La Center Mayor Greg Thornton said he is seeking to get the city’s economic engine running strong should he be re-elected to the position this year.
Meanwhile, his challenger, political newcomer Brittney Tracy, says the mayor has failed to foster growth for city events and has neglected city staffing.
Tracy, a multimedia specialist for The Reflector, agrees with the incumbent that La Center needs to attract new businesses, but added that the small-town charm of the city must be preserved.
Thornton moved to La Center in 2002, first getting involved with city government through the La Center Planning Commission, prompted by interest in the annexation process as his property came into the city limits. He served on the planning commission from 2007 to 2010 when he was appointed to the city council, winning an unopposed election to retain the seat the following year.
Both Thornton and fellow councilor Al Luiz ran for the mayoral seat in 2015 as then-mayor Jim Irish did not seek another term, with Thornton coming out on top.
“I think right now the focus on La Center needs to be economic development,” Thornton said, adding it would be his chief concern if re-elected.
The first issue facing the city Thornton talked about was handling the impacts of ilani on the city, something that since its opening in April 2017 “has created a lot of opportunities in La Center, (and) also a lot of challenges,” he said.
The most significant impact of a casino across the interstate was on the city’s own card room industry, with only two of the four cardrooms open prior to ilani’s opening still in business.
To cope with loss in revenue from gambling taxes, Thornton noted the city adopted a lodging excise tax that went into effect in 2017 with the goal of filling the gap when a proposal for a hotel in the city moves forward. He added the city implemented a stormwater utility tax earlier this year for much the same reason.
Last year the city, working with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, had an advance wastewater line built, extending to the I-5 junction. The junction would be a major player in economic growth for La Center, with Thornton mentioning a developer is in the application process to bring retail space, a hotel and restaurant to the area.
The junction’s zoning was predominantly commercial with some residential, which Thornton reasoned would likely feature multi-family units when built out.
Building off of a sub-area plan done for the junction, Thornton mentioned next year the city will be looking at the potential for a “planned action” area there, which takes planning a step further by undertaking things such as environmental studies for the whole area that would need to happen before development can occur.
“It’s something the city can do to help shorten the timeline for any future development,” Thornton said.
He noted the council and city staff would also look at the feasibility of doing something similar in the downtown and Timmen Road areas.
Thornton said he retired from running his own business in 2018 after close to 40 years in the construction machinery industry. Outside of professional experience, he said his experience on the planning commission, city council and as mayor has exposed him “to pretty much all aspects of city governance.”
Tracy, 36, has lived in Clark County all of her life. It wasn’t until this year, though, that she decided to pursue public office.
She said she waited until the final hour of the final day of candidate filing week to see if anyone would oppose Thornton. When no candidates came forward, she decided to do it herself.
Her motivation largely comes from her perception that there has been a civic decline in La Center, both in terms of community events and city staff.
“The current mayor that we have, I haven’t been really happy with a lot of decisions he has made,” she said. “As someone who has been in La Center for a long time and is kind of used to our traditions, he’s kind of gotten rid of all of those. All of our little events we have, he’s cut down to basically nothing.”
Tracy identified a reduced Our Days celebration, movies in the park and the city Christmas celebration as areas where the incumbent has failed to foster growth and sustainability.
She said she’s also concerned that a number of city department leaders have been replaced with secretaries and the work of costly consultants.
“We need to bring back people who know what they’re doing as far as public works and city manager, because he’s fired most of the staff that we had,” she said. “We need people in those positions that have a background and know what they’re doing.”
Tracy agrees that the city must work to attract new businesses in the wake of the closure of card rooms.
“We do have an area at the junction that really needs to be developed and worked on, and I think that could be good getting businesses there as well with ilani right across the way that could bring business over,” she said. “But we need to navigate the right kind of business that that would bring in the right revenue for us.”
Tracy doesn’t see her lack of political experience as a shortcoming, noting that her experiences as a professional have provided her with the ability to communicate well with the public as well as expertise in marketing and administrative duties.
“I think even though I don’t have the political experience I think what I have that the other candidate doesnt is I really love La Center, care about La Center, am involved in La Center, and I know everyone in town,” she said. “The other problem I have with the mayor is the events that we do have, he doesn’t show up for.”
Tracy, who has children ages 19, 9 and 6, has been actively involved in Miss Teen La Center for about 15 years. She’s also been volunteering with La Center United, she said. This year, she will receive a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration from Warner Pacific University in Portland.