Five candidates vie to be Lincoln City Mayor, running for the seat vacated by Dick Anderson with his election to the Oregon Senate last November. A special election will be held May 18, with the term to expire December 31, 2022.
The Lincoln City Charter provides for six city councilors, two from each ward, and the mayor — all with an equal vote. The mayor runs council meetings, represents the city at events and is generally viewed as the face of the city.
Fernando Garza, Riley Hoagland, Susan Wahlke and Don Williams responded to questions regarding their interest in the position, what sets them apart from other candidates, what they view as currently the most pressing issue and what they like best about Lincoln City. John Forse declined to participate and did not submit information to the voters’ pamphlet.
“I believe I can bring the leadership and communication that the city has been lacking for a few years,” Garza said, explaining that as a medical interpreter, talking with people comes naturally to him. “I’m not a career politician, so I’m able to communicate with everyone.”
Garza cited his ability to communicate with those in the Hispanic community who have not always been represented on or understood by the city council.
Working as a contractor for the county, Garza explained, “I’ve been doing Spanish translations since last June — the call center, contact tracing, translations related to fires and COVID.” The experience, he related, has given him a unique perspective on current issues and needs in the community.
Garza cited safety as the most pressing issue facing Lincoln City, followed by homelessness and the lack of housing. “Lincoln City doesn’t have an adequate evacuation plan. What we have is a draft from 2018,” he said, adding that no one lost their lives in the fire last summer was a blessing. “We have a lot of work to do as far as safety is concerned,” he added.
“My favorite thing is waking up in the morning, just listening to the stillness,” Garza shared. “I like to go out at night and listen to the city sleep. Today’s been so nice, I hung out at the beach. I’m an avid kite flier.”
Regularly visiting from McMinnville “just to watch the sun sunset” for many years, Garza and his wife moved to Lincoln City in 2016.
Lincoln City isn’t just a place where people go vacation, said Hoagland. “We’re here. We live here. I want to foster livability for everyone,” he said.
Elected to city council in 2016 and again in 2020, Hoagland said, “I think it’s important to have a leader willing to stand up for the community.” He added, “I am doing that.”
Hoagland sees this election as a pivotal moment for the future of Lincoln City. “The Mayor helps carry the energy of the city,” he explained. “I am ready and able to advocate for the residents, to listen to all sides and make decisions with the city’s best interest in mind. “
A city councilor promoting and encouraging economic diversity, Hoagland cited his strong relationships with key government officials built over a decade in city politics. He expressed deep appreciation for Lincoln City’s natural and open spaces, along with his desire to protect them.
“I’m the only one who has been continuously involved in the government for the last 10 years,” Hoagland said, which he said sets him apart from the other candidates.
“I want to be an advocate for the economic diversity and community inclusion that hasn’t been present in quite some time,” he said, referencing his support for the city’s mobile food pods as a specific example.
“I get calls all the time about all different kinds of stuff,” he explained. “People want to know that they’ll be heard and taken seriously.”
The biggest issue facing Lincoln City is housing. It’s been housing for a long time, Hoagland said. “We have a number of high-end apartments coming into town, luxury apartments … but what about the rest of us? Looking at creating ways to create workforce housing is the biggest benefit city government will be.”
Hoagland points to accountability and community development as the cornerstones of his decade in local politics. “The city deserves a leader with governmental experience and trusted relationships,” he said. “I care about and love the city, take pride in my residency, and I am honored to have been elected twice for council. It is important to have a mayor who can hold multiple perspectives in mind when making policy decisions.”
“We need a mayor who can work with people,” Wahlke explained. “We’ve had mayors in the past who didn’t look at the 300-page packet.” It’s not just showing up at the meeting, she said. “You need someone who will pay attention and put in the work before the meeting.”
The mayor should bring people together, be a good listener, she noted, observing that listening is often more important than talking.
After serving as City Councilor from 2015 to 2018, Wahlke ran for mayor in 2016, losing to Anderson by 16 votes. She served on the Lincoln City Budget Committee from 2012 to 2014 and 2019 to 2020.
“My history with the city goes back longer than that,” she continued. “I was a city employee in the early to mid-nineties,” working for the city attorney and then the chief of police. Wahlke retired from a career as a legal secretary and is active in community organizations.
“I feel I have a unique perspective being a city employee, also on council and having lived here for almost 30 years. I can bring some insight into the position that other candidates don’t have.”
Noting the mayor’s vote is equal to a city councilor’s, Wahlke explained, “The way the mayor runs a meeting and solicits comments from everyone in a respectful manner can make a difference in how things get done, how things are accomplished.
“I think housing is very important,” Wahlke said. “Also, supporting our local businesses and attracting new ones.”
Wahlke continued, “Our infrastructure is very important, and I think we’ve been lacking in long-term planning in the last few years. We really need to look at the future and prepare for the big things that will be needed — like water, sewer and streets.” She emphasized the need for long-term planning.
The “wonderful, welcoming people” are what Wahlke likes best about Lincoln City. Even when she first arrived in Lincoln City, “I didn’t ever feel like I would be alone if I went somewhere by myself.”
“I wanted to offer my experience to help during this transition period,” Williams explained. “We have a new city planner. We’re going to have a new city manager. It seems to me we should have some stability in the mayor’s office.”
Mayor from 2012 to 2016, Williams said his experience sets him apart from the other candidates. “It’s important how the meeting is conducted … to keep it focused,” he explained. “I’m not coming in with any major agenda, other than to offer my assistance. It’s important to have someone walk in day one and know how to run the meetings, know all the players and procedures.”
Recovery from the COVID pandemic, “how we approach that and getting our city government working again,” are top issues, among others, he said.
Williams pointed out that city hall has been closed for a year. “I’d like to get city offices open again, and get the services out there to the people.”
Williams indicated a desire to revisit liquidating The Villages at Cascade Head property. “We have no business being in the land business,” he added. “I’d like to see that liquidated … take the proceeds and build an independent senior center in this town. I think the seniors deserve their own facility here. I’d like to take some of that land and finally make the dog park we’ve been talking about for eight years.”
Like Wahlke, Williams cited the people when asked what he likes best about Lincoln City. “I love the people of this town. This is one of the most generous towns that I’ve ever been in. The volunteer spirit — it’s amazing. If a call goes out in need, people step up.”
Williams and his wife moved to the area in 2008, opening The Nelscott Cafe. The couple previously owned and operated the Lincoln City and Newport Subway restaurants. Williams currently operates Redemption Thrift.