The number of candidates for the Douglas County Transportation District Board has nearly doubled in the past week. There are now 11 candidates for seven positions on the board.
Board members will be chosen by Douglas County voters in November.
Until now, the county government has accepted state and federal transportation dollars and funneled them to providers of transportation programs like U-Trans and Dial-a-Ride. The transportation district will be an independent non-taxing district, but its board will oversee expenditures of millions of dollars of state grant funds, most coming from a new statewide transit tax of $1 per $1,000 in wages.
The News-Review’s initial report on early filers for the district board appeared in Saturday’s paper. This week, we interviewed the new candidates, as well as one who we hadn’t been able to reach by phone last week.
While many of the candidates had experience working with either the U-Trans or Dial-a-Ride programs, John Parker Jr. of Roseburg is running for a different reason. He wants to make sure the district doesn’t start raising taxes of its own.
“There’s not very many government entities that start out non-taxing districts that remain non-taxing districts,” he said.
However, the district board couldn't just decide to create a tax for the district. A non-taxing district cannot become a taxing district without going to a vote of the people.
Nonetheless, Parker, who is active in the Douglas County Republican Party, said he represents the county’s taxpayers, who he believes do not want any additional taxes.
He said he noticed many of the candidates are involved with entities like the United Community Action Network (which operates U-Trans) or the Oregon Department of Transportation. Parker said these are organizations that have something to gain from growing transportation services, and he believes board members involved with them are “likely to be more supportive of spending to support the entity they represent.”
Parker also said it would be especially unfair to make taxpayers in places without bus service, such as Umpqua, Elkton or Glide, pay for a service they can’t get.
Candidate Stuart Liebowitz of Roseburg worked as a UCAN housing counselor for 20 years, starting in 1989, and said during that time he came to understand how many people weren’t able to afford a car and needed another way to get around.
“I think it is critical, particularly in this town where we have a high percentage of low-income individuals who are wholly dependent on alternative means of transportation,” he said.
Liebowitz served two terms about 10 years ago on the county’s Special Transportation Advisory Committee, which he said was sort of a precursor to the new district.
Liebowitz said he spent the first 20 years of his life in New York City, where he never owned a car, because transit is the way you get around in that city. He learned to drive after he moved to California.
Liebowitz said he’s excited about the additional money that will come into the district for rural transportation.
“It’s a real opportunity to expand the transit system,” he said.
Candidate John Campbell of Roseburg began working for Douglas County Senior Services in 1976. He first set up the senior meal program for the county, and then went on to set up the precursor to the Douglas Rides program. He retired from the department in 2005. He also served a couple of years on the city of Roseburg’s transportation committee.
Campbell has seen many changes to the county’s transportation system, including the Umpqua Regional Council of Governments taking it over in 1996, and the county taking the transportation system back from URCOG in about 2005, when URCOG disbanded.
Campbell now works as a volunteer for the same programs he used to work for as a county employee. He joined the Special Transportation Advisory Committee in 2015 and the Senior Services Advisory Council in 2016.
He said he’s willing to serve on the district board for a year because he wants to help it become a successful operation.
“I think right now the needs are being met pretty well. My feeling is the district is going to take a good year for it to get a definite feel for things. My recommendation from the onset ... will be for them to maintain the existing operation until they are in a position to have some wisdom in deciding how to increase the operations and maybe make some changes,” he said.
Candidate Kat Stone is a nurse who lives in Roseburg, but said she would help represent South County and Reedsport’s interests on the district board. She said she has reached out to those communities in the past, including during her work supporting a proposed Home Rule Charter that voters rejected in 2017. The charter would have created separate geographic districts, each represented by a county commissioner. Stone said she’d also like to see transportation district board members represent geographic districts instead of being elected at large.
Stone said as a visiting nurse she’s seen patients who needed to go to Eugene for medical appointments, but didn’t have good transportation options. Sometimes a spouse with dementia wound up doing the driving.
“It really stuck with me,” she said. “I think we need to look at people with disabilities and make sure those people are taken care of. Nobody should have to go to their kidney doctor or their heart doctor and have to ride with somebody that’s unsafe at any time.”
Stone also said the transportation district will be receiving a lot of money from the transit tax thanks to House Bill 2017, and that money isn’t just earmarked for buses. She said the district should expand its focus to think about railway and air transportation, too.
And she said the district should look into electric vehicles to reduce pollution.
Mike Tavenner of Roseburg ran the transportation department for Azusa Pacific University, a Christian college in Azusa, California, for 12 years. He supervised a $300,000 budget and managed a 10-person crew of mechanics, bus drivers and office personnel. He said the department was responsible for moving 10,000 students per week between two campuses in town, so he also has experience problem solving about how to schedule bus routes.
He retired to Roseburg in 2006, and worked for a while as a fill-in driver for U-Trans. He now operates Mike’s Golf Cart Repair.
“Most of my career I’ve been involved in transportation in one form or another,” he said.
Tavenner said he would like to see bus service expand to include more weekend runs, especially on Saturdays. He said that’s something he heard riders say they wanted when he was driving the U-Trans buses. He also said he’d like to see more evening runs, and see the bus serve areas outside of Roseburg, and possibly make runs to the coast and Eugene.
He said some research needs to be done to figure out where the need is.
Vince Portulano of Oakland had previously filed, but hadn’t been reached for an interview in time for last week’s story. He said this week he’d like to make use of his master’s degree in public administration to help put together the district. He also said as a Dial-a-Ride volunteer driver, he has unique insight into the needs of the elderly and disabled users of transportation services. As a volunteer, Portulano said he’s heard from a lot of people who need transportation to medical appointments in Eugene and can’t afford a $50 taxi ride to get there. He said providing that service should be a priority.
Portulano said the district needs to form quickly to take advantage of the state money it’s about to receive.
Portulano said he thinks the district will ultimately take over operation of both the bus system and Dial-a-Ride services, rather than contracting with other organizations to provide the services. He anticipates the district hiring employees and paying their wages and benefits with the money it’s about to receive from the state.
He said he thinks a district administrator will be appointed by the board to run the system.
Portulano formerly ran a Boys & Girls Club in Washington and is currently on the Oakland School Board and the Union Gap Sanitary and Water District.
“I’m the kind of person that wants to serve the community, that wants to be able to give back to the community,” Portulano said. He sees serving on the district board as a way to do that.
Other candidates, as previously reported, include Toby Notenboom, Vic Falgout, Mark Hendershott, Mike Baker and Jennifer Bragg.