Interview with Shannon BeaucaireShannon Beaucaire is Yachats’s new City Administrator.
TYG: So how did you find Yachats?
Shannon: I saw the job description, and I was intrigued. I had been looking for about two years to come back to the Pacific Northwest, and when I read the job description it was about volunteerism, about improving community engagement, and about a welcoming community. It really felt very comfortable. I wanted to come back, and I wanted to apply! That’s how I heard about Yachats. I had gotten as far as Newport before, but I hadn’t quite made it to Yachats when I was here previously, doing law school in Portland, Oregon.
TYG: Hmm. It is a bit out of the way, isn’t it. [laughs]
Shannon: Well, it isn’t too far! If I’d just kept on going south out of Newport it would have been okay!
TYG: So what is your background in law, for those who don’t know?
Shannon: My background in law is actually a funny story. I actually have a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology. And when I was graduating from Michigan State (who’s playing in the Holiday Bowl tonight) I saw a disconnect between the Department of Natural Resources and the citizens they were serving. They were trying to put policies in place to help the wildlife, but the citizens didn’t quite understand why those policies were being put in place. So it caused a lot of angst and a lot of discontentment among the citizens, and so I was looking for a communication bridge at the time, and somebody mentioned environmental law. At the time, Lewis & Clark was the number one environmental law school; they often traded between that and Vermont. I wanted to go west rather than east, and so I applied for Lewis & Clark. At the time my communication bridge did not have a name, but at the end of my first year a professor talked about alternative dispute resolution. This incorporates mediation, facilitation, arbitration—a whole, wide scope of entities. My communication bridge had a name—and I was hooked. That was my dual major: alternative dispute resolution and environmental law. Then I went to the City of Albuquerque and managed their alternative dispute resolution programs, which were land use, employee, and community programs. [I also participated in] some special projects that didn’t quite fit into those categories. Then I went to the State of New Mexico and helped the Supreme Court build a foundation to do the same type of programs for all of their courts around the entire state.
TYG: Get all the bureaucracy and all the red tape set up?
Shannon: [laughs] Yes! You could say that. But it also gave them a strong foundation so they could build their own individual programs that met the needs of their citizens in the particular area. Because the people who were in rural southwest New Mexico were very different from the people in Albuquerque. It allowed them to have a foundation that set up a structure that allowed for consistency, but after that consistency and foundation were met, they could customize the program to meet the needs of their clients.
TYG: A very wise program!
TYG-Editorial Assistant: Can you give any specifics about that? I’m curious.
Shannon: Specifics such as...?
TYG-EA: What are some of the ways that resolutions were reached on contentious issues?
Shannon: Throughout the court system?
TYG-EA: Yes, what are some of the things you worked on.
Shannon: My [position] was administrative, setting up the foundation for the program. But some of the issues, if you were looking for some of the ways programs might help in different areas of the state: in Albuquerque, they had guardianship issues for elderly individuals. They would have abuse and neglect for children, youth, and family services. For children that were in abusive situations, they would have mediation programs to try to re-unify parents and children. And in some of the rural counties, you may have some of the abuse and neglect type situations, but you might also have issues regarding water rights or ranch land. So some of those might be more customizable depending on the area.
TYG-EA: So social, as well as environmental issues.
Shannon: Oh yes. Absolutely.
TYG: Ranching always seems to be a very hard subject, just because it’s kind of a strange practice, and it’s certainly one of the more invasive practices that we as humans use.
Shannon: And usually the land has a lot of history. And that’s the same with water rights. There’s usually a lot of history, and that tends to make things more complicated.
TYG: So, what is your vision for Yachats?
Shannon: My vision is to create an opening, welcoming sense, so that the community itself can develop its own vision. I certainly have ideas that I want to share with the community, but it is really the community [that will determine] what they want Yachats to be. And that’s what I really want to engage. And I want to encourage people to decide what they want Yachats to be in a year, five years, ten, twenty.
TYG: And to ask all the hard questions that you need to be asked.
TYG-EA: You strike me certainly as somebody who has plenty of ideas of her own to bring to the table. I wonder what you might want to share about that.
