City Council opts for special election

TIGARD - The search for the city's new mayor is under way.

At a special meeting Tuesday night, the Tigard City Council approved a plan to hold a special election in November to fill the seat.

The decision comes following weeks of speculation after Tigard Mayor Craig Dirksen ran for, and won, a seat on the Metro Council, the regional agency that oversees land-use and transportation planning in Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah counties.

Dirksen, the longest sitting mayor in the city's history, said he will resign in December to take the position on Jan. 1, leaving two years before the end of his current term.

Dirksen ran unopposed for Metro Council, winning the seat in last month's primary election.

Metro officials have yet to formally accept the numbers, which they plan to do later this month, but city councilors opted to plan for the impending departure before the numbers are finalized in order to give potential candidates enough time to file for the position.

The city had several options about how to fill the seat: run as a four-member council without a sitting mayor, hold a special election or appoint someone to fill Dirksen's seat until the term expires in 2014.

That's what City Councilor Marland Henderson would have preferred.

Henderson - who abstained from voting on whether to hold a special election - argued that the city should appoint either himself or City Councilor Nick Wilson to serve in Dirksen's place for the remainder of his term.

Both Henderson and Wilson have announced they will run for mayor.

With Henderson and Wilson running for the mayor's seat, that leaves no incumbents for their open City Council positions, which would also be filled in November.

'I don't think we just do the status quo here,' Henderson said. 'I think this is outside the status quo.'

Henderson said he was worried an election would leave a new mayor and two new city councilors. Those fresh faces, along with a new city manager hired six months ago, could hurt the city as it continues to grow.

'I am concerned about filling that void,' he said. 'I guess my thought is that if we could choose between Nick or I to be able to assume that position for the next two years, it would be a great transition, and we would be able to mirror you for the next six months.'

Appointments aren't unheard of in Tigard. Dirksen himself was appointed to fill the term of then-mayor Jim Griffith, who died in office in 2003. Prior to that, Griffith was appointed to fill out the term of then-mayor Jim Nicoli, who died in office in 2000.

'I believe that the intent was to provide for an appointment for filling that vacancy when there were circumstances that did not allow for an election to fill that post,' Dirksen said. 'That being the case, it's my opinion that the only justification for an appointment would be if there was a physical constraint or timeline constraint that would preclude having an election. There's no other justification for that in my opinion.'

For his part, Wilson said he supported the idea of a special election, saying that anything else 'circumvented the democratic process.'

'We have a charter that always has two city councilors and a mayor up for re-election at any given time,' he said. 'Any time the mayor runs, there are two councilors who are up for re-election. And we could have a turnover of three anytime, and that's the way it's intended.'

Dirksen and Wilson both agreed with Henderson that having good continuity from one mayor to another was ideal, but said it didn't justify not holding an election in November.

'Continuity is important, and I can understand your point,' Dirksen said, 'but I don't think that concern is sufficient to undermine the process.'

With Henderson abstaining from voting, the council was unanimous in its decision.

Along with Henderson and Wilson, longtime Tigard resident John L. Cook has said he will run for mayor.

Cook, a certified public accountant, is the son of John Cook, Sr., who served as the city's mayor in the 1980s.

Candidates now have until Aug. 6 to file for office and have their names included on the November ballot.

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