Sands said he has no regrets

Dennis Sands

Former Joseph mayor Dennis Sands is breathing a little easier these days -- literally. After 10 years as Joseph Mayor and council member, Sands resigned Nov. 1 at his doctor’s request.

“I forgot how much it weighed on me,” Sands said. Two weeks after his resignation, his blood pressure had already dropped 40 points.

“I can really tell the difference,” he said.

Sands has long held an interest in politics. At 24, and after service with the U.S. Marine Corps, he ran as a Republican in a state representative race in a heavily democratic area of Portland. Though he won the primary, he lost the general election but gained valuable experience from the venture.

When he moved to Joseph in 2002, he began attending council meetings. He lost a three-way race for mayor in 2004 but didn’t give up. After some council resignations, he again applied for a seat on the council only to get turned away.

In 2006, Sands ran for the city council part of a six-way race for three open council seats. He came in third.

“It was a landslide,” Sands quipped. “I beat the fourth-place person by five votes.”

A mayoral run in 2008 landed him the post he held for the next decade. At the time, the council was dominated by land use issues. Particularly contentious was the piece of Marr Ranch property that became Iwetemlaykin State Park.

At the time, the property owner wanted to develop the land, and it was within the Joseph’s urban growth boundary. The council fought, which Sands didn’t think was fair since the property owner bought the land with development intentions. The state and Nez Perce Tribe eventually purchased the land.

Economic development had the highest priority for Sands throughout his tenure. He wanted more family-wage jobs. The city had an industrial zone with no water or sewer close by, which he thought made it unattractive to businesses.

“One of the last things I did was to secure that grant to get water and sewer down to the industrial zone,” he said.

The Regional Solutions grant came to $145,000, and that brought the water from Camp Street over to Sample Lane. That cost nearly $200,000 with the city contributing around $20,000 and expecting about $20,000 more from the county’s lottery fund for economic development. Businesses within the zone are expected to pay a share.

Sands saw a number of changes in the city’s demographic over his tenure. He noted population growth and an increase in retirees.

“The schools are finally picking up again, and that’s a really encouraging sign,” he said.

His challenge as was trying to keep the council as a unified body.

“There were times we were very united and times we weren’t,” he said. “Even though we may have differences, once we make a decision, we try to reach that goal. Sometimes it doesn’t happen.”

Most rewarding for the former mayor was the playground project at the Joseph City Park.

“It had citizen involvement, and it was basically citizen driven,” he said.

Sands was on the project committee and had a significant role outside of his position as mayor. “The city, for an investment of $2,500, received a whole new playground worth $265,000,” he said. “It was one of the best projects I’ve ever been involved in.”

Sands also noted the recently completed bike path from the south end of the city to the county park at the foot of Wallowa Lake, courtesy of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

“There was no investment by the city except attending design meetings,” Sands said.

Sands also points to the paving of city streets as a high-water mark of his tenure. He initiated a campaign to raise the state grant allotments for small city infrastructure from $1 million to $5 million.

The mayor personally wrote letters and handed out sample letters at League of Oregon Cities meetings with instructions on who and where to send them. He also lobbied the legislators involved while on trips to Salem.

“Now, instead of getting $50,000 every eight years, we get at least $50,000 every two years for our streets,” he said.

Sands also noted that the grant rules didn’t prohibit the city from making more than one application annually. Consequently the state granted two separate applications for a total of $100,000 last year. With carryover and other state programs, the city council approved around $220,000 for road paving and repair.

“We ended up getting about 18 blocks paved this year,” he said.

Despite some turmoil along the way, Sands has no regrets and wouldn’t do anything differently.

“I basically enjoyed all of it,” he said.

He added that the last two years have taken their toll, and he plans to spend more time with his small business advising role with Northeast Oregon Economic Development District.

Sands said he hoped he left Joseph citizens a legacy of working for their interests.

“I had no personal agenda,” he said. “I always thought, ‘What do the citizens want?’ and I think I reflected that pretty well.”

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