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Candidates for Position 1 on Umatilla County Board of Commissioners address issues, plans

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Candidate forum

Umatilla County commissioner candidate Susan Bower speaks to the audience during a candidates forum on March 31, 2022, at the Pendleton Convention Center. She is one of six candidates running for the open Position 1 seat on the county board.

Nine candidates are vying in this election for two seats on the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners.

The Position 1 seat is open and has drawn six candidates: Bob Barton of Hermiston, Jesse Bonifer of Athena, Susan Bower of Pendleton, David Nelson of Pendleton, Cindy Timmons of Milton-Freewater and Alvin Young of Hermiston.

For Position 2, Commissioner John Shafer is running for reelection against HollyJo Beers and Rick Pullen, both of Pendleton.

EO Media Group contacted each candidate and asked them to answer the same set of questions and to limit the length of their answers.

1) What is your biographical information, including age, occupation and education? (200 words max)

2) What is your current or past political or public service experience? (200 words max)

3) Homelessness is a significant problem in Umatilla County. If you are elected, what is your plan to address homelessness in the county? (400 words max)

4) List and discuss your top three goals if you are to be elected. (500 words max)

EO Media edited answers for readability, style, punctuation, grammar and to keep answers within the word limit of each question. Due to space constrains in print, the responses to background and experience are online at is publishing responses from Position 1 candidates first and will publish responses from Position 2 candidates Saturday, May 14, along with similar responses from Morrow County commissioner candidates.

Position 1 candidates are in alphabetical order of last names.

Robert “Bob” Barton, 61, Hermiston, business owner

Robert Barton.jpg


Biographical information

Being a native of Umatilla County, I have enjoyed the many opportunities we have here. After high school in Hermiston and Milton-Freewater, I attended Oregon Institute of Technology where I met my wife of going on 40 years. Work experience helped me grow from driving truck to being a sales professional, managing business units in the Northwest, opening and managing new branches in Alaska and Idaho, to developing business groups across the U.S. and Canada all in the construction industry. Twenty-seven years ago, my wife and I decided to get back to our roots and raise our family of three children. Barton Laser Leveling Inc. was our start. Developing our own residential and commercial developments to working for others in the private and public sectors.

My largest rewards other than my family came when I would volunteer for nonprofit organizations. 4-H and FFA are where I spent most of the time serving to grow youth. We have thousands of “Thank You’s” from local, state and national award winners. I have also dedicated a great deal of time helping in the housing sectors through Oregon Homebuilders Associations.

What is your current or past political or public service experience?

Giving back has always been important for my family. I have been a volunteer for education for 23 years building a stronger career and technical education system. I have never held a paid position. Below is a list of my public service experience:

Northeast Oregon Home Builders Association — president; past president.

Oregon Home Builders Association — executive board member.

Oregonians for Affordable Housing — committee member.

Hermiston FFA Alumni — charter member/life member; treasurer; president; past president.

Oregon State FFA Alumni — Eastern Region vice-president; president elect; president; past president.

Oregon FFA Association — Board of Directors; Operations Committee member; Executive Committee member.

Oregon FFA Foundation — Board of Directors; Operations Committee member.

National FFA Alumni — Western Region vice-president; president elect; president; past president.

Advisor to National FFA Association.

National Council for Agricultural Education — council member for promoting agricultural and career and technical education, working with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan.

Oregon State Department of Education — career and technical education advisor.

If you are elected, what is your plan to address homelessness in the county?

First, the cause of homelessness in our area must be determined. Is it social, economic, behavioral, a combination of all three? Each of these will need to be handled in a different manner, one solution will not fit all.

Not wanting to recreate the wheel I have researched many cities which have some very viable solutions. It will be interesting to see where our communities and commissioners have developed the solution by the end of this year. God willing, if I make the cut in the primary I will be spending more time with officials to help form a solution.

The current county commissioners have been making necessary changes by bringing in a new provider of mental health and substance abuse services. A byproduct of this is taking some of the demand off of our sheriff’s office so they can deal with criminal issues and not mental ones.

I will make a good asset to the team of commissioners with my experience in negotiations, housing options and meeting with legislators to bring funding into Umatilla County.

