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'Fiscal cliff' item leads council to debate its political role


Stanton seeks review of resolution protocol

Hours before her last official meeting before retiring from Beaverton City Council, Cathy Stanton expressed concern with the way the council handles state, regional and national policy matters.

“We do it in a slapdash way,” she said the morning of Dec. 11. “Do we have a responsibility to weigh in on issues our citizenry feels important or strongly about? Is this something we should be doing? If so, we should have some criteria.”

Her point was vividly illustrated that very evening as a resolution to the U.S. Congress — one of many items in the evening’s consent agenda — launched a council discussion of protocol and what its role should be in larger political matters.

Read by Councilor Marc San Soucie, the resolution urged the U.S. Congress to avoid scheduled “sequestration” budget cuts in its year-end “fiscal cliff” negotiations. The proposal was based on his recent visit to the National League of Cities conference, where delegates were encouraged to craft resolutions to Congress from their home communities regarding looming budget cuts.

The resulting conversation had little to do with the relative merits of the resolution, and more with how such items end up before council and its role in taking political stands introduced by councilors, the mayor or public citizens and organizations.

“Something like this is not a consent agenda item,” said Councilor Ian King, referring to an amalgam of previously discussed items the council typically passes with one vote. “I don’t care what the subject matter is. It is not appropriate to hide it inside what’s probably the biggest consent agenda item we’ve had all year.”

“This is not an ends justifies the means type of government,” he added, “or at least it should not be.”

Stanton, who will retire this month after 19 years on the council, agreed. She noted, however, that resolutions introduced by citizens are often ignored in favor of those from prominent, city-affiliated associations.

“My concern is that we have had two requests from Beaverton citizens and citizens groups requesting resolutions from this body in the last five months, and we have not acted on it,” she said, referring to topics including coal trains and corporate finance reform. “We get one request from the National League of Cities — of which we’re a member — an association, and other associations have asked us for resolutions over the past ... we have just done them. That, I find very difficult.”

While there may be a better way to introduce the topic to the agenda, Councilor Cate Arnold stressed that Beaverton would feel the effects of federal budget cuts if the fiscal cliff issues were not resolved.

“Do you care, do you want to do something or not?” she asked her fellow councilors. “If you’re really concerned about the process, you can vote (against the resolution), but I’m still in favor of it.”

San Soucie apologized for not introducing the resolution earlier, while Mayor Denny Doyle admitted it was he who “dropped the ball” in placing the item on the consent agenda.

“We’re a member of the National League of Cities,” Doyle said. “I thought this is a simple request to say, ‘Folks, use your brains in D.C.’ But if people are uncomfortable with that, I understand. I fully appreciate the comments about this not being done in the proper fashion.”

He also agreed the council needed to better define how it takes stands on such matters.

Despite his protocol concerns, King thanked San Soucie for introducing the topic of federal budget cuts and urged citizens to share their feelings on looming budget cuts with local representatives in Washington, D.C.

In the end, San Soucie declined to make a motion on the matter.

“I think the value of a resolution like this comes from a unanimous vote in its favor, so we just won’t do that,” he said.