Vanessa Nordyke, left, was appointed to Salem City Council on Monday night over Reid Sund, right. (Courtesy/Vanessa Nordyke, Reid Sund)
Vanessa Nordyke will be the next representative of Salem's southwest neighborhoods on Salem City Council. And she announced her plans to run for the seat in the next election.
Councilors picked Nordyke Monday night following an hour-long interview with her and the other finalist, Reid Sund. Nordyke received four out of the eight votes. Sund won three. One vote went to Bonnie Heitsch, who had earlier dropped out of the running.
“I’m honored and excited and humbled,” Nordyke said moments after her appointment. “And I’d like to thank my family for all their support.”
A lawyer for the Oregon Department of Justice, Nordyke's most recent service in city government has been as vice chair of the Salem's citizen budget committee. She's also the immediate past president of the Oregon State Bar.
City Attorney Dan Atchison swears-in Vanessa Nordyke after her interview with Salem City Council. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)
Her appointment gives her at least one year to serve on city council. She is completing Sally Cook's final year after Cook resigned Oct. 1. The term expires Dec. 31, 2020.
However, Nordyke announced Monday night she does plan to seek the seat in the next election. The decision sets up a race between her and Sund, who announced in September he would campaign for the next four-year term.
After he and Nordyke exchanged thank-yous and congratulations, Sund, finance director for Salem Health, told her he's looking forward to the race.
"I think we'll be seeing a lot of each other over the next nine months," he said. "And congrats. I do believe that you have what's best for Salem in your heart and I look forward to talking and getting to know you more and hearing more about it."
Questions and answers
Fielding a question from Councilor Cara Kaser, both Nordyke and Sund called homelessness the most pressing issue facing the city of Salem. Both also advocated for more affordable housing.
Sund called affordable housing "paramount," and that people should be connected with services once they have shelter. He said he didn't have a firm plan but added that taxpayers need a "return on investment."
"Homeless people are people. They're my friends, they're our community, they live here, too, they have a voice - and they are not an 'issue,' so that's the first thing I would say," he said. "But at the same time we have to think about how do we face these challenges as Salem is growing and we are an enjoyable and livable place to be?"
Nordyke said city leaders should act to lessen the stigma of mental health issues and raise awareness. She also advocated for the city's rental assistance program for homeless, as well as working with organizations that set up showers, bathrooms and warming centers.
"Every person needs to be treated with dignity and respect and there's so much more I think we can do as a community to support folks," she said. "That's what we need to be looking at moving forward."
Each councilor asked the finalists a question, ranging from what motivates them in their day jobs to how the city can better keep Salem residents informed about what the government is doing.
Councilor Chris Hoy asked how the finalists would approach land-use issues. Such matters can be highly technical and stoke long debates between neighborhoods, developers and other stakeholders — like last winter's decision denying a Costco-anchored plaza in south Salem.
"By doing my homework, talking to city staff, talking with other councilors, going to the neighborhood associations, and going to other groups," Nordyke said. "I think when you make land-use decisions, those can have huge impacts for years to come."
Sund echoed the lasting impact of such decisions. He stressed communication with residents. He said land-use decisions show the importance of garnering as much input for the city's planning processes — such as the ongoing "Our Salem" project — so residents are aware of what's in store.
"I don't see it as any different than any other decision other than we must look at all the stakeholders and the long-term impacts of the decisions that are made, and (compare) how does that fit in then with the plan that the community has given input to along the way," he said.
The final question came from Councilor Jim Lewis, who asked whether the finalists thought Salem needed a third bridge across the Willamette River. In February, the council officially rejected the Salem River Crossing, a proposed bridge that had been hotly contested for years.
Sund contended current levels of traffic congestion and projections for population growth called for a new bridge.
"I will say, and I plan on saying this throughout the campaign... that yes, I do believe Salem needs another river crossing," he said. "I think that ultimately our town is growing and projected to grow quite a lot, and we continue to think about how does that impact (the city)?"
Nordyke said a third bridge should be considered, but the cost shouldn't fall only on Salem residents. Many residents, she said, don't use the bridge as much as tourists or companies delivering goods.
"I absolutely think we should look at additional river crossing capacity in the years to come, but I think we can do a better job moving forward in determining where and how and when and how much," Nordyke said.
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