List and discuss your top three goals if you are to be elected.

I have to say from the start of my campaign till now challenges have changed. My No. 1 goal will be to provide services outlined in the new budget. With 7% inflation, the global impact of Russia, shortage in the supply chain and transportation issues we will all be challenged.

Housing options

Through collaboration with cities and developers we can build a range of housing options to meet the needs of families and individuals who want to make Umatilla County home. I think we will need to be creative on the permitting process and how or when we charge fees for development. Another place I believe we need to look is zoning. I have fought for affordable housing in Oregon and know first-hand the rising costs of construction and what it takes to implement the infrastructure needed in our area.

Economic opportunity

Small businesses and the men and women who run them are Umatilla County’s strength. I will advocate for these leaders and their ability to grow and add family-wage jobs.

I am also an advocate for youth. They are the next generation of residents, and we need to help them become productive members of society. I want to implement programs so that all kids could learn necessary skills and trades not taught in K-12.

Responsible oversight

As a business owner and father, I understand what it means to live within our means. I will have respect for taxpayers in all budgeting and management decisions. In my younger years I experienced 18% interest rates and made ends meet. My wife and I survived business in 2008 during the economic crash. Who do you want to represent you through these next challenges?

Jesse Bonifer, 40, Athena, city councilor and business owner

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Biographical information

My name is Jesse Bonifer, I was born Sept. 12, 1981. I graduated high school at Weston McEwen in Athena. After high school I managed C&C Tarps for my grandparents. While I was managing the shop I took two courses for small business management for a total of six years. After my grandfather passed away I branched out on my own and became Advanced Tarps and Covers.

What is your current or past political or public service experience?

I am currently sitting on city council in Athena. I spent about 14 years on the Athena volunteer fire crew where I was a truck captain. I have spent the last 10 years as a member of the OR III%, which is a constitutional group of volunteers who get together to support our community.

I am currently the Zone 3 liaison. We have helped with natural disasters, such as the floods in 2020 and fires across Oregon the past few years. We also fight tyranny and for our rights as Americans.

If you are elected, what is your plan to address homelessness in the county?

If elected I would like to form a task force to get to the root of the homeless problem to find out exactly where these folks are coming from and why. I have spoke to several Pendleton police and some of the county sheriffs deputies. Yes, we do have some local folks who are homeless, but the majority of them have came here from somewhere else and are not locals. Then we may be able to get to the bottom of the problem and come up with some solutions and support for some of these folks.

List and discuss your top three goals if you are to be elected.

No. 1, to cut the commissioners' pay by a significant amount. We are paying our representatives entirely too much. I would like to save our taxpayers some money.

No. 2, I would like to cut nonessential jobs within the county government. There are too many people making money off our taxpayers out there. For the essential jobs that we do need I would like to give those jobs to the individuals in the county rather than building bigger government and asking our taxpayers for more money to support these new jobs.

No. 3, I would like to work together with our local governments and citizens of the county to come up with support and solutions for our mental health crisis. It is not the sheriff’s duty to take care of our mental health. It was dropped in their lap since all the facilities and funding was removed from Umatilla County, and they are doing a great job with what they have, but it is not their duty. There are so many other things I would like to work on. I would also like to get the citizens within the county to help with coming up with solutions for some of the problem areas we are working on.

Susan Bower, 52, Pendleton, business owner

Susan Bower (2021)


Biographical information

Self-employed business owner of Eastern Oregon Business Source, founded in 2006. Employ a team of five professional community development consultants. County-wide strategic planning, grant writing, fund raising, leadership development and economic growth consulting and program development. Clients include governments, non-profit, agencies and private businesses of all sizes and industries.

Occupational Background

Bank One Corporation, senior vice president, executive level administration for 400 employees, 26 subject-matter experts and primary responsibility for a $25 million budget. Responsible for administration, finance, human resource, sales, service and operations. Developed policy and represented the organization when working with diplomats, corporate giants and boards of directors from across the globe.

Educational Background

John Carroll University, master’s of business administration with strategic planning and finance emphases. 1998 graduated with honors.

