Getting to know Maryl Kunkel for City Council
Provide an overview of why you are running for the position, include background, experience in local government and involvement in Newberg.
Newberg is growing, and the decisions we make now have lasting implications for the livability of our community. Growth is inevitable. But losing our small town feel is not. I believe we can reap the benefits of growth and become a more successful city by ensuring inclusive access to public services, as well as investing in social, economic, and sustainable development. This will create economic opportunity and ultimately improve the quality of life in Newberg.
I have an educational foundation from UC Berkeley and Portland State studying sustainability and conservation and resource studies. As Chair of the citizen-led Sustainable Solutions Group, I have experience working collaboratively with our City, as well as local and regional governments and educational institutions in my previous roles as Coordinator of the Oregon Climate Dialogues. As a mother, and local business owner, I am invested in the success of our community and of raising the voices of others.
Candidates for elected office often speak of the need to represent all voices in the community. If you are elected, how would you listen to community members to understand their needs and inform your decision making?
Currently, city functions such as council meetings are inaccessible to many Newberg residents. The main barriers I see are confusion about how the process works and how citizens can participate, and the lack of inclusive communication such as interpreters. In order to listen to all of the voices of the community, I believe we need to be intentional about removing the barriers that limit folk from participating in collective decision making. I will prioritize conversation over politics by clarifying what the city council is responsible for, focusing on providing language services, and finding creative solutions to make it easier for residents to participate in the process.
What is the role of the City Council in fostering a customer service attitude at City Hall?
I believe our community can better engage with City Hall and City Council with an increased understanding of how the public can influence decisions and how feedback can be used in decision making. I would like to see the City utilize an in-depth survey to better understand the sources community members use for information, the level of community engagement, as well as the satisfaction the community has with the City’s communication and outreach. I believe this would provide a baseline understanding and a foundation upon which our City and Council may enhance our customer service.
What are the biggest challenges for the City of Newberg currently? What are your proposed solutions?
I’m invested in building a framework of policy that balances social justice, urban growth, economic development, and sustainability. I believe the biggest challenges facing our community include:
Economic Development & Affordable Housing —With the challenges we are facing due to COVID, it is of the utmost importance that we prioritize policies and programs that help create jobs and support our economy. One factor impacting our ability to retain large employers is our ability to house employees. Without affordable housing, employers have a hard time recruiting employees. In this way, affordable housing, economic development, and job creation go hand in hand. If we use a circular vision of economic development, wherein we can work and live in the same community, we will see decreased wear and tear on our infrastructure as well as environmental degradation. Addressing affordable housing will require a multi-level approach, including a better understanding of the systemic problems that got us here in the first place. There are many ways we can tackle this problem, including increasing the availability of middle housing, taking a hard look at historically discriminatory zoning codes, as well as addressing systems development charges, which impact the kinds of housing options and development opportunities we want to see in Newberg.
In addition to affordable housing, one challenge facing our economy is our lack of economic diversity. When disaster strikes, changes to travel and tourism greatly impact our community. I believe we need to grow our economy through innovation labs and by utilizing important tools, such as Urban Renewal and Urban Growth Boundary expansion to incentivize infrastructure and increase the amount of commercial and industrial land available for major employers. This will not only create jobs but will enable our community to have a more resilient economy.
Climate Change —We must make immediate changes to support a resilient ecological, social, and economic landscape in the face of climate change. We don’t have to recreate the wheel. We have the history, current data, and allied leadership available to us — we need to make good use of it. I will work to build a foundation of policy to address where we find ourselves now and outline the steps we can take to become a more successful and resilient city. My priorities include developing a strategic climate plan, addressing transportation and accessibility, prioritizing economic diversity as well as enhancing our infrastructure to withstand natural disasters, including projected water shortages, earthquakes, and wildfires.
Community Engagement & Collaboration — In listening to the experiences of many local residents, I believe Newberg needs to address how we engage our community in collective decision making. This involves not only actively removing barriers that keep residents from having equal social, economic, and political power, but also equal access to public services, participation in decision making, and staff diversity.
What are your specific recommendations for funding and completion of Phase II of the Newberg-Dundee Bypass?
We need to address local concerns related to the Bypass, as well as traffic and mobility challenges as a result of the completion of Phase 1. I believe our community also needs to further examine the funding needs for Phase 2, weighing the benefits and consequences of increasing debt and furthering the financial burden on residents and businesses. Getting funding from the state or federal government can be frustratingly slow. To better address funding issues we need to enhance our regional coalition of partners that will benefit from the creation of the Bypass so that we are better able to lobby for more money from the state and the federal government.
Yamhill County ranked as the fifth most expensive county in Oregon (behind the three metro counties) for a family of four to “get by.” This is based on a self-sufficiency scale that includes child care, food, housing, taxes. According to a recent report commissioned by the Portland workforce development nonprofit, Worksystems, a Yamhill County family of four must earn $58,714 just to get by. The US Census Bureau reports the Median Household Income in Newberg is $53,075 – $5,000 less than the amount needed to be self-sufficient in Yamhill County. What steps would you be willing to take as a City Council member to make living in Newberg more affordable?
Affordable housing, economic development and job creation go hand in hand. Addressing affordable housing will require a multi-level approach, including a better understanding of the systemic problems that got us here in the first place. There are many ways we can tackle this problem, including increasing the availability of middle housing, taking a hard look at historically discriminatory zoning codes, as well as addressing systems development charges, which impact the kinds of housing options and development opportunities we want to see in Newberg.
In addition to affordable housing, I believe we need to diversify our economy. When disaster strikes, changes to travel and tourism greatly impact our community. We can do this through innovation labs and by utilizing important tools, such as Urban Renewal and Urban Growth Boundary expansion in order to incentivize infrastructure, increase the amount of commercial and industrial land available for major employers. This will not only create jobs but will enable our community to have a more resilient economy.
By addressing affordable housing, and prioritizing economic development and job creation we will create a more thriving community in which we can live and work.
What specific recommendations do you have for how the City should address our financial challenges over the coming years?
With increasing unemployment as well as decreasing business activity, including tourism and travel, it is realistic to say that our community faces financial challenges due to COVID. We know that the available funds from TLT’s (transient lodge tax) will be significantly lower than in years past, which directly affects the General Fund. The City has made tough choices, including not providing a cost of living increase for city staff as well as eliminating or freezing several positions. I believe that we need to further examine areas where we can decrease inefficiencies, as well as instituting a review before hire policy, wherein open FTE positions are reviewed before replacing or rehiring. This would provide an opportunity to address financial challenges without impacting important goals, such as community development.
What are your specific recommendations for dealing with the rising cost of retirement for public employees?
The rising cost of retirement is years-deep in the making and made more challenging by the fact that many decisions determining rates are governed by the state legislature. While the state has recently made changes to PERs, these will not have an immediate impact. In 2016, the City Council addressed this issue by phasing out the Newberg Employee Retirement Plan and moving all new employees into PERs. While there are opportunities to pre-fund liabilities at a lower cost, including pension bonds and an employer incentive fund provided by the State of Oregon, these are not guaranteed solutions because they are dependent upon market variability and the timing of debt. In examining the opportunity cost of pre-funding liabilities, I believe our community needs to have a larger conversation about the benefits and consequences of costs now versus what future generations will pay as well as the balance of how this might impact important community goals.
Please share some additional compelling reasons why citizens should vote for you.
Without a doubt, our community faces some challenges, but I will work tirelessly towards a stable and prosperous community in which we can all thrive by being a good steward with the resources of our community and by prioritizing conversations with an open mind, a willingness to listen, and a desire to learn.