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The house that Kight built is no work shed

Troutdale Mayor Jim Kight has a lovely 2-acre piece of property near the Sandy River that now contains three houses.

In itself, this isn't a problem, until you consider that the third house was constructed under rules that allow only an accessory structure - something akin to a shed or storage building. And under those same rules, this building should not exceed 1,000 square feet, nor should it contain bedrooms or a kitchen.

Kight's third home … or 'accessory building' … has what most people would consider a very fine kitchen - minus a range and oven. And it has what most observers would say are two bedrooms, now being used as personal offices, that have closets without rods for hanging clothes.

Downstairs, in the spacious but unfinished daylight basement, there is plumbing for a second bathroom, 8-foot ceilings and abundant light flooding through windows.

Kight's house lacks closet rods, a range, oven and a finished basement for an obvious reason: adding any of those elements would have tripped a regulatory wire, thereby officially making the mayor's accessory building into a house. Such a house would have been illegal to build in that particular location.

House is just one issue

This structure, which in reality offers around 2,000 square feet of usable space, not counting the deck, has provided the latest grounds for a squabble between Kight and members of his City Council. All six of Kight's colleagues accuse him of using his influence as mayor to squeeze this house through the city's regulatory process under the guise of an accessory building. But they have other beefs as well, including what they say is Kight's penchant for micromanaging city staff - not the role of a volunteer mayor - and for driving away city administrators.

We would be tempted to dismiss these complaints as petty political maneuvering, except for the fact that the council's concerns get to the heart of what it means - or should mean - to be a volunteer public servant in any city. Mayors or city councilors should never use their power to gain private benefit, and they should recognize that their jobs as policy makers preclude them from direct management of staff members.

Citizens will get to decide

As if to prove that point, Troutdale's staff now finds itself in an awkward position as it explains why it approved plans and issued an occupancy permit for a building that certainly stretches the definition of an accessory structure. In response to questions from The Outlook, the staff says that Kight's newest building can be 'interpreted' as a non-dwelling, accessory unit. We suppose that a good lawyer might be able to make such an interpretation stick, but to the layman, a house is a house.

The indefatigable Kight, who employed a general contractor to handle the project and the necessary permits, insists that his new building must be judged on what it is being used for now, not on what it could become with a few minor modifications. He also believes the City Council's vote to censure him for his alleged misdeeds is simply the opening volley in the 2012 mayor's race in Troutdale.

On that latter point, we agree. The acceptability of Kight's actions is a matter for Troutdale citizens to decide. They will have that chance in a year and a half - which should provide the mayor with ample time to demonstrate whether he can turn around his relationship with other councilors, forge consensus on important community projects and learn to keep a safe distance from everyday staff decisions.