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Gold Hill mayor wants city to get in gear

GOLD HILL — For Mayor Bucky Steffen, the one-square-mile town he governs is as stark a contrast to his hometown near Los Angeles as he is from most people's image of a small-town mayor.

Far from a baby-kissing, suit-and-tie-wearing politician, Steffen rolls up to the Longbranch Saloon most days on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, sporting denim and leather and a long gray beard.

First elected in November 2008, Steffen plans to seek a third term next year. The 57-year-old is the first to admit he's unconventional, and sometimes at a loss over how to maintain order during often contentious City Council meetings.

Yet in a city with no police force and a reputation for struggling to provide basic services, Steffen said he wants to clean up crime, combat drugs and come up with ways to keep kids busy and out of trouble.

A San Fernando Valley native, Steffen spent much of his life in Grenada Hills, near L.A., riding motorcycles since he was a teen. He never pictured himself in a small town, much less helping to run one.

"I hung with a rough crowd all my life, done all those things you do and I had to get out," Steffen said.

"I thought I'd be dead or in jail, that's why I headed this way."

Having moved his mother to Gold Hill after the 1994 earthquake, he followed suit a year later and worked as a contractor.

But Steffen suffered a heart attack on the dawn of his first election. He retired as a contractor and decided to focus his energy on helping the city.

He acknowledged the town has its share of controversy, including on-again-off-again police protection over the years, concerns about antiquated infrastructure and a council often divided over issues.

While Steffen admitted he's often quiet during meetings, he said he's the type to watch and observe a situation "before opening my mouth."

"Right now, I'm not real happy with what's going on. I thought I had stuff under control and I'm seeing that I'm not anywhere close to getting done what I started out to do," Steffen said, voicing frustration that the city is not "living up to its potential."

"I'm not saying we could be another Jacksonville, but this little city has so much potential and we're dickin' around with stupid stuff, spending three hours on stuff not on the agenda and tabling every damn thing so we never get anywhere."

He added, "The way things are headed now, I see everything getting out of control again. It seems like everybody around here is working off their own personal agenda and they have been for years."

As for staff, Steffen said Public Works Director Mike Edwards and City Recorder Mary Goddard "do a great job keeping the city going."

The best thing to happen during his time as mayor, he said, was eliminating a "corrupt police department."

The perks of being mayor, he said, are bestowing special recognition on schoolchildren, working with regional mayors to address food pantry shortages and having residents wave as he rides through town.

"People I don't even know are always waving at me," he said. "I love it."

Councilwoman Lorraine Parks said Steffen provides a calming presence for the city.

"He's kind of an enigma," she said. "There is a part of him that is very 'law and order' and sees the need for law enforcement. On the other hand, he doesn't want to see the cops sitting on all the bars and harassing people for no good reason.

"One of the things I appreciate about him is he will always stop and listen to what you have to say and he'll hear a situation out before he makes up his mind," she added. "On a council that is predominantly women, a little bit of hen pecking can go on at times and he reins it back in."

Grants Pass contractor Tom McNulty, a longtime friend and colleague of Steffen, said the mayor is "pretty serious about being mayor and really loves the town."

"Bucky is a pretty straightforward guy. If he's going to say something, he's going to say it. He's no-holds-barred," McNulty said.

"He's probably not your typical mayor, but maybe that's what it's going to take for Gold Hill."

Steffen said he would stick around for as long as he felt he could do some good.

"What I want to see is progress and I'm not sure how to go about it, but I'm up for the job for as long as the city needs me," he said.

"I'm not saying I know how to do politics, but I do know the difference between right and wrong, and in my opinion, what's going on around here now is wrong and we have a lot of work to do.

"A lot of people are surprised to find out that I'm the mayor — it's pretty funny when I pull up on my bike for the mayors' convention. But this works for me "… and I think it works here, too."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Gold Hill Mayor Bucky Steffen rides his Harley-Davidson through town on Friday. The 57-year-old is the first to admit he’s unconventional, but hopes to continue to serve the city as long as he can do some good. - Julia Moore