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A tale of two city meetings

It isn't pretty watching people think out loud while trying to negotiate Robert's Rules of Order. But it is, in an odd way, inspiring.

It wasn't exactly the best of times, but Monday night offered a couple of hours of bureaucratic bliss for public policy junkies as the Forest Grove City Council took up the journalistic gift that keeps on giving: an effort to regulate signs.

Councilors spent another two hours discussing a relatively new law limiting A-frame signs placed in front of businesses. (See story on page 1A.)

After listening to a parade of citizens unhappy with the law, including a café owner who yelled at them, the seven elected officials took a collective deep breath and began the hard work of deliberating how to make the law better.

They began by debating a few proposals suggested by city staff. Then they threw in one suggested by a local business owner.

This was not a scripted discussion where everyone came in with their minds made up and votes counted.

At one point a motion by one councilor failed after a fellow councilor withdrew her second. Another councilor jumped in to second the motion only to withdraw it moments later.

Another idea got a second and was locked at a 3-3 vote when Mayor Pete Truax said 'nay.'

Finally, Councilor Tom Belusko came up with an alternative that garnered the needed four votes.

It wasn't pretty watching people think out loud while trying to negotiate Robert's Rules of Order, but it was, in an odd way, inspiring. An example of trial-and-error representative democracy, where a savvy elected official finds enough middle ground to direct public employees into an action aimed at improving policy in a way that he thought was best.

In Cornelius, by contrast, Mayor Neal Knight and councilors Jamie Minshall and Mari Gottwald (aka 'Team 3') last week again heard extensive public testimony about how firing City Manager Dave Waffle would be a mistake. In a 3-2 vote, they fired him anyway, never explaining their reasons in public.

When pressed by a News-Times reporter, Knight and Minshall said Waffle failed to show how eliminating a city fee would impact the budget, even though the former city manager knew they wanted to consider that option. (We don't know what Gottwald thinks because she has vowed not to talk to the media.)

The problem is while Waffle certainly knew that Team 3 doesn't like the fee, the five-member council never instructed Waffle to examine the option of eliminating it. Instead, they voted to have him look at reducing the fee, which is what he did for the budget he prepared and the council adopted.

And that's how local government works: it takes a majority of the elected officials to send city staff members into action. That's what happened in Forest Grove and what should have happened in Cornelius.

Instead, we have the worst of electoral politics, with three public officials acting as a cabal, refusing to respond to public testimony, debate ideas or explain their votes.