Otterbein University, bachelor of arts in business management and psychology, leadership development and economics emphases. 1991 graduated with honors.

National Association of Counties, Professional Development Academy, High Performance Leadership Master Certificate. 2021 graduated.

What is your current or past political or public service experience?

Umatilla County professional development and economic growth contractor 2013-present

Umatilla County Hospital Bond Authority Board

Children’s Museum of Eastern Oregon, board president

Pendleton Chamber of Commerce, board president

City of Pendleton Urban Renewal consultant

City of Pendleton Budget Commission

I have been involved in some form of public service since elementary school to present. … I have served in a variety of public service roles involving youth, senior citizens, prison inmates, developmentally disabled, church activities, fund raising for good causes and at-risk youth.

My political experience comes from my education and professional opportunities being in multiple leadership roles that have necessitated debate or conflict between passionate groups or individuals who at times have had strong opposing views. Since elementary school, I have served on school councils, advisory groups, appointed commissions and have been in the role of mediator to help groups and individuals listen to better understand one another, arrive at an agreeable solution and ultimately develop a plan to accomplish what was agreed upon. I have also identified root cause issues to problems, worked with others to find solutions then worked together to gain buy-in to implement the solution. Please refer to for a sample of organizations and work demonstrating this.

If you are elected, what is your plan to address homelessness in the county?

If elected county commissioner, it will be a top priority for me to identify and understand the resources currently available to support people dealing with homelessness. I have started this work already and will continue until and after becoming a county commissioner.

I will establish a county-wide task force, which will include a variety of stakeholders, resource providers, law enforcement, behavioral health providers and people who have both chosen to be homeless and those who are homeless for other reasons than personal choice. Together we will work to better quantify and qualify the issue and we will call in experts who will broaden our knowledge.

The task force will also reach out to communities across the country to learn how homelessness has been dealt with in other areas. Together we will visit homeless camps to talk with people in the spirit of truly trying to learn from others. This task force will set goals, share transparently and will have deadlines to keep the work productive and results-oriented.

Too often, groups are formed with good intent, but do not generate useful information or reasonable possible solutions. Leadership, organization and accountability are necessary to move ideas forward. As a county commissioner, I will use my leadership, organization and accountability skills to work with others to look at, understand, and address homelessness to include both root cause and immediate solutions. I will seek and direct funding needed to address the root causes of homelessness, which will undoubtedly involve mental and behavioral health. I will work to support and enhance the work Umatilla County commissioners have already started with Community Counseling Solutions. I will meet with each hospital leadership team to discuss the need for acute and respite care for people in crisis, and I will initiate a conversation with the state about why such facilities were closed and advocate that doing so has gotten us to some degree where we are now.

I will work with the task force to develop a sound business case and plan to bring back psychiatric care and places for people to get the help they need. This plan creates a win-win situation for people in need, community safety, economic development and social/moral responsibility.

List and discuss your top three goals if you are to be elected.

Please refer to my campaign FaceBook page and website at for more detail and specificity.

Enhance quality of life in Umatilla County

My vision for Umatilla County is to be a place where people choose to live, work and raise a family. A place where every person, business and non-profit organization can thrive and fulfill its purpose. Residents and businesses benefit by having a healthier environment, more public safety, family-wage jobs, better schools, access to health care here at home, choices for housing and an increase in behavioral health and opioid awareness and resources.

I will form the task force discussed above.

I will work with leaders to consider the social impacts of economic growth and change. Ensure current needs are met and future needs are planned for. Invest in programs and services that are relevant and sustainable.

I will review county commissions and advisory boards to ensure relevancy of topics and full representation of the population served in Umatilla County. I will create new advisory groups for current unmet needs and community interests and I will use a multitude of ways to get the work out to everyone when there is an opportunity to serve on a new or existing committee.

I will work with cities, businesses and nonprofits to identify creative ways to partner in service to our communities. Increasing the quality and decreasing the cost of serving people.

I will establish a Hispanic Advisory Group to meet regularly with the board of commissioners to discuss matters of importance and nurture positive relationships.

I will establish a Native American Advisory Group to meet regularly with the board of commissioners to discuss matters of importance and nurture positive relationships.

