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Four candidates vie for three open Phoenix City Council seats

Candidates who filed to run for Phoenix City Council in the Nov. 3 election didn’t know they would face the challenge of rebuilding the town.

The Sept. 8 Almeda fire destroyed more than 700 residences and numerous businesses.

Four candidates are competing for three open seats, including political novices Brian Buckner and Karen Shrader, incumbent Al Muelhoefer, and Krista Peterson, a member of the town’s Planning Commission.

Buckner listed no prior governmental experience in his filing. He said he is a stay-at-home dad during a brief phone conversation, and he gave email responses to other questions sent to him.

A lack of transparency by the City Council compelled him to file for office, Buckner wrote. He cited numerous closed executive sessions as a concern.

Buckner wrote that maintaining affordable housing should be a main priority as the town rebuilds.

In the long-term, Phoenix should become a city that people would like to visit for local events, shops and restaurants, and one that residents can be proud to call home, Buckner responded.

Muelhoefer was appointed to the council in July to fill the remainder of a term that ends Dec. 31. Councilor Terry Baker resigned from the position in June. Muelhoefer was chair of the city’s urban renewal agency board for four years. He is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and was executive director of a program in Troy, Ohio, that worked on downtown revitalization.

To help with fire recovery, Muelhoefer said, the city should look at some of its commercially zoned lots that might be used for housing.

“The most exciting thing is to look at a lot of commercial areas that we have that may be appropriate for housing in the future, because we have such a shortage of housing as it is,” said Muelhoefer. “We need to take a look at those areas ... and consider getting housing built there.”

Muelhoefer said he was happy to hear that three large manufactured home parks destroyed in the fire plan to rebuild.

“The key is for the city staff, and mainly Joe Slaughter, our community development officer, to really work as a one-stop shopping center for our citizens that want to rebuild,” said Muelhoefer. That would include helping them fill out forms, getting the process as streamlined as possible and removing impediments.

Peterson has been on the Planning Commission since 2017. She manages rental properties she built in Phoenix and Talent, and she previously worked as an office manager for Sunday Afternoons in Talent.

Waiting for government officials to decide on how cleanup procedures will evolve will be necessary before City Council could take actions to help rebuilding efforts, said Peterson. She said the need for more land to build on is a continuing challenge for Phoenix.

“Once we find out how the cleanup is going to be handled, then we will be better able to help the people find out how they can rebuild and when they can rebuild,” said Peterson.

Peterson faces a rebuild of her own. While her home and properties in Phoenix were not affected, the Almeda fire destroyed a fourplex she owned in Talent. High costs for builders and construction materials, which have risen during the COVID-19 pandemic, will be a challenge to rebuilding, she said.

“Even if the fire hadn’t happened, we have been trying to get expansion for years now so that we have more places for people to move to,” said Peterson.

Phoenix officials have spent nearly a decade working to bring two areas designated for development into the city’s urban growth boundary. The two areas encompass nearly 500 acres on the east side of Interstate 5 around North Phoenix Road. Peterson has been involved with the process as a planning commissioner.

Shrader decided to run for council to support the town’s police department after citizen concerns emerged during spring in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police and national attention on police brutality. Recovery from the Almeda fire will now be a primary focus for the council, she said.

Shrader said she would like to see a relaxation of some of the regulations from the state Department of Land Conservation and Development to allow for quicker rebuilding.

“They would certainly slow it down with all their notices and regulations,” said Shrader. “They have to be able to work around them in some way so that people can be able to get into their homes again.”

Shrader and her husband will face their own rebuilding challenges. They lost rental houses in both Talent and Phoenix, and a fence at their home in Phoenix burned but the house survived.

Shrader listed no government experience on her candidate filing, but she said she has been a volunteer for United Way for 24 years and has worked for Harry and David for 28 years in several capacities. She has lived in Phoenix for more than 25 years.

Councilors Sara Westover and Stuart Warren aren’t seeking re-election. They were both elected to four-year terms in 2016. Baker, elected at the same time, resigned in June and is running for mayor against incumbent Chris Luz.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Phoenix City Hall