For Solveig Spjeldnes, a Democrat running to represent Athens’ first ward on City Council, staking political positions requires strict procedure.
First, she must hear from “stakeholders” — as she likes to call would-be constituents — about their concerns. To start, she posted messages in the Athens West Side and University Estates Facebook groups asking what concerns are top of mind for first ward residents. Extensive research on each issue comes next.
“As a person who taught policy and advocacy and organizing and the process of coming together to decide to make changes — as I’ve taught my students — it’s really important that any time you decide on a policy that there is a process to that,” Spjeldnes, a former Ohio University social work professor, said.
While residents shared with her many gripes they have with life in Athens, both big and small, she won’t commit to any specific policy positions because circumstances could change by the time she takes office, she said.
Spjeldnes said landlord-renter relations and housing availability are among her top priorities and that she has ideas on how to bolster tenant’s rights but won’t share them, citing the need of more time to study the issue and determine whether her proposals are sound. (Although, Spjeldnes indicated she doesn’t believe it’s possible to restrict landlords from turning away renters with section 8 vouchers, a longstanding local issue that some consider to be a form of housing discrimination.)
Spjeldnes, who will most likely run uncontested in the May Democratic primary, said she will iron out specific proposals to voters “sometime in the next couple of months.”
“I want to come up with something that really makes sense, that really could make change and that’s not going to end up with unintended consequences,” she said.
Spjeldnes, a member of the Athens Democratic Party’s central committee and communication committee, said she hadn’t considered running for office until very recently when Arian Smedely, a Democrat who represents Athens’ first ward, announced she wouldn’t seek another term.
Party leadership and at least one member of City Council (Spjeldnes didn’t specify who) suggested her as a possible candidate for the ward seat. Based on the recommendation, she said, Athens Mayor Steve Patterson called and asked her to run.
Others in consideration for the job were former first ward City Councilmember Kent Butler and Sam Miller, who unsuccessfully sought the first ward seat in the past. Both declined, so Spjeldnes stepped up and initiated a campaign.
“I’ve only had a short time to even think about policy positions. That’s different than someone who spent a long time planning to run,” she said.
Spjeldnes, who has a Ph.D and master’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in education, was born in Sweden and immigrated to the Chicago suburbs as a toddler. She previously lived in Pennsylvania where she was the president of her homeowner’s association and worked as a stringer for The Pittsburg Post-Gazette newspaper. She also spent many years working corporate in human resources.
She was brought to Athens in 2008 for a professor job, which she left last year as part of OU’s early retirement program.
“I immediately felt for the first time in my life like I was living where I was meant to live,” Spjeldnes said of Athens and its friendly residents.
Locally, Spjeldnes served on the board of the domestic violence agency My Sister’s Place and recently resigned after more than five years as vice president of the John W. Clem Recovery House board, a rehabilitation home for men in recovery from addiction.
“I have the education, experience, time, passion and a common sense approach that’s very consistently focused,” Spjeldnes said when asked why voters should show up at the polls for her.