An interview with Silverton Mayor Ken Hector
If you would have asked Ken Hector years ago how long he planned to be Silverton’s mayor, he might have laughed and speculated “a couple of two year terms should work.” Things didn’t exactly work out as planned.
Some 14 years later, the venerable mayor is poised to run for a record eighth term this fall, and a lot of people are glad to hear it.

“Ken is one of the reasons I came here,” said Silverton City Manager Bryan Cosgrove. “He had and has a great reputation around the state and with League of Oregon Cities. The Mayor is good for the community because he truly understands the history of the town, what has gone on, what is happening, and what might be next. I really believe he always has the best interest of the community and our citizens in mind in his decisions and leadership.”

Hector has a reputation most politicians would envy: he listens well, is known for being balanced in his thought process, has a tremendous grasp of the inner workings of government, can cut to the chase on highly complex issues, and has plenty of fans on both sides of the aisle, even as a long-time Republican who made a nearly successful run for the legislature a few years back.

In Silverton, a charming and eclectic community often regarded as the best small town in Oregon, leaders have a tight rope to walk. The economy shifted dramatically from being timber and agricultural-based to a diverse one comprised of light industry (Bruce Packing and Quest International, for example), government, commuters from Portland, local artists and some charming shops downtown. The Silverton Hospital, one of the town’s largest employers, just garnered a national award as one of the 100 best hospitals in the country. It is that kind of kudos that makes Hector beam with pride.

“Silverton is an absolutely wonderful community. Always has been, always will be. We are still somewhat of a bedroom community but have bounced back beautifully from being timber-dependent years ago.”

Hector and his wife, Darby (recently honored as Silverton’s Citizen of the Year), have seen some drastic changes in Silverton, not all for the good.

“We used to have a vibrant downtown during the great timber years, but fortunately, through some creative leadership, entrepreneurial spirit, and perseverance, we are making a stellar comeback. A healthy downtown is crucial and we need to see people opening businesses with forethought, a great product, and impeccable service. Our art community has made a huge contribution to the charm and character of this town.”

Oh, there is that “G” word — The Oregon Garden. Good press, bad press, lots of press. According to Hector, it’s a bit premature to be talking about the Garden’s demise. Have mistakes been made? From the Mayor’s perspective, the City hasn’t made any per se.

“It wasn’t the City of Silverton’s job to make the Garden a cool place. Our first job, and what got this all started, was our need to manage waste. We had to have a viable plan for our treated wastewater, and the Garden was and is a viable solution. We didn’t have any say in the management of the Garden. We did agree to secure 61 acres for the County for $5 million, but we relied on information from the Oregon Garden Foundation.”  

When asked about the Pettit property, an 80-acre parcel adjacent to the Garden that the city bought from a local doctor’s estate using money from the public works fund, Hector is quick to respond, “We have a beautiful piece of property with 80 acres including a nearly 22-acre lake that the City owns and is probably worth twice what we paid for it just a few years ago. That doesn’t seem like such a bad deal. And with our new agreement between the principals and Moonstone Properties (a California-based hotel chain that boasts numerous garden-themed hotels), we feel things are definitely going in the right direction. This isn’t a Silverton venture, it is an Oregon venture, and it will take all of us to make it vibrant.”

The unpaid position of Mayor is a challenge that Hector tackles head-on nearly full-time, along with his job as Worker’s Compensation Supervisor with CNF Inc. Along with kissing babies, he gets to be master of ceremonies  at many Garden events, head the City delegation in Silverton’s Pet Parade and Homer Davenport Parade, sip Oregon’s fine Pinots with many giants of Oregon government and industry while talking politics, growth, or how close he was to breaking 80 on the golf course.

As for what appears to be charm-busting growth in Silverton, one of the state’s hottest real estate markets, Hector only smiles.

“We definitely have been discovered, and the dynamics are going to be interesting in the next few years. But we work hard at controlling growth while not trampling on the rights of property owners, and we insist on having developers pay part of the burden and challenges that growth brings.”

Last year, Hector proposed voter annexation as a means of having the citizens participate more in determining how their city grows. It passed, and is now part of the city charter for properties over two acres.

The father of three sons and a daughter, Hector and his wife are proud to have called Silverton home for 26 years. When asked what he is most proud of, he states “Our juvenile justice system and parental responsibility ordinance has worked wonderfully and has been a model several cities across the country are starting to emulate.”  

“We still have a few streets that are unpaved, and we have some more necessary infrastructure improvements to make, such as our second traffic light scheduled to go in at C and Water Street next year. And more businesses downtown with well-thought out business plans and great service would be great.”

Though Hector has run unopposed in several elections due to a variety of factors, this fall, things may change. A couple of challengers seem to be looking at campaigning for the right to lead Silverton in this period of rapid change and significant challenges. But Hector doesn’t seem worried -— he has tried to recruit his own successors before to no avail, and is confident that he has done his best to represent the town he loves unabashedly.