Four weeks into her new position as executive director for the Downtown Roseburg Association, Susie Johnston-Forte said she is learning, organizing and regrouping.
She’s been in the position for a month, replacing Alyssa McConnel who was fired in April for her comments critical of the city government. She had questioned whether the DRA was getting a good deal in its contract with the city to provide parking enforcement downtown.
Regarding her predecessor, Johnston-Forte said she didn’t want to put anything on one person, instead she is focused on rebuilding their volunteer structure after “many people chose to do other things with their volunteer time and left the organization.”
“I’m trying really hard to not get wrapped up in that because we have so much to do moving forward,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do, and it’s a new day.”
McConnel is now running for county commissioner, advocating transparency and creating revenue.
McConnel said in an interview earlier this month she brought a lot of volunteers and new revenue in for the DRA while she was its director. Ninety business owners and employees signed a petition supporting her after she was ousted in April.
Since her family moved her from Baker City, when she was 10, Johnston-Forte has been in love with Roseburg and its downtown.
“I wasn’t one of the kids that was like ‘I hate this, I got to get out,’” Johnston-Forte said. “I loved Roseburg.”
She moved to Eugene for school, and was perfectly content to stay there, until she met her husband on a racquetball court at the YMCA. She’s been back for 34 years, living and working in downtown on and off.
“I personally think Roseburg is perfectly situated in the whole country,” Johnston-Forte said, listing the proximity to the coast, the mountains, Eugene, Medford, and Portland, and I-5. “I just have this long history and this love affair with Roseburg.”
Johnston-Forte comes from a long background of nonprofit work including 14 years with Greater Douglas United Way, The Ford Family Foundation and United Community Action Network, which showed her the generous side of Roseburg. DRA President Todd Boyd said her background prepared her for this with long-term projects and nonprofit management.
“We’re really giving her an opportunity to glean what’s here before we send her out too much stuff to do,” Boyd said. “Initially, we are just giving her an opportunity to take her experiences with the career that she’s had and really capture what we have here and move us forward.”
Johnston-Forte said some projects that were initially enacted under McConnel were sidelined while they regroup and recruit.
“We’re really eager to serve downtown; the people that come here, the businesses that are here, and anybody who is hoping to be here,” Johnston-Forte said. “This is a marathon, not a sprint. There’s a lot to do and we need a little bit of time and a lot of people. People interested in seeing downtown thrive, I’d love to hear from them.”