The four hopefuls up for appointment to a vacant seat on the Ridgefield City Council agreed on many items as they discussed their views of the city, along with its strengths and challenges during a recent virtual forum.
On March 16, the candidates seeking to fill former Ridgefield Mayor Don Stose’s city council seat had a chance to answer questions sourced from city residents ahead of interviews by the remaining councilors and eventual appointment on April 28. Jake Bredstrand, Matt Cole, Katie Favela and Darcy Rourk agreed that growth is Ridgefield’s biggest challenge, that the Ridgefield Raptors are a great addition to the city, and that the city’s downtown is an important asset to the city’s small-town charm.
“Moving to Ridgefield is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” said Bredstrand, who is a sales manager for a medical equipment company. “We have something special and I just want to preserve it.”
When he’s not working his dayjob, Bredstrand works part-time at Ridgefield Craft Brewing. At the brewery, Bredstrand has been able to meet a variety of residents and has heard their perspectives on the city.
“You get to hear people’s wants and needs. From the fifth-generation family that’s lived here for decades to the folks like me who bought their first home in Ridgefield, I want to represent those individuals,” Bredstrand said.
Cole, the creative director for a design company, mirrored Bredstrand’s sentiments on moving to the city. In Cole’s previous career in the Navy, he had the chance to live in a variety of different places before settling in Ridgefield.
“It wasn’t until my family moved to Ridgefield that we really felt like we were home,” Cole said. He wants to be a part of the community-building in the city, which led Cole to seek the appointment.
Though all candidates are relatively new to the city, Favela has been a Ridgefielder the longest. Favela moved to the city more than 10 years ago. A social worker and therapist, Favela said she was drawn to the position so she can be involved in the efforts of one of the fastest-growing cities in the state.
“I’m always amazed at Ridgefield and the connection and the pride that our residents have here,” Favela said.
Both Favela and Rourk said they host Raptors players during their seasons, and like Bredstrand, Rourk is a season ticket holder.
“From the time we’ve moved here I’ve been so impressed with all of the things that Ridgefield does to welcome people and make them really feel like they’re a part of the community,” said Rourk, who retired from a position as vice president of human resources at Clark College. If she is elected, Rourk wants to ensure transparency in city government alongside balancing growth with protecting what people enjoy about the city.
Growth is a chief concern among the candidates. All of them acknowledged that if it’s not handled in the right way then the city could lose what drew people to Ridgefield in the first place.
“We can’t stop the growth … but we can manage it properly,” Bredstrand said.
When looking at development, he said it is important to put the city’s priorities at the forefront for things like its downtown, natural beauty and its trail system.
He said the council needs to look out for Ridgefield’s charm and integrity, “so that it doesn’t become just another suburb of Portland.” If he is appointed, Bredstrand said he would be an advocate to make sure growth is managed in a way that does not change the city’s values.
Favela also acknowledged more growth is inevitable. She said it is important to keep in mind the impacts a population boom would have on fire and police service in the city as well as the school district.
“The growth extends to more than just new development and businesses,” Favela said.
Cole stressed the need for a balanced approach on growth by making sure roads and utilities are adequate and that the city has enough of a commercial base to service residents. He also supports the Ridgefield School District’s efforts to expand its facilities.
“As long as we can do that (balancing) then our growth won’t seem so sudden,” Cole said.
Agreeing with the others, Rourk pointed to how the city handles growth at the personal level. She said she has been impressed with the administrative staff in Ridgefield. Keeping detail-oriented employees on the city payroll will help Ridgefield grow the right way, Rourk said.
“All of this growth has to be based on careful planning, careful research, and taking advantage of the expertise we have right here in the city,” Rourk said.
All four candidates touched on the importance of maintaining and supporting Ridgefield’s downtown. Rourk said downtown is the first place she takes her guests and her own experiences with the businesses there have been positive.
“It’s just an amazing collection of businesses … that know you’re a part of the community. They bend over backwards to help,” Rourk said.
Bredstrand said Main Street USA is what he thinks of when he ponders downtown Ridgefield. He touched on the importance of getting more foot traffic to the area.
Favela said she feels there’s an underlying concern that growth is focused closer to Interstate 5. She said the council needs to listen to what business owners have to say.
Cole said it is important to keep downtown’s focus on small businesses and community events as the city expands.
Experience and community engagement
The candidates were asked about their prior experiences and how it plays into their ability to be on the council.
Cole, who serves on the Clark County Mosquito Control District Board of Trustees, acknowledged the peculiarity of the position, but he said it shows how interconnected Ridgefield is with other local governments in the county. He added that his involvement with the city’s budget advisory committee and the planning commission have been eye-opening and have given him greater insight into how the city functions.
Rourk noted her involvement with the city salary commission. Rourk said she also immediately joined the Friends of the Ridgefield Community Library upon moving to the city, noting how excited she was about the effort to build the now-complete expansion of the library.
Even prior to moving to the city, Rourk said she was involved in discussions about what will become Clark College at Boschma Farms on the east side of the city. She wants to be involved with welcoming the campus to the city, even if she isn’t appointed to the council.
“I think that’s going to be a tremendous asset to this community,” Rourk said.
Bredstrand pointed to his position on the city parks board, but also his time bartending which has allowed him to get a feel for the concerns of citizens.
Favela said she is a contracted therapist with the Ridgefield School District. Her job also allows her to work with the Ridgefield Police Department. On the regional level, Favela said she was a co-lead for the Southwest Washington Family Youth System Partner Round Table.
Candidates also discussed how the city can increase citizen engagement.
Cole said it is a branding effort and noted the city needs to find compelling ways to communicate with its residents.
“When people start to feel ownership over those (issues) … they’re going to be the first ones to the table,” Cole said.
Rourk said a chief reason for the low levels of engagement is a lack of awareness of what’s going on. Acknowledging the city has done a good job at getting the word out, she said providing more opportunities to solicit feedback would help get more people engaged.
“I think the more people understand what the issues are and understand what their voice can mean in maybe solving the problem, I think that they will become more engaged,” Rourk said.
Cole, Rourk and Bredstrand agreed the city’s current engagement efforts have been good. Bredstrand pointed specifically to Ridgefield’s State of the City address, which was filmed at various locations across the city to highlight what it offers.
He said councilors who are active in the community is key to improving citizen participation.
“People are busy with their lives, raising kids, going to work. That can create a lot of apathy,” Bredstrand said.
Both Bredstrand and Favela pointed to Raptors and Spudders games as prime opportunities for councilors to engage with the community. Favela said engagement is part of her professional career as a social worker as she connects people with resources and lets them know their voice matters. She said it is also important to engage with residents who live farther out in the city, and who are not located just off of Pioneer Street or Hillhurst Road.
Though their approaches to the council’s role outside of its regular meeting differed slightly, all of the candidates agreed that residents should be at the forefront.
“I think transparency, communication and fierce advocacy is crucial to councilmembers,” Favela said. “The community wants to know who is serving them.”
Cole said talking with residents outside of council chambers about what the city is doing is part of a councilor’s duty. He added the information goes both ways, as hearing citizen concerns is also important for whoever fills the seat.
“I think sometimes it’s just as simple as being present and listening … and when we go back to council, we’re going to take what we heard over the weekend or at that other event, and applying that to the decisions we make,” Cole said.
Bredstrand stressed the importance of being present in the community. Since he works from home, Bredstrand said he would be able to attend various city events.
“I’ll be the first to show up and be a part of everything I can,” Bredstrand said.
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