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Filling vacancies merits intense public scrutiny

(Soapboxes are guest opinions from our readers, and anyone is welcome to write one. Paul Parker is a resident of Cedar Mill.)

This year, Beaverton area residents have seen three vacancies occur in important elective positions. Beaverton City Council, Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation District and now the Beaverton School Board have each lost strong leaders who had earned their seats by winning at the ballot box. In each case, the governing body has done what it is required to do: it fills the vacancy by appointment, pending the next election cycle.

While the appointment process embodies the virtue of necessity - a single vacant seat creates a huge hole on a five-member or seven-member board - it also cries out for extraordinarily balanced and transparent decision making by elected officials. Here are some reasons why:

n The combined 06-07 budgets of the city of Beaverton ($142 million), THPRD ($49 million) and the School District ($352 million) amount to $541 million. Together, most of us pay most of this bill. And that does not include any bond measures looming on the horizon.

n Boards are ultimately responsible for approving these budgets, and one vote can make the difference.

n Candidates seeking appointment to vacancies can offer themselves simply by writing a letter of interest.

n Once appointed, it is much easier to get elected. In short, appointment is the cheapest and surest way to obtain elective office!

That is why the selection process is so important and why it merits intense public scrutiny. Here are some of the questions that arise:

n All of the sitting members ran on a platform and all have an understandable desire to advance their own priorities. Should they seek to recruit for their own agenda, or should they focus on representing the wishes of the entire electorate?

n Assuming the previous member left 'in good standing,' should candidates who support the outgoing member's views be favored?

n How should the sitting members evaluate candidates who previously ran for election to that office, but were not successful?

In recent years our area has seen one candidate appointed even though she did not bother to attend the board meeting to present her candidacy. This June, the THPRD board chose a compromise candidate (who may prove to be absolutely brilliant) simply because they could not reach a decision between the two strongest front-runners, whose differing views were strongly shared by the two 'wings' of the board. And Beaverton School District's current process appears to hinge on an application letter and a 10-minute interview before the board, followed by private deliberations and a vote on Sept. 11.

Given what is at stake, whether it is our children's education, our parks, our public safety funding or our pocketbook, this is, at best, a poor way to make decisions. All local jurisdictions would serve the public well by establishing a standing advisory committee of registered voters to develop fresh selection criteria, review and comment on applications, and monitor any personal bias on the part of sitting elected members.

In the meantime, and noting the very critical decision faced by the Beaverton School Board, let us hope that the current members will make every effort to be transparent, suspend their own agendas, listen to input both from program advocates and from taxpayers who do not benefit directly, and respect the evidence of prior elections.