As the dust from election week settles — at least locally — Eugene residents will see both new and familiar faces on the City Council.
The new candidates, Randy Groves and Matt Keating, won the primary in May, securing their spot as the only name on the general election ballot. Groves is taking over Ward 8 from Chris Pryor, who is stepping down, and Keating is stepping into Betty Taylor’s position in Ward 2, which she held for 24 years before retiring. As newcomers, both Groves and Keating are tasked with finding their place in the council and helping move Eugene forward.
The rest of the seats that were up for re-election will be occupied by the incumbents. Lucy Vinis will serve a second term as Eugene’s mayor and won 90 percent of the votes despite local activist Isiah Wagoner’s attempt at a write-in campaign. In Ward 1, Emily Semple beat Eliza Kashinsky in the run-off election and in Ward 7, Claire Syrett was re-elected.
As former Eugene-Springfield fire chief, Groves is no stranger to the infrastructure of the city. He has 36 years of experience as a city employee. He says he has the advantage of not having to learn the system.
“I know it well,” Groves says. “I know the players. I know how to get things done through the city.”
He explains that his experience merging the Eugene and Springfield fire departments taught him how to problem solve on a large scale and says that these skills can be applied to issues the city deals with.
With the pandemic, Groves says it’s important to get to the root cause and work it out from there. He emphasizes the importance of following the science and providing safety for the community while also helping local businesses and educational systems adapt to the pandemic long-term.
But regardless of the current pandemic, Groves says that with the climate warming, new pathogens will emerge, making viruses like COVID-19 a prolonged threat.
“I think we must be prepared by hardening our systems and creating mechanisms for continuing these essential interactions which sustain our society,” Groves says. Business, labor and educational systems need to meet those needs, he adds.
Keating, who has a background in radio and currently works for Cumulus Media in Eugene and as a Lane Community College board member, also says to listen to the science behind COVID-19 in determining what action to take. He commends Vinis and City Manager Sarah Medary for their communication and work with local health authorities.
“As long as we do that and put the health and welfare of our community front and center, we can do our part: embrace contact tracing, wearing masks and mitigating greater spread than we’ve already seen.”
In the past, the council has been criticized for dragging its feet on homelessness. Recently, the city passed an ordinance that created more rest stops that allow people to legally camp. Groves says that these are good steps, and helping the current unhoused population is crucial, but he also wants to take on the prevention side of things.
“My approach to homelessness is: Let’s have a backstop in place for people who are already housed but who are in danger of losing their housing,” Groves says. “Prevention is a less expensive, more humane way to deal with the problem than waiting until people are in a chronic homeless state.”
In setting climate policy, both Keating and Groves say they want Eugene to set an example for other cities.
“I would like to see us be influencers,” Groves says. He says Eugene could provide models that can be taken to regional and potentially national levels. “If we start sharing what’s working for us, that can have an impact on what’s happening in our environment.”
In July, the City Council passed the Climate Action Plan (CAP) 2.0, which has a goal of reducing the city’s carbon footprint and mitigating effects of climate change.
Keating says that Eugene’s actions won’t dramatically change climate impact on the world, but they can teach other municipalities by promoting alternative transportations and reducing fossil fuels.
Though Both Groves and Keating were elected before the local Black Lives Matter movement grew roots in the city, they are both coming into the council with thoughts on policing. Activists had previously criticized the council for passing an increased police budget for 2021 and in response to continued protests in the city, the Eugene City Council recently created the Ad Hoc Committee on Police Policy, composed with people of color from the community.
“We need actions as well as words,” Keating says. He says creating the committee was a step in the right direction, however, there is still work to be done in listening to people of color and shifting policing models to include mental health experts.
“Thankfully, right here in Eugene, we have a robust relationship with law enforcement and the mental health community like CAHOOTS,” Keating says. He admits he doesn’t have all the answers but wants to have these conversations.
Both Groves and Keating will start their positions on Jan. 11. Groves says he is ready to jump in and get to work in order to keep the council moving.
“Once you get your feet moving, it’s a lot easier to adjust the course,” Groves says. “We don’t need the ideal when it comes to the first step.”