The concept of democracy (literally 'rule by the many') is dear to the hearts of Americans and a hallmark of our society. Why, then, are elected officials telling us that public involvement would harm our community?
Measure No. 3-269 is causing near hysteria at city hall. The charter amendment measure will require voter approval of some non-essential city real estate purchases. Not all transactions would be affected. Properties purchased to address public health and safety or acquired under voter-approved urban renewal plans are exempt from the voter approval requirement.
Placed on the ballot through initiative, the measure is citizens' response to the absence of public process in the Safeco affair and the city council's defiance of public opinion. (A 2005 scientific citizen survey found public support for a community center 'lukewarm at best' with only about a third of the community in support.) If the measure passes, it will trigger a retroactive vote on Safeco in March 2008.
City hall's camp wants you to believe that if citizens are allowed to weigh in on occasional real estate transactions, the city will never again be able to purchase lovely spaces for public use such as the ones we now enjoy. City hall's objections rest on two specious arguments:
Sellers will not be willing to wait for an election to take place in order to sell their property to the city.
In fact, real estate transactions can and do take months even when voter approval is not required. The Safeco transaction itself took nine months to conclude. There are four statutory election dates per year.
The city would be disadvantaged in negotiations for real estate purchases if, as part of the voter approval process, it had to publicly disclose its bid price.
In fact, the mayor herself voluntarily disclosed her bid price for Safeco to The Oregonian in February 2006, only a week into the negotiations, when no law required any disclosure. City hall doesn't think negotiations were disadvantaged then.
The presumption that a little transparency would spell the end of life as we know it in Lake Oswego stems from the council's belief that the citizens are incapable of making wise decisions that would benefit the community. Only the council has 'vision' and the rest of us are penny-pinching and short-sighted. See this faulty logic for what it is -an overreaction, a panic-stricken effort to deflect public oversight so that the city council can continue blissfully being accountable to no one.
Lake Oswego's city council is a kid in a candy store, accustomed to free rein virtually without limitations. Neighboring cities have voter approval requirements in various forms, and the world hasn't come to an end.
In both Oregon City and Beaverton, for example, except as authorized by state law, no general obligation bonds or revenue bonds of any nature can be issued or sold without a vote of the people. Our city council is crying over a $2 million unapproved spending limit but Beaverton's voluntary indebtedness cannot exceed $25,000 at any one time, 'except by consent of a majority of the voters at an election.' Moreover, 'All (Beaverton) city officials and employees who create or officially approve any indebtedness in excess of this limitation shall be jointly and severally liable for the excess.' We need the very same checks and balances in Lake Oswego.
The city council favors excluding you from participating in the process that shapes your community and wants you to rely on the government to act in your interest. Don't fall for the scare tactics. In truth, public oversight is no threat to our community's future: It is only a threat to tyranny and carte blanche unilateralism.
With massive new debts coming for infrastructure and urban renewal, don't let city hall mortgage your future without your approval.
Claim a right to vote. Vote yes on Measure No. 3-269.
Jacqueline Heydenrych is a resident of Lake Oswego.