6 candidates file for 2 seats on Port of St. Helens Commission
Six people, including a former commissioner, have filed for two seats on the Port of St. Helens Board of Commissioners. Two seats are up for election this May, for Positions 4 and 5. Incumbent Chris Iverson is running for re-election in position five against Megan Kunkel-Hallstone of Scappoose and Brady Preheim of St. Helens.
Melinda Bernert, Natasha Parvey-Leskowich and former port commissioner Robert Keyser are each vying for Position 4. Commissioner Terry Luttrell, who currenty serves in Position 4, is not running for re-election.
Keyser served alongside Luttrell for several years on the board before his term expired and he lost to current Port Commissioner Paulette Lichatowich in 2015. He was first appointed to the commission in 2004.
Keyser said Luttrell approached him about running for the seat.
"He asked if I'd be interested in running again and I said, 'yes,'" Keyser said Tuesday. "I have kept up on the personnel stuff. I hear there's good things happening, or at least prospects."
Keyser, who owns Clatskanie Builders Supply and an ownership interest in the Clatskanie River Inn, said if re-elected his focus will be on trying to bring in family-wage jobs to the county.
"That's the reason I got involved with the Port ... It really bothered me that I was told I'd have to leave the area to get a good job," Keyser said. "Every job we can have in the county is one less commuter."
During his tenure on the commission, Keyser was an indelible force. He served as board president and was prone to supporting most development proposals and new tenants at Port Westward, despite public criticism.
Keyser faces two challengers.
Melinda Bernert of Warren was the first to file for the seat. Bernert, who owns Mark Bernert Tugboat Co. with her husband, said she decided to make her first bid for public office after reading about the Port in the Spotlight.
"I'm a former newspaper reporter," Bernert said. "I covered local governments for many years and I went to the work sessions, read through all the packets because that was my job. I've watched local government for many many years. I just think the Port has gotten itself on a good financial footing ... I feel like there's a lot of things we could change that would be beneficial for the entire community."
This is Bernert's first run for elected office, but she's served as the president of the Master Gardener's Association and been involved with Columbia County 4-H.
Parvey-Leskowich will also appear on the ballot. She's best known for her stint as director of the South Columbia County Chamber of Commerce and her recent involvement with the St. Helens Economic Development Corp. She now leads the Keep It Local Columbia County campaign as a paid independent contractor and also runs a business called Mental Happiness, focusing on everything from lifestyle organization to social media marketing and project management.
"I understand the role the Port plays in shaping economic vitality," Parvey-Leskowich said. She touted her leadership skills and business background as potential assets to the board and said she'd like to see the agency "tell its story."
In Position 5, Iverson appeared to be unopposed for the seat until Thursday, when Preheim, a Scappoose computer repair business owner and member of the advocacy group Clean Columbia County, and Kunkel-Hallstone, a political newcomer from Scappoose, both filed for the seat.
Iverson hedged on whether to run for re-election, but said there were several projects, including those hanging in the balance at Port Westward, that he'd like to see come to fruition.
Kunkel-Hallstone could not be reached for comment by presstime Thursday and Preheim filed after the Spotlight press deadline.