Douglas County Transportation District incumbents Kat Stone and Mark Hendershott will face challengers in the May 21 election.
Despite the name, the Douglas County Transportation District is not a subcommittee underneath the Douglas County commissioners. In fact, it’s not part of county government at all. It’s an independent government body tasked with taking in state and federal funding and determining how it will be spent to provide public transit services that offer county residents with an alternative to driving cars. Many people who rely on those services are elderly or disabled and cannot drive.
Transportation services were formerly provided by county government, but the transportation district was created last year to take them over, a transition that is expected to be completed by the end of June.
Stone and Hendershott were elected less than a year ago to the new district board, but the board will have staggered terms so that all seven board members are never brand new again. Along with Jennifer Newell-Bragg, Stone and Hendershott drew the short sticks when it came to determine who would be up for election this year. The other four won’t be up for reelection until 2021. Newell-Bragg’s name is also on the ballot, but she has no challenger.
Stone’s challenger is Jay Mitchell, a retired truck driver from Wilbur. It’s not clear whether Mitchell wants the position, though. When The News-Review reached Mitchell by phone Friday afternoon and asked why he wanted to be on the board, his response was, “Well, I’m not sure I do.” After that, the phone went dead and subsequent attempts to reach Mitchell were unsuccessful.
Mitchell did leave a telephone message on Saturday saying he was in Italy and his phone’s battery had died, but he didn’t elaborate on his candidacy. Efforts to reach him Monday and Tuesday were also unsuccessful.
Stone has been a nurse for 30 years, and her interest in public transit grew out of her concern for patients who had difficulty traveling to medical appointments.
Stone said she represents a segment of the population the district is attempting to help — people advancing in age and on a fixed income.
“There will be times when I can’t afford to have an automobile repair and I will have to rely on the public transit system, so I want to build the system that I would want to use,” she said.
She also works with people with disabilities whose independence is based on their ability to navigate the public transportation system.
“I don’t think that our public transportation is currently dependable, reliable and adequate to support the needs of those people,” she said.
Running public transit is complicated, she said, and if voters choose her they’ll be getting an incumbent who has worked through the early stages of the district’s formation for the past six months.
“We have had to do so much and we’ve had so many trainings and been to so many different meetings. There are workshops all the time that help you get on board with where we are and what we’re doing,” she said. “It’s a complicated process and I don’t think that anybody can suddenly come on and be able to really function in a board position.”
Hendershott’s challenger is Alyssa McConnel. McConnel sits on the transportation district’s budget committee and regularly attends the district’s board meetings even though she’s not currently a member of the board.
She’s also a former Downtown Roseburg Association executive director who made an unsuccessful bid for Douglas County commissioner last year. McConnel was fired from the Downtown Roseburg Association job in April 2018, and is currently involved in a lawsuit against DRA. She alleges she was fired in retaliation for whistleblowing about how the city government was using money that DRA collected through parking enforcement. She has been an outspoken advocate for transparency in government.
Her mantra during the county commissioner race last year was that she was the candidate who would get stuff done, and she made a similar point when asked about this race.
“I bring a sense of young energy to the board. I am a doer and I am really big on public input,” she said.
McConnel said her interest in marketing would also make her a good fit for a seat on the transportation board.
“It’s a new organization that needs to brand itself as a separate government entity, because that’s what they are,” she said. “They are new but there’s a lot of confusion out in the community and public of exactly what this board is and what they do and where they get their money and what’s actually happening with transportation.”
She said she recently thought “Connecting People with Places” would be a good slogan for the district.
McConnel said there’s money available to create new routes, purchase new buses and make more connections with neighboring counties. She said while she was knocking on doors during her run for commissioner last year, she in one day knocked on the doors of four people who said they’d lost their jobs because they’d missed the bus.
“I’m really big on bringing jobs or filling jobs in Douglas County and a huge barrier to that is transportation,” she said.
Hendershott is a Sutherlin attorney with a longstanding interest in public transportation who said he’s been interested in transit since he put himself through law school as a bus driver for the Portland company that was later taken over by TriMet. He said he was initially told he couldn’t be a bus driver because he was so tall.
“I’m 6-foot-4 and the superintendent took a look at me and said I wouldn’t hire you, you’re too tall, but federal law said they had to,” he said. He said the buses had low ceilings at that time.
Hendershott was a member of the Transit Advisory Committee of the Umpqua Public Transit System in the 1990s, when the U-Trans bus system was operated by the Umpqua Regional Council of Governments. He favors expanded services that would help Douglas County residents make connections with buses headed for Eugene.
He said voters should choose him because he has substantial experience dealing with special districts as a lawyer, and he serves on the current board.
“I think we’re getting something accomplished. It’s had some teething troubles but we’re moving forward,” he said.
Hendershott said McConnel appears to be serious about wanting to serve the public, but it doesn’t outweigh his experience as an incumbent.
“I think I can do a better job, at least at this stage of the district’s development,” he said.
He said he wants to work toward the district having a stable financial base to continue operations and expand services to include Saturday service and better coverage for people in outlying areas who need to get to work, doctors or the courthouse in Roseburg.
“What I really hope to see is a nice stable transportation network that will actually provide service to the people in the community on a reliable basis adequate for their needs,” he said.
Hendershott declined to provide a mugshot to accompany this story.
“I haven’t had my picture taken in years, and I like it that way,” he said.