County-wide economic development

Residents and businesses benefit by having more jobs, more tax base from industry to invest back into communities, more students in our schools and more choices to shop and get services.

I will work with all cities county-wide to keep residents informed and a part of growth conversations.

I will work with leaders to consider the social and infrastructure impacts of economic growth.

I will work with cities and businesses to identify creative ways to help pay for both growth and business retention. I will share the information and network that I have gained by completing (12/2022) the nation’s only Economic Development Institute.

Organizational health of Umatilla County as one of the area’s largest employers

Residents, businesses and future industry leaders benefit by getting the best service by happy employees. Happy employees have less turnover, higher engagement and a greater commitment to the mission of the county — which is to serve citizens efficiently and effectively.

I will maintain and increase focus on the professional development of all employees.

I will increase internal communication by routine, compassionate, productive contact with all county employees.

I will work with county staff to assess each program and service and support changes where necessary to ensure current community needs are met.

David Nelson, 80, Pendleton, retired farmer and former state senator

David Nelson.jpg


Biographical information

David Nelson, 80, published author (2021-present), graduate of U. of Montana Law School (J.D., 1967), graduate of U of Oregon (B.S., 1964), graduate of Pendleton High School (1959), retired dry land farmer and Montana attorney. Oregon high school all-state basketball honors (1959).

What is your current or past political or public service experience?

Oregon State Senator (16 years, 1997-2012), chair of the Board of Trustees of Eastern Oregon University (2015-20), board member of Oregon System of Higher Education (2013-14), senior warden of Redeemer Episcopal Church (2019-20), past president of Oregon East Symphony, past fundraising co-chair for Pendleton Center of the Arts. My community service includes the Babe Ruth Association, Pendleton Swim Team, Education Foundation of Pendleton and the Oregon Wheat League.

If you are elected, what is your plan to address homelessness in the county?

The long term solution to homelessness is education and training leading to skill sets and a job. The short term solutions are complex as there are many causes leading to homelessness, including — but not limited to — job-loss, mental illness, medical bills, drug addiction, domestic violence and affordable housing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a fight against homelessness with a $2.6 billion nationwide grant on March 14, 2022. The question is how much will come to Oregon and specifically Umatilla County. I would continue to build partnerships with cities, community nonprofits and religious organizations to answer the immediate need. I would not advocate for a county-wide tax for homelessness as Metro and Multnomah County have done.

List and discuss your top three goals if you are to be elected.

A. Respect and value the taxpayers of Umatilla County. The demand for public services will always be greater than the resources needed to fund them. What is the will and appetite of the taxpayer? The Rule of 72 suggests a 6% increase in annual taxes will double the tax in 12 years.

I would continue to explore the available monies under the trillion dollar spending program from the federal government. There is money for bridges, roads, water systems, broadband and the power grid. Additionally, Oregon may receive $91 million under a settlement with Purdue Pharma combating drug use. Umatilla County needs to be present at the Salem table to receive these one time funding sources.

B. Strong families make strong communities. Family wage jobs are crucial. I would use enterprise zones and strategic investment programs supported by the state and work to withdraw water from the Columbia River. One percent of the current flow of the Columbia, spread across the farmland of Umatilla County, would create a billion dollar industry providing jobs, a tax base and shelter and forage for wildlife.

C. I would work to bring flexibility to Oregon’s land use laws and other regulations that stunt growth, by using my legislative experience to educate legislators of the strengths of Umatilla County and Eastern Oregon. The ‘one size fits all’ mentality must be changed to create an avenue for progress.

Earlier this year, the Department of Land Conservation of Oregon and the Oregon Department of Housing reported that “The current housing planning system chronically underestimates housing needs …” Those two agencies admit that our land use law are better suited to prevent developments with time consuming rules and regulations that delay or obstruct housing needs. The Oregon Legislature has not acted on this information. My role would be to make Umatilla County’s presence felt on this issue.

Cindy Timmons, 58, Milton-Freewater, business owner

Cindy Timmons.jpg


Biographical information

Name: Cindy Timmons

Age: 58

Occupation: Business owner of Marv’s Glass Shop Inc., professional tutor at Blue Mountain Community College.

