Eric Muehter is running for Hillsboro City Council, Ward 1 Position A. That position is currently held by Darell Lumaco, who is term limited. Muehter’s opponent in this race is Beach Pace.
We set out to ask every city council candidate the same five questions. Here’s what Muehter had to say.
Why do you want to get involved with city politics?
I think that I would say I don’t see it as politics. I see it as serving the community, I see myself as a public servant.
I’ve always been interested in politics, and even more interested in the things that are happening here at home that affect me. Seeing how the world is going, I wanted to do my part and find a way to serve my community. I believe that service to my local community is more important than anything else.
I believe a lot of things that City Council provides have a much greater, more direct impact than anything determined at the city or state level. We make some of the hardest, most important decisions at City Council. I think that is the place to affect change.
I’ve always been the sort of person who wants to know where his money goes, how that all works. I do some volunteer work with the American legion here in Hillsboro. Being involved in my community is always been something I wanted to do. When I bought my house here in Hillsboro I decided to become part of the HOA, I became a director. When our president decided to leave I stepped up, and have been re-appointed to that position for the last couple of years. It was about wanting to put positive things into the community, and I wanted to know where that money goes. City Council has a lot of sway over how tax dollars are spent, so I want to get involved with that as well.
What do you think is the biggest problem facing our city right now? What would you do about it?
The big challenge right now is the speed at which the city is growing. It’s unprecedented in Hillsboro, and it’s put us in a situation where Hillsboro is unique in a lot of respects. We’re doing well, property values are up, but with that come all the challenges that you see in larger cities. Housing prices, where there aren’t enough homes for people to live in, which is also closely tied with homelessness.
So the biggest problem, more of a challenge than a problem, is how do we manage that growth and still be Hillsboro? And that’s what’s motivated me to get involved in the city, to accommodate this growth we have to sacrifice other things.
The passion people have in Orenco is a good example of that. You have these competing interests: one is progress, building, expanding. And that’s good, it translates to jobs, to more money in our community. The flip side is the folks who were there, who think three story buildings are tall enough, they don’t want things that look out of place destroying the look of the neighborhood.
I see that in a lot of places. No matter how you cut it, however that area changes, it changes the whole appearance of the neighborhood. That’s not bad, but the thing I’m concerned about are the things that we’re losing. We very nearly lost the park at the southern end of Jackson School Road. We also see expansion in South Hillsboro, and in the areas north of Hillsboro, that are being annexed. A lot of that is farmland that is becoming industrial, so you lose the farm and you gain buildings and corporate structures and manufacturing places, which obviously we want to continue to have job growth. But at the same time we’re losing all of that charm and character that makes Hillsboro a place where people want to live. So the focus has to be on the impact on the individual working people, the families who are in the middle. So we have to look at fostering those people.
If we continue to foster a population that is equipped to take on the jobs that are coming, we’re going to continue to attract the businesses that are coming.
I like the fact that I can, while living here, drive five minutes and go to the dairy farm where we buy our milk. It is important for my daughter to have that experience, to know where our food comes from. Every time I see the annexation I worry about how much of Hillsboro we’re losing.
I want to know that when City Council looks at expansion and growth that we look at things like preserving our parks, and really consider how annexation affects the neighborhood and the community. Part of that will be communicating our concerns with our legislature, working with Metro. To make sure that the community that we are building remains the community that we want to build in.
What do you think Hillsboro should be doing in order to offer more affordable housing?
I think that we need to cast a wider net when it comes to ideas about affordable housing. The overwhelming majority of effort into affordable housing is in single family homes, and unfortunately what gets missed in that there is a huge gap between people who can buy a home traditionally and people who can afford subsidized housing.
For them, as you have alluded to, the larger part of the solution needs to be condominiums and apartment housing, because that fills that gaps. We all like to imagine the large property and the big picket fence but home ownership isn’t a given anymore. I think more focus should be put in that direction, but I also think that the other thing is being open to other possibilities.
There seems to be two big problems for City Council. There’s this sort of one track towards an answer. I feel like when there are opportunities outside of what maybe is the obvious, quick answer, the city doesn’t necessarily make enough effort to explore innovative ideas.
A bigger issue is the communication with city council. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about how city council works, what they do, what the processes are. I was just in a meeting with some of the folks in the city manager’s office yesterday, and they had a nice map with all of the different streets, which one belongs to ODOT, which ones belong to the county. This comes up all the time, folks have a complaint about a road and city officials have to tell them it’s not a city road. I see similar issues during City Council meetings.
There’s a break in communication between the people and City Council. People don’t know how it works, they don’t know what they do. I’d like to see some improvement.
Would you prefer to serve on the Finance or Transportation committee? Why?
I think that, given the choice between the two, I would lean toward finance. It’s the less exciting of the two, some might say, but it’s where I feel like the more importance is. When I wanted to get involved with the HOA I wanted to follow the money, I wanted to know where our money is going.
I was previously on the elected to the board for local 328 at work, our labor union. At the end of the day whether you’re a labor union or a governmental entity, a large part of what you do is figure out how to spend other people’s money. It’s what drives the whole machine, if we didn’t have the money we couldn’t have any impact whatsoever. If you follow the money you find what the actual business is. Finance to me is the wider reaching issue that reaches everything, so that’s where I would want to be.
Is there a question I didn’t ask that you wish I did? Answer it!
I’d want to talk about campaign financing. I’ve been quite open and transparent about the fact that I didn’t go looking for money, I didn’t ask for donations, I didn’t accept anyone’s money at all. That’s because I have a belief that money in politics degrades our democracy. You can start to justify it when you’re looking at the state or federal level, but I don’t feel that I need to raise a bunch of money and put a bunch of signs up to run for City Council.
I’ve been very critical of Councillor Kyle Allen’s 2014 campaign. He raised over 10k, and if you read any of the news during that election there were articles asking whether this was the new normal. He got elected, so maybe it was a factor? I don’t know. But before the filing for this election had ended, my opponent, Beach Pace, had already raised nearly what Kyle raised in his entire campaign. I think it’s disgusting, I just don’t think that it can possibly be good for our community.
I asked her why she needed all that money, and her response was that it’s expensive to have a campaign. She has a manager, and a person who runs her website. She had a staff to pay. I think it makes sense when you are a Senator, but not for a city council seat.
When I look at that I don’t think that makes sense. The other thing she said was that she didn’t want to go through all the effort and not win. I thought about that, and she’s got a point. If you’re going to do all that work you want to win, but I don’t agree with the assumption that more money in the campaign makes you win. I just don’t think that’s how our government should be. I don’t think that folks can be bought.
I think if I get elected it would be a powerful example of the fact that money doesn’t buy elections, but I don’t think that’s the only reason that I’m the right candidate. You have to look at a person’s actions, not just what they say or do. I want somebody who is going to be respectful of the contributions, respectful of the money that we’re giving City Council to spend. When someone feels the need to blow 10k on a campaign that doesn’t need to cost anything, I question if that person is going to have any sort of fiscal restraint.