Shannon: Oh! I would love to have community engagement to beautify our poles, our new light poles up and down the street. We have a very talented group of individuals in this community—I understand there were banners made last year. So I’d love to get more ideas about how we can incorporate that more year-round. Do we celebrate different festivals, and we have hand-made banners for that? Or do we intermix other artistic points, items that we can incorporate on the light poles? I want a walkable community where citizens and tourists alike feel comfortable walking down the street, shopping at our businesses, eating at our restaurants, that they feel safe and it’s an easy place to do that. I want the citizens to really feel that they’re regaining their community, and that this is a village that is entirely welcoming. I have ideas—but I would really want to hear from the community.
TYG: So, I understand that the library is moving over to the [ex-]bank building. How’s that project going?
Shannon: It’s going very well. We have a great group of dedicated volunteers, and they’ve done a lot of community engagement and got a lot of ideas about what everybody wants their dream library to be like. They are putting that vision onto paper right now, and they’re hoping to do another community engagement forum soon, so that people can give more of their ideas and see what work has been done so far. So it’s going very well.
TYG: So what other current projects are in the works? Like how is the medical [clinic] project going, and other such things?
Shannon: The medical project is still in discussions. The south tank project—which is the water tank south of the bridge that is going in—that’s in construction right now. We have the library project, as you’re aware of. Then there are always little projects that are going on, like at Public Works—and they’re not so little. But it’s making sure that the drainage ditches are clear so that they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. It’s making sure that our water lines are functioning properly, and that the water plant is operating as it should, and that the wastewater plant is operating as it should and the sewer lines are proper.
TYG: So maintenance work, in other words.
Shannon: Maintenance; and we have a budget, and we have state and federal requirements we have to meet. They’re little things, but they’re big things as well.
TYG: Can you tell us a little more about the south water tank project? That’s something I’ve never heard of, anyway.
Shannon: The south water tank is a very large tank that’s going up to store water, and that will be used whenever we need it. It’s something to help the people south of the bridge, and it’s in process right now. There’s a retaining wall that is going up and it’s a very interesting process. There’s something they have to use called “soil nails” to hold the retaining wall in place. There are going to be five rows of nails. It sounds very simple, but it’s a very complex engineering feat, where they actually have to put the nail into the side of the dirt wall, and then they have to test it to make sure it will actually hold. There’s an independent engineer that tests it to make sure it will hold at a certain level of pounds per square inch.
TYG: Interesting! Can you give us a rough idea of the cubic area of the tank, or how much it will hold, generally?
Shannon: I’d have to go look that up.
TYG: I’m guessing it would be enough to supply the town for a couple of months, at least.
Shannon: Well, we have several of these around town. It’s specifically to address [south of the bridge].
TYG: So that’s how we keep our water going during the dry months?
Shannon: Sometimes! Sometimes, if needed.
TYG: Makes sense, so we don’t have to just bleed the river dry.
Shannon: Absolutely. We would not want to do that.
TYG: About the worst thing we could do.
Shannon: Yes. The fish would not be happy with us. [laughs]
TYG: So how did you get into environmental studies, in general? What brought you into that field?
Shannon: Ever since I was five years old I wanted to be a veterinarian. And then in my first large animal class, I saw them cutting the tails off of lambs without any anaesthesia or hugs or anything soft. So that really threw a loop into what I thought veterinarians did. So I had to kind of rethink what I really wanted to do, and was I willing to go through classes like that, in order to get that type of education. Ultimately I decided not to; I decided to pursue wildlife biology. But I always had a love for natural resources. I grew up on the Great Lakes of Michigan. My grandparents both had river- and lake-front property, and I’ve always been a hiker, into the outdoors; I’ve always loved animals and always wanted to do preservation of wildlife and natural resources.
TYG: Something I’ve always been curious about: especially up river, how are the boundaries for where farming land stops [established]? How does the zoning work?
Shannon: So, the City boundaries only go so far up Yachats River Road. I actually have a map inside if you want to take a look at it. But that would probably be where the farming is allowed.
TYG-EA: How has your arrival been, in terms of being what you expected—or not?
