Think Out Loud

A mayoral race in John Day heats up, along with questions about city’s future

By Rolando Hernandez (OPB)
Oct. 25, 2022 11:14 p.m. Updated: Oct. 27, 2022 3:21 p.m.

Broadcast: Wednesday, Oct. 26

Ballots and voters’ pamphlet for the 2022 election.

Ballots and voters’ pamphlet for the 2022 election.

Jeff Thompson / OPB


How do you preserve the image of John Day? That’s the question on the minds of residents and the answer from mayoral candidates Ron Lundbom and Heather Rookstool could decide who will win the election in November. Lundbom has been John Day’s mayor for 10 years and is a former owner of an auto parts retailer. Rookstool is a first-term city council member and is an educational assistant with Grant Union junior and senior high school. To break down how the race is shaping up and the issues that are defining it, we’re joined by Justin Davis, senior reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. Who should lead the City of John Day in the coming years, and what should the city feel and look like? These are some of the big questions in front of voters in the Eastern Oregon city right now, given the contested race for mayor. Ron Lundbom has been the mayor for the last decade. He’s facing a challenge from Heather Rookstool, a first-term city council member. Joining me now to talk about this race and what it means for the future of John Day is Justin Davis. He is a senior reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. Justin, welcome back.

Justin Davis: Hey, how you doing?

Miller: Doing very well. Thanks for joining us. Let’s start with brief descriptions of these two people. First, what should we know about Ron Lundbom?

Davis: Ron Lundbom has been a fixture in John Day politics for about 18 years or so. He was on city council from 1992 to 2000 and then for the last 10 years he’s been the mayor here. He’s really interested in getting a lot of the projects that the city has coming down the pike like our wastewater treatment plant. His hope is we get a pool. Developing the ‘Innovation Gateway’, which is going to be kind of like a business/economic center for the city. Give people somewhat of an introduction to John Day. And yeah, that’s about it on him.

Miller: And what about Heather Rookstool?

Davis: Heather is, as you mentioned, a first-term city councilor. She’s about 30 years the junior of Ron Lundbom. She’s really leaning into wanting to bring a sense of decorum and decency back to city politics, as well as transparency. As I mentioned the pool earlier, and I’m sure we’ll talk about that later…

[Voices overlap]

Miller: Well, yeah, there’s more to talk about there, but when you said she’s mentioned decorum and decency, what has prompted that? I mean, what have city council meetings or other public events been like?

Davis: At times they’ve been highly contentious, maybe even able to say divisive, and for her, that’s a problem. She wants to get to a place where people can disagree but not disagree in a way that leads to insults and nastiness and some disparaging personal comments in between individuals that are discussing these issues.


Miller: My understanding is, she has also talked about fiscal responsibility in terms of city governance. What are the particulars that she’s been focusing on?

Davis: The big thing is the pool project, of course. The estimated cost now is about $7.1 million to do this. And herself as well as a number of individuals in our community are alarmed at that price point, considering the size of our community, and just wondering if we need something of that cost and that scale in this community, as well as just our city’s budget. Our prior City Manager, Nick Green, had come and gotten a ton of grant funds for the city. Our city budget was at about $5 million. After Nick Green came in and wrote grants for us and got a lot of these grant funds, our city budget has increased to about $30 million dollars now. There’s some debate as to whether or not we will be able to maintain a lot of these things that the city wants to build and what the cost to maintain some of these things is going to look like once they’re done being built.

Miller: You mentioned the pool. So let’s dig into this. In fact, it’s one of the issues that we talked about the last time you were on, when at that point we were really focusing on the expansion of the Kam Wah Chung [State Heritage] Site and museum. But that had been tied together, in some ways, with this proposal to build a new city pool. A construction bond for that pool is on the ballot, this November ballot, for the second time.

Davis: Yes.

Miller: What happened?

Davis: The first time the pool bond tied, and it’s a really strange scenario where it was an 802-802 tie…

Miller:  Exactly, a pure tie, meaning that the measure did not pass.

Davis: Yes, and members of the community who felt passionately that we needed a pool were of the mindset that because this bond tied, we should probably put this on the ballot again to get a straight up yes or no answer from the community as to whether or not they want this pool. Many circumstances have changed since the May election, most notably our old pool, Gleason Pool, was demolished to make way for the expansion of the Kam Wah Chung [State] Heritage Site. There was a narrative that we could fix Gleason Pool and we can have this pool instead of having to spend the money on a new pool. But the land deal with Kam Wah Chung, one of the requirements of this deal was that we demolish Gleason Pool before they took possession of the land that they needed to expand their heritage site. So the idea of rebuilding or revitalizing Gleason Pool is no longer an option.

Miller: So, it’s either this new one or there’s not going to be a pool there, at least a municipal pool, in the near future. What are the mayoral candidates saying about this $4 million bond?

Davis: Lundbom is all in on the bond and he thinks that it’s necessary and that’s what it’s gonna take for us to get the type of pool here that we would need. John Day to have competitive swim meets. Kids in this community would basically live at the pool during the summer time, and he’s of the mindset that this bond is necessary to get to a spot where those things can happen again. Heather’s mindset is that there’s a way to do this cheaper than putting out a $4 million dollar bond to the voters and that’s basically the gist of the argument. Heather was in support of the pool bond for a very long time. She was in support of it during the May election and it’s just recently that she’s come out that she isn’t in support of it, mostly for fiscal reasons and concerns over what the pool is going to cost. It was estimated to cost $6.7 million. And just due to inflation and supply chain costs and things like that, everybody knows the price of everything that’s going up. And now, the estimated cost of the pool is right around $7.1 million, and Heather’s concern is the prices have gone up, just in the past few months from $6.7 to $7.1 million. So what is the overall cost of this pool gonna look like when we get to the point where we’re going to try to build this thing?

Miller: So there is this pool, which is the subject of a bond on the same ballot. There’s also the business or economic development center that the current mayor is pushing for. In the biggest picture, what does this mayoral race tell you about competing visions for the future of the city, for what the city could or should look like or be like in the coming years?

Davis:  First off, I’ll step back and paint a picture of why we’re having these debates. The City of John Days’ population has been declining for a number of years now and with declining population comes a shrinking tax base and less money that you can pull from your tax base to do things like fix your roads, improve your city, things like that. There’s some debate as to what to do about that. Lundbom is of the mindset that we have to grow our way out of this, and the only way to get to a spot where we want to be is to spend money. We have a new wastewater treatment plant that we’re building, the pool, other things like that. I think there’s a segment of the population that looks at all of these projects and they’re concerned because John Day is a small town and part of what comes with living in a small town is that small town charm. And people are really afraid that if we build these large scale, expensive projects, that’s the start of us getting away from John Day having that small town appeal and growing into something that isn’t what long time residents of John Day thought that the city was going to be. So it’s really a question of what I mentioned previously. Like what do you do, if you’re sick and you’re dying? Do you continue to do the same things that made you sick and led to a point where you’re in a life threatening situation? Or do you do this experimental treatment that may not save your life, but if it does save your life, then you’re good?

Miller: Justin Davis. Thanks for joining us.

Davis: Alright, thanks a lot, sir.

Miller: That’s Justin Davis. He is a senior reporter for The Blue Mountain Eagle.

Contact “Think Out Loud®”

If you’d like to comment on any of the topics in this show or suggest a topic of your own, please get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter, send an email to, or you can leave a voicemail for us at 503-293-1983. The call-in phone number during the noon hour is 888-665-5865.