Q&A: County Commission Candidates: Danielle Bethell

Keizertimes: What motivated you to run for a seat on the board of commissioners?

Danielle Bethell: I grew up in Marion County. This is where my husband and I have chosen to raise our three kids and build a business. It hasn’t always been easy. I was raised by an unstable, single mom, and moved around a lot. I experienced homelessness as a teen. These difficulties have made me stronger, and they have made me passionate about investing in our community and finding solutions for those who might be to weak to find their own.

I have worked my entire life to improve the places around me. Whether it is advocating for the climate of our small business and working families, working alongside neighbors at our kids’ school events, or serving as the vice-chair of the Salem-Keizer School Board, I care deeply about the future of Marion County.

Commissioner Brentano has been a great leader for our county, but as I look at the challenging days ahead for our community, I believe we need increased passion and energy to meet those challenges, and I am the only candidate with the skills, education, experience and relationships to hit the ground running.

KT: Whoever wins this election is going to have to help lead the entire country through a devastating recovery effort at a time when revenues are going to be shredded. Where will you begin and how can Marion County Commissioners guide the process in a meaningful way? 

DB: Our community has been through so much this week, and while hard decisions will no doubt need to be made in the future, the strength, generosity and courage of Marion County neighbors was in full display. I am confident that if we can keep focused on our shared priorities, we will come through this stronger for it. 

We must rebuild, and as commissioner, I will do everything I can from a regulatory standpoint to ensure that we rebuild our damaged infrastructure as soon as possible so our neighbors can rebuild their homes and businesses quickly. From planning, permitting, zoning, land use, infrastructure, as well as working with state and federal partners, I will be boots on the ground, advocating for solutions every step of the way. 

As far as setting budgets, they are all about priorities. We will need to engage Marion County residents in a meaningful conversation about what revenues we have and the cost of our programs. From there, we will need to prioritize. We probably won’t be able to fund everything but it is the job of Marion County Commissioners to work with residents to fund what is most important to them. For programs that don’t get funded, are their partners we can bring in to help? For example, the Keizer Chamber and United Way recently did a great job helping with wildfire relief. Others, like the Mid-Valley Homeless Initiative, have been great partners on the homelessness issue. 

I look forward to doing the hard work to get our county back in our homes and back to work

KT: What practical steps can the commission take to ensure we have housing for all the people who live here and would like to live here?

DB: We need to drastically increase the supply of housing in our county. We have underbuilt for decades, leaving our most vulnerable neighbors housing burdened and with little hope of ever buying a home and beginning to build wealth. As commissioner, I will look for ways that the county can reduce barriers and cost to housing development, as well as help cities across the county find creative solutions to incentivize the housing our neighbors desperately need. Whether it is land banking, using currently vacant county property, or working with religious institutions to utilize land they have available to build on, we must think outside the box and create more housing on all levels. 

All of this must be done with an eye to protecting the world-class agriculture land we have. 

I want to reiterate, home ownership matters – it is one of the surest ways of building wealth across race and class. I am committed to creating more pathways in Marion County to home ownership. 

KT: What do you see as a commissioner’s role in economic development? 

DB: I have been the executive director for the Keizer Chamber of Commerce four-and-a-half years. In that role, I have been the advocate and cheerleader for our business community, and I believe these skills immediately transfer over to the role of commissioner. As a county, we need to position ourselves not only as the entity that helps reinforce the positive business climate we have, but actively recruit other businesses to move here. 

The county commission has many tools in their toolbox to work on the broad spectrum of economic development, from incentives to marketing. I want to use all tools available to make sure that the jobs that are created here are good, family wage jobs.

Another role for the commissioners is investment in infrastructure to make us competitive. Whether it’s helping smaller cities pool resources to create a sewer or lobbying at the federal level for transportation dollars, the commissioners’ vision and energy is vital in our continued economic success. 

KT: Lean times are likely ahead for the county and all the cities and towns it supports. Where would you look to make ends meet?

DB: COVID-19 will test our county like so many others across the nation. As Commissioner, I will work towards ensuring that the county prioritizes the core services our most vulnerable rely on. We must also prioritize efficiencies and make sure that voters’ hard-earned tax dollars are best spent. In this process it will be vital for the commission to listen to all voices across the county, to understand the values and priorities of the community and to be responsive to funding those programs first.  

KT: Given that funding available for new programs and efforts is uncertain, are their policy changes you feel the commission should support to start laying the groundwork for future changes?

DB: Marion County has a history of being fiscally responsible. Our county has the least amount of debt among the largest five counties in the state. While we don’t have a large reserve fund, each department keeps about 25% of budget on-hand, to manage cash flow. Because of the low debt ratio, we have lots of flexibility moving forward to choose what we want to invest in, versus just paying down debt. Additionally, our position should be relatively more stable in the next year because the county’s funding stream is based on property taxes.

One thing that does concern me is areas where the State funds programs they expect the county to administer. The legislature currently funds three departments in Marion County: Economic development, Parole and Probation and the Health Department. When the state cuts funding, like they recently did with Parole and Probation, we have an issue. If elected, I will be proactive in educating the legislature on the critical nature of these funds to all Marion County residents. 

KT: Voters often tend to overlook down-ballot races, what would you say to a Keizer voter who questioned the impact of the board of commissioners on our city?

DB: You are right, everyone gets fixated on national issues, while the items that actually impact our daily lives most, happen at the local level. Just recently the county submitted paperwork to the federal government to apply for grants. Keizer is committed to participating in the distribution of those funds from the county. 

Another very important connection between Keizer and the county is public safety. Anyone who gets arrested in Keizer is actually taken to the county jail. Any public safety funding or administrative decisions at the county could dramatically impact Keizer residents.