizens can meet them at the businesses.”

Aichele explained interactions with the Ridgefield Police Chief, and his connection to Aichele’s father, who was a member of law enforcement. He also told of a ride-along he had done with another Ridgefield officer. 

“I’ve had five interactions with the police department in the last couple months,” Aichele said. “And I’m confident that we have great leaders. If I’m on city council, I will support the police department and the fire department and continually have a relationship with them to support their needs.”

“We don’t have a huge homelessness issue in Ridgefield, but we do have about 2 percent poverty level … and it’s those individuals that I’m most concerned about, making sure that they know where to get the resources before they become homeless,” Swindell said, with regard to addressing the issue preemptively. “Many of you probably don’t know this, but my beautiful wife is the administrator of the Ridgefield Living Center. She’s been there for 19 years. And those individuals that live there have challenges and if they weren’t there, they would be homeless.” 

“I’m not in this to have a political career. I’m not in it to get rich. I’m not in it to win some personal competition. But this is and has been and will be my home,” Wertz said in his closing statement. “I want the best qualified and effective people sitting in these council seats. I know Ridgefield, the county, the state, and I know that I’m the best person for this seat on the council. And I ask for your vote. Thank you.”
For more information on candidates and the races mentioned in this story, take a look at this year’s Clark County Voters Pamphlet

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