Shannon: Any new job always has its ups and its downs, and its learning curve. I certainly have had some days that have been rougher than others, but for the most part—I’d say 90 per cent of it—I love what I do. I have the best job in the whole wide world. I really do. This is something that I wanted to take my career into for a long time; this was a deliberate decision. I’m really excited about this.
TYG-EA: It seems like it’s a little out of the focusing on law, and more into the—how did you put it [in a separate interview]? Indulging your love of budgets?
Shannon: [laughs] As far as law goes, because I was looking for a communication bridge, I was never fully geared towards pursuing the legal field in the traditional sense. I actually had no desire to be in a courtroom at all. I’m interested in alternative dispute resolution, I’m into alternative types of work, and so this was something that was deliberate for me about where I wanted to take this stage of my career, after working under some great city managers and county managers.
TYG: I imagine it’s been quite a challenge working with our very, very small income.
Shannon: No. Every government perceives that they have not enough resources. I think when I was interviewing, the recruiter said, “It’s just a matter of zeros, and how many zeros you have.” But you still have a fixed pie to work from every year. Whether you’re Albuquerque or Yachats or New York City. There’s a fixed pie. And it’s just how you best utilize those resources in alignment with the priorities of the community, and where it wants to be, and where it wants to go.
TYG: Do you have any ideas about what steps can be taken to help the homeless people around town?
Shannon: You know, that is something people are working on quite diligently. I’ve been meeting with other coastal city managers, like Newport, Waldport, Lincoln City, getting ideas of what they have been doing, challenges that they are facing, successes that they have. I also went to a specific session at the International City Managers’ Association conference, about three cities that have taken different approaches to the homelessness issue. Two were out of Colorado; one happened to be Eugene, Oregon.
TYG: They’re focusing more on the shelter aspect, is that correct?
Shannon: They’re focusing on multi-dimensional aspects. They have some of the shelters, but they’re also working toward things like temporary housing. So, if they have a parking lot that they can use to have trailers just for an overnight, if needed, if it’s very cold—something like that. So they’re working on multiple approaches. They also have tiny homes that they’re working on, I believe, and they’re also working on ways to help individuals get out of homelessness.
TYG: That’s of course what needs to happen in the end—not just putting them in shelters, but actually helping them get income.
Shannon: Getting income, and they were very frank at the conference that some people can get on their own fully, but there is a segment of the homeless population that will always need some sort of a subsidy.
TYG: Probably true: those who are lame, just people who have gotten unlucky—they rolled the one instead of the six.
Shannon: Some. Some have mental health challenges will always need some extra support and resources. Some have other addiction challenges, whether they’re alcohol or drug abuse. They might always need some extra support and assistance. But the ones that have fallen on hard times: they can sometimes get back on their own fully and completely. But they actually said there are even issues where sometimes people have been homeless for so long that they need help re-learning how to fill out an application for an apartment. Lots of challenges.
TYG: This is an idea I’ve always had: One of the issues with a tourist-based economy like this is that for those who are educated, there are great resources. You have quite a few jobs [available] in the sense that you can start your own business, or you can do artwork, and stuff like that. However, if you were unlucky enough to not have that education, often there are very few jobs that are for that less-educated segment. That’s what I’ve observed, anyway. I was wondering if there were any plans, if there was any possibility of having something like that, maybe out of the way, something more industrial or heavy commercial?
Shannon: As far as attracting businesses here?
TYG: Yes. And in terms of just providing work for these less-educated segments.
Shannon: Interestingly, that’s a great point. That’s not been the emphasis of some of the talks that I’ve experienced so far. I will definitely raise that at our next meeting.
TYG: Was there anything else you wanted to talk about particularly?
Shannon: No, this is your interview—anything you want. [laughter]
TYG-EA: What’s been the most fun thing for you so far?
Shannon: Every single day, it’s always new, it’s always exciting. I never quite believed any city or county manager when they said that no day is ever the same. I believe them now. [laughs] And that makes it exciting.
TYG: Well thank you so much for your time!
Shannon: Thank you! It was a pleasure!