Steve Mital has thought about how to direct a public agency’s staff for years, ever since he was first elected commissioner on the Eugene Electric and Water Board eight years ago.
“Be prepared and keep track of requests,” he tells Eugene Weekly. “Have respect for staff and don’t grandstand or make them look bad.”
After two terms as an EWEB commissioner, Mital (pronounced “Mattel,” like the toy company) is running for the Lane Community College’s Board of Directors, which establishes policies and the budget for the school. He says if elected he’ll make the tough decisions to preserve a “gem of an institution,” and he’ll bring to the board his method of governing as it addresses enrollment, diversity and retention, as well as the five-year strategic plan.
“It’s the community’s college and it’s the gateway for the American dream for so many residents in Lane County,” Mital says. “There’s some aging programs, some declining enrollment issues that are causing big problems from LCC, and I think I can work with LCC’s president and board and really use the skills I learned as an EWEB commissioner to help re-energize post-pandemic.”
Mital works at the University of Oregon as the director of sustainability. He founded the UO’s Environmental Leadership Program in 2001 and the Office of Sustainability in 2007.
“Enriching the student experience and preparing students for careers has been a central focus and point of pride for my career at the UO,” he says. “I have a long-term commitment to developing programs and opportunities that prepare students for the world they discover when they leave the institution.”
That’s the foundation of his interest in running for the LCC board, he adds, seeing students succeed and learning the stories of community college students is an inspiration for him.
During his campaign, Mital says he’s talked with the college’s administrators and current LCC board members. One issue that the college faces is faculty diversity and retention, he says: “It’s one thing to get someone on board, it’s another to make them feel welcomed.”
One of LCC’s revenue sources comes from enrollment, so Mital says he’d like to see the college engage in more recruitment. “We need to make sure our recruiting plan is top notch and we’re investing in it appropriately and that we’re getting the payback,” he says. Another big source of income for the college comes from the state and federal government, so he says he’s willing to do what he can to get federal funding, especially as lawmakers debate an infrastructure bill.
He adds that other work for the board to address is a $200 million backlog of maintenance issues and to provide accountability to the recent $120 million bond voters approved in the May 2020 primary election.
Another big task for the LCC board is drafting a new five-year strategic plan. The current one wraps up this year. “Strategic plans can be very powerful documents. I saw that at EWEB,” he says. “It can drive a lot of policy and a lot of decision making.”
According to the 2016-2021 plan, LCC emphasized a commitment to student learning and success; a culture of teaching, learning and innovation; access, equity and inclusion through social justice; strengthened community; and financial and environmental stewardship.
Public boards like the LCC Board of Education often direct staff to conduct research, which leads to offering the elected officials policy recommendations. There’s an art to serving on governing boards, Mital says. And someone who has that framework is what voters should look for in a candidate, not someone pushing an existing agenda before they’ve served time on the board.
“If you intend to be a serious board member who has the capacity to shape board policy moving forward, you have to be serious about it,” he says. “You have to be collegial, you’ve gotta reach out to [fellow board members], listen to them, ask the questions and know how to frame questions in ways that are as valuable to them as they are to me.”
Mital’s endorsements include LCC board member Lisa Fragala, Lane County Commissioner Laurie Trieger and EWEB Commissioner John Brown.
Mital is running against Al King, who didn’t reply to EW’s request for an interview. King was an Oregon state representative for four years and served as a member of the Springfield School Board for 13 years before resigning in 2015.