Contest emerges for Warrenton mayor

·2 min read

Jul. 6—WARRENTON — Mayor Henry Balensifer will face a challenge from City Commissioner Rick Newton in the November election.

Balensifer, a sales and marketing manager at JBT AeroTech, was first elected to the City Commission in 2012 and appointed mayor in 2017 to finish Mark Kujala's term. He won a four-year term as mayor the following year.

Newton, a former NAPA Auto Parts store owner, was elected to the City Commission in 2014. He will give up a chance at a third four-year term to campaign for mayor.

Balensifer noted the challenges the city has faced throughout the coronavirus pandemic and said his decision to run for reelection came down to support from the community and the desire to complete unfinished projects. He pointed to the progress of the Urban Renewal Agency and making development easier without sacrificing livability.

"Just in general continuing that relationship-building and management because that will be critical and crucial for us moving forward," he said.

Newton, citing his background in business, said the city needs "somebody that can think about how to get things done."

He said the city "is in a tight spot. ... We've got a lot of things that we need to do that we haven't paid any attention to. Needs far outweigh wants and there are a lot of wants on the table, but not that many needs."

Over the past year, Newton has publicly criticized Balensifer on numerous occasions and accused the mayor of trying to push him out of the City Commission.

"I would not do another four years under Henry," Newton said, explaining why he chose to run for mayor. " ... I could not do that — mentally — under him, and (Commissioner Mark) Baldwin, because they're a tag team."

After controversy surrounding infill that Newton accepted on his property last year, Balensifer, Baldwin and Commissioner Gerald Poe asked Newton to resign, arguing that his behavior was problematic and disruptive. The infill dispute also led to a state ethics investigation into Newton's actions, which ended with a letter of education in May.

The same three commissioners asked Newton to step down again in April when he lashed out at Balensifer during a meeting.

The city, which is looking for a new city manager with Linda Engbretson retiring, has faced turnover among key staff positions.

Balensifer and Newton both predicted challenges ahead.

"I see great opportunities. I also see great challenges," Balensifer said. "I feel like we've done pretty well — all things considered — and we have much better to do in the future."