Washington County – Former Hillsboro mayor Jerry Willey is beginning a new chapter in the book of his political career.
Voters elected Willey, a registered Republican, to the District 4 seat on the Washington County Board of Commissioners, defeating Kimberly Culbertson, a locally well-known community activist, with 55.12 percent of the vote.
Willey presided over Hillsboro from 2009-2017, leading the city and its more than 105,000 residents through the Great Recession. He received an award in 2015 from the Oregon Mayors Association for his efforts in economic development and urban renewal, arguably the most glamorous being his efforts helping to plate the Hillsboro Hops short-season Minor League Baseball team in town.
Willey told the Gales Creek Journal he decided to run for the District 4 seat being vacated by retiring Commissioner Bob Terry because he wants to use his experience as mayor to help Washington County and its cities plan for future growth while helping them maintain their identities.
“As mayor, I learned how regional government works and I felt the need to use that experience to step into the District 4 role to represent western Washington County from Cornelius Pass west, basically, although all county residents will be my constituents,” he said.
During the 2018 campaign, Willey’s focus was to meet with the mayors of cities outside Hillsboro’s urban growth boundary — Banks and North Plains and Gaston — to find out what their needs and concerns are for the future and to craft a vision to bring to fruition.
“Talking to the other mayors it is clear they are all experiencing significant growth and probably need some help from the county to help envision and plan their future cities and to make sure they retain their unique identities,” Willey said.
He said that during the next five to 10 years, the smaller cities in Washington County are projected to double in size by population, but all wish to keep their small-town feel while at the same time providing the services that all cities need, regardless of size — gas stations, grocery stores, public safety and emergency response, to name a few — so residents don’t have to rely on and drive to Hillsboro to obtain and receive what they need.
“Are there any (significant retail services) in Banks? Yes,” Willey said. “In North Plains? No. In Gaston? No. Residents of those towns currently have to travel too far to get basic amenities for daily living. Not that I am expecting the county to step in and (resolve all of their needs) but it certain will help the county as a whole to help plan for its smaller cities as they prepare for future growth.”
The political landscape in Hillsboro was “pretty good” during Willey’s tenure as mayor, he said. It was very progressive and very pro-business, especially in dealing with diversity, economic growth and transportation while the city rapidly grew — anecdotally, it’s been said by Washington County observers that 33 new people move here and 27 new cars are being registered here every day in the county.
Willey expects the same attributes, concerns and anxiety that come with rapid growth — the population of Hillsboro in the year 2000 was just less than 70,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — will continue throughout the county, and not only in the unincorporated areas within Hillsboro’s urban growth boundary but also outside the UGB in rural communities.
Willey said he doesn’t have any axes to grind or so-called pet projects to which he wants to devote his full attention; rather he says constituents and elected officials together have expressed their desire for more affordable housing — a major issue affecting the entire tri-county region — and that they want to see well-crafted visions and solutions for better transportation, as well as answers on how to ease gridlock for commuters and businesses that rely on county roads to get to-and-from work or to bring their goods and services to customers.
He says he hears residents’ voices and that he is just as frustrated as all District 4 residents.
“The roads we have now were not designed to be commuter roads,” Willey said. “This is going to have to be continuously addressed. I think the county has been doing a good job and has been very visionary in its planning but (the intensity of the commission’s) job is increasing. A signature of growth is that it presents big challenges. I think everyone on the board of commissioners works well together and I hope (as a group) we will continue to focus and prioritize how the commission works with each jurisdiction to make a stronger region.
“I think overall Washington County’s economic engine is the fastest growing in the state of Oregon,” he continued. “We need to keep those attributes in focus when we are making decisions and looking to the future to make sure we sustain that economic engine and at the same time meet the needs of our citizens in District 4 and all of Washington County.”