Woodland is poised for a change in leadership. Woodland Mayor Chuck Blum is serving his final days as mayor before stepping down in the new year.
After the primary election, current council member John "J.J.’’ Burke and former Woodland police chief Grover Laseke emerged as the final contenders for the position. Both candidates said they were inspired to run for public office at the urging of friends and community members.
Woodland residents will decide who takes office at the Nov. 8 general election.
When Burke was first elected to City Council in 2002, he already had established himself in the City’s volunteer community. Burke, 59, has organized festivities for Planter’s Days, served as master of the Woodland Grange and was on the Woodland Historical Society’s Board of Directors.
"Until that time I had never done anything political," he said. "I didn’t operate in that world."
After he was elected, however, Burke learned the inner workings of serving in public office and municipal management. He has seen three mayors come and go, and lost a close race with Blum last election cycle by a little more than 100 votes.
While serving as a council member, Burke has seen the Woodland population double.
"Certainly the demands have grown," he said. "When I first got here the City was growing so fast. Then a few years ago it stopped. Everything changed. Funding became hard to find."
Burke manages his own computer repair business, which he said makes him sympathetic to the struggles of small, local businesses. He has criticized City staff for not providing enough assistance to small business owners, and if elected said he would work to change how City staff and business owners interact.
"We have to see what they need," he said. "We want more business to come into the City, and to help the ones that are already here as well as bring in more business – because that’s how you bring in jobs. Right now the City has so many demands, it turns those businesses away."
Burke said he would like to add community business owners to the City’s development review committee. City code also allows developers to wait on paying impact fees until time of occupancy, which Burke said is a little known or discussed fact.
Even though Burke knows there is a general public perception that the Woodland City Council has become dysfunctional, he said he works well with other council members.
"I think we, the Council, work together very well, and if I was to become mayor I would continue working with them to benefit the City," he said. "It takes compromise and team work. Communication is one of the biggest things the Council faces right now. We are not getting informed from the mayor and department heads in enough time to make a sound decision."
He added that sometimes, however, he is sure arguments will erupt when opinions differ.
"I ask people what they want," he said. "Do they want someone to sit there and not protect their rights, or do they want someone who fights for them. I will fight for people."
Those who have questions for Burke can ask them at an open forum Thurs., Oct. 6, 6 p.m., at Gerne Ronald’s Chiropractic Office, 1044 B St., Woodland, or go to jjformayor.webs.com.
Having served as Woodland’s police chief and as mayor of Toledo from 1988-1993, Laseke said he has the experience Woodland needs. He currently coordinates emergency management services for Cowlitz County.
Coordination, he said, is exactly what City management lacks.
"I believe my 22 years of experience in management, from putting together budgets to hiring and firing people, gives me a clear advantage over anyone else interested in running for this office," he said.
Laseke, 57, said it is crucial that council members and City staff address transportation issues in Woodland, particularly around traffic lights in the downtown area.
"There is a lot of congestion there," he said. "There’s been talk about dealing with it for 15 years. All of this talk has not lead to any solutions. Nothing has been drawn up. Nothing has happened to repair that problem.
"It’s bad for local businesses and citizens to have to sit through three cycles of a light to get where they want to go. People won’t want to pull off the freeway if they know that’s what they are going to get into."
Serving the business community is also an issue that needs to be addressed, he added.
"We all need to work together as much as possible to find opportunities for these businesses to flourish," he said.
Laseke said the permitting process is not user-friendly to business owners and communications between City staff and the business community have been poor.
"In the narrowing of Schurman Way, for example, there should have been a better sharing of information before that decision was made," he said. "Now there is discussion of downtown design standards. Everyone has to be involved in these decisions."
Overall, Laseke said he believes the City is ready for a different kind of leadership.
"I believe in team building and working with everyone to get the job done," he said. "I’ve had a lot of success doing that in my current and previous jobs. I know how to work with a diverse group of people. We don’t always agree, but you have to move beyond that to find compromise. I think the City is ready for that, and from what I’ve heard from people and council members, they are all looking forward to a new beginning."
Learn more about Laseke on his website http://groverformayor.blogspot.com/.