By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
When Kim Freemen was considering replacing a city councilor who resigned after only a couple of months in office, her first question to those already holding a position on the city council was how much work it would take.
“The responses I got were anywhere from two to 30 hours a week,” said Freeman.
The lesson she took away from the input was simple: do the homework. She’s now running for her first full term as a city councilor unopposed for Position 2.
“It takes a while to feel comfortable in your understanding of everything when it comes to the city council, so a second term feels like an opportunity to see some things through to fruition and put some of the knowledge I have now to good use,” she said.
Prior to serving as a councilor for the past three-and-a-half years, Freeman was part of the city’s budget committee for three years and a member of the Volunteer Coordinating Committee for more than a decade.
All three roles have provided insight to the inner workings of municipal government and a foundation for what she sees as the work ahead.
“Funding is the major issue I want to see through. We live in a great city with a really low tax rate, but now it’s time for us to decide whether the tax rate or the services the city provides is more important,” Freeman said.
Freeman is supporting the addition of fees to utility bills to create dedicated funds for police and parks, and sees her role as one of the storytellers getting the message out to residents.
“We were taken to task this year when we decided not to hire another police officer, but we’ve always tried to accommodate the requests of the police chief,” she said.
A few years ago, the city hired a data analyst for the police department that has helped create more targeted police problem-solving, but Freeman knows many won’t necessarily see that as a step in the right direction.
“That person isn’t in a patrol car as a visible part of the department, so it can be hard to connect the dots. We’ll have to do a better job of that as a council this time around,” she said.
Continuing discussions around expansion of the urban growth boundary shared by Salem and Keizer is another primary objective Freeman expects to tackle in the next four years, although she admits that there may not be a resolution in that timeframe.
-As far as economic development in Keizer, Freeman said she’s not sure that the city’s longtime residents are ready for vertical growth along River Road North – constructing housing on top of retail spaces, for example.
“As I’ve talked with people, they ask if that is the serious vision. People like the small-town feeling and a two- or three-story building is going to be a big change,” she said. “But I think it will happen when it’s time for it to happen.”
In relation to discussion on the future of parks and police and even economic issues, Freeman has something of an insider’s view on the state of volunteerism in the city, which is also going to have to be addressed by the city on several levels sooner rather than later.
Vacancies on city committees and commissions have been held open longer in recent months before finding area residents willing to step forward and take on additional responsibilities. Freeman was also one of the volunteer coordinators on The Big Toy Project, which was sorely understaffed in terms of volunteers at the time it was built despite expecting full shifts of volunteers who had signed up.
“We’ve seen a decline in the number of people who have volunteered, and there are a million places for people to go and give their time,” she said. “I think the future is going to depend on the project. We had several grandparents who volunteered on The Big Toy who only had grandkids living in Keizer.”