Educational background: associate of science degree in agri-business from BMCC and a bachelor’s of science in business administration and a master’s in business administration, both from Eastern Oregon University. Ford Family Foundation — Institute for Community Building, Business Enhancement Series.

What is your current or past political or public service experience?

Umatilla County Planning Commissioner; CAPECO vice-chair/board member; Milton-Freewater Rotary president/board member; Blue Mountain Community College Foundation Board vice-chair/board member; Milton-Freewater Chamber of Commerce president/board member/committee chair; Milton-Freewater Economic Development Committee; Milton-Freewater Junior Show president/board member; Milton-Freewater Chamber/Downtown Alliance Steering Committee; Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days superintendent; Milton-Freewater School District Advisory Committee; Friends of Mac-Hi FFA Charter member/president/board member; First Christian Church deaconess/board member/Sunday School teacher; Mac-Hi Centennial Celebration co-chair; Youth Soccer treasurer/board member; Umatilla County Fair Awards Selection Committee/ 4-H office assistant/livestock assistant; 4-H leader; project committee grant writer for East End Rod & Gun Club grant, Milton-Freewater Cemetery grant, Milton-Freewater security grant, Kiwanis Main Street Facade grant and Rotary splash pad grant.

If you are elected, what is your plan to address homelessness in the county?

As vice-chair of CAPECO, homelessness is a problem we have identified and are addressing throughout all parts of Umatilla County. If elected, I will continue to work on ventures such as the Promise Inn in Pendleton and provide assistance where needed with the proposed regional homeless project on the west end of the county. Homeless populations in more rural areas of the county receive assistance through housing vouchers.

List and discuss your top three goals if you are to be elected.

Address adequate housing needs: Every community in Umatilla County shares in a lack of affordable housing. I will oppose taxes and/or regulations that drive up housing costs and support policies that provide Umatilla County housing growth.

Prioritize elder/mental health services: Witnessing the impact of elder care and mental health issues and watching county residents attempting — and failing — to find adequate support makes these issues a priority. A global pandemic, coupled with lack of mental health facilities, has homeless numbers growing and drug use skyrocketing. Long-term effects of isolation have, not only families, but schools, employers and local officials addressing consequences. An aging population requires solutions to help residents who want to live at home but require assistance. I will work in partnership with communities, professionals and agencies to alleviate the problem.

Water: Always a talking point, water issues are plaguing all parts of Umatilla County. Adequate supply for high value crops, cost of water for homeowners and preservation/maintenance of rivers and streams are a concern. Often referred to as the life blood of the county, I will engage all vested parties in finding working solutions for this limited resource.

Alvin Young, 64, Hermiston, retired firefighter and EMT

Alvin Young.jpg


Biographical informationMy name is Alvin Young. I am 64 years young. I am employed by Elmer’s Irrigation in Hermiston. I graduated High School in McDermitt, Nevada in 1976. After high school I attended college in California, majoring in mechanical ag with a minor in crop science.What is your current or past political or public service experience?I have no true political experience. I am a retired firefighter and EMT of 32 years. I been both president and vice president of the Umatilla Firefighters Association and Umatilla Sage Riders.If you are elected, what is your plan to address homelessness in the county?Homelessness is a very significant problem. Not only in Umatilla County but nationwide. If I am elected I would try to get the state, Umatilla County and local townships together at the table to try to figure things out. Town by town because every township has its own circumstances and one size does not fit all.

List and discuss your top three goals if you are to be elected.

My top three goals are to work on our infrastructure, roads and medical.

Our roads are out of date and we need to start from the base up. We can’t fix everything at one time. We can put them on a rotation starting with the worst and work from there. As far as medical goes, we need to get more doctors into the area. Including more specialists. Which we are very much in need of. We have a huge mental health problem in this county and we need to get the right doctors in here to help.

Last but not least we need to work on our ground water resources. Put more straws in the Columbia River so we can make our wonderful soil produce more. We need the water to help us be more productive and put in more recharging wells to work on refilling our depleting aquifers.

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