Perhaps an apology is in order on Safeco issue?
- Kathe Worsley
- Lake Oswego Review - Opinion
What is most troubling about the past two years is the absence of self-criticism from our elected officials. It would be wonderful if we could hear a heartfelt apology to citizens about the Safeco matter.
'We exercised poor judgment. We knew from the 2005 survey that Lake Oswego taxpayers were not as warm to the idea of a community center as we wanted, but we turned a blind eye, because we thought we had better long-range vision than the citizens. In promoting the community center concept, we alienated citizens who raised concerns and refused their requests for a current scientific survey costing $12,000 that would have certified the degree of public support and either strengthened our position or shown us we were wrong.
'We should have taken to heart the research that shows neighboring community centers with pools are in the red. We should have recognized that urgent infrastructure upgrades would have to take precedence over recreation. We should have seen that public health and safety is our primary concern. But we wanted our dream.
'We miscalculated the timing and didn't establish any budget for the Safeco project. We wasted more than half a million dollars developing a proposal we knew would be rendered obsolete by our decision to postpone the bond measure to 2010 or beyond. When citizens formed a grassroots response, we took an adversarial position instead of working with them.
'We contradicted ourselves again and again. We postponed the '06 bond measure, telling the public that we didn't want them to vote without information regarding the specifics of cost and design for a community center. Then we canceled that bond measure and offered in its place a November '07 advisory question containing no information at all about the future use of the property.
'When thousands of registered voters placed a charter amendment measure on the ballot, one of us reacted by accusing the grassroots citizens group of not wanting to let people vote when the community center proposal was ready. Within a week of the proposal's publication, we unanimously postponed the bond measure vote.
'This year we are suggesting what last year we resolved not do, which is to move city hall, police or 9-1-1 call center to the Safeco building.
'We overturned our own policy of not spending more than 25 percent of the tax reserves on land so that we could temporarily access 98 percent of the tax reserves to buy Safeco.
'We have spent more than $22 million, obligating the taxpayers to ongoing bills of $1.3 million a year for interest and costs, only to reach a point of not knowing what we will do with the Safeco property. Though we have no new plans or budget, nevertheless, we asked you to authorize the property's retention in the hopes that some day the public can be persuaded to develop it for a public purpose.
'Though we must disclose information upon request, we show only near future costs in the calculations we share in public presentations. We have shielded the public from a knowledge of the full extent of the long range capital spending projects for the next ten years, in an effort to gain support for our plans.
'Instead of pursuing a partnership with the public, we have assumed a paternalistic stance. We have helped create campaign opportunities for those who oppose the citizens' initiative, allowing them to disseminate campaign fundraising materials on public property while denying the citizen group the same opportunity.
'We have erred and we're sorry. Now let's try to make amends.
'We agree to abide by the terms of the charter amendment, which will not only assure full public participation in future matters of this sort but also trigger a binding vote on Safeco in March.'
A willingness to admit mistakes and make amends would go a long way towards restoring respect for the council. That would be wonderful.
Kathe Worsley is a resident of Lake Oswego.