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Citys resistance is reason to back 3-269

Lake Oswego's charter allows city officials wide latitude, exerts no spending controls and requires no voter approval except for general obligation bonds.

Last year, the city council exaggerated the extent of public support for a community center shortly after a scientific citizen survey indicated only 'lukewarm' public support for the project. Without conducting a new survey, it purchased Safeco in defiance of the public will and financed it with new debt, resulting in an uproar in the community and a loss of trust between the people and their representative government.

(Today) we are no closer to a bond measure after spending a small fortune on designing a community center. We have been paying interest on Safeco at $996,000 a year and operations costs at $300,000 a year since last year without ever agreeing to the property's ownership.

Our sister cities Tigard, Beaverton and Wilsonville maintain checks and balances via voter approval requirements to prevent the sort of real estate speculation we have seen with Safeco. We need the same safeguards.

Our city government is so out of touch with the concerns of the taxpaying public that it will mortgage our future for luxuries at a time when enormous infrastructure costs for water and sewer are right around the corner. These new bills alone will quadruple our community's present annual debt, making this a time when we need more than ever to give careful consideration to discretionary spending.

Earlier this year, more than 5,000 Lake Oswegans petitioned to put Measure No. 3-269 on the ballot, which would amend the city charter to require voter approval of city real estate purchases exceeding $2 million. You have probably read some misinformation about the measure, so here are the facts:

The measure applies only to high-end, non-essential real estate transactions of which Safeco has been the only example in the last nine years. It is not intended to impede routine city business. Properties purchased to address public health and safety are exempt. Special safeguards apply to urban renewal projects. Properties purchased through voter-approved urban renewal plans are also exempt. As long as the overall plan itself has voter approval, the redevelopment agency (LORA) needs no voter approval for any of the properties within the scope of the plan. The $2 million cap may be adjusted for inflation. Contrary to what you might have heard, Measure No. 3-269 will not impede progress or be bad for local business. Just the opposite. It merely ensures the public a voice in non-essential property transactions.

Those who claim that Measure No. 3-269 will 'hamstring' city government are assuming that a majority of citizens will always vote down city real estate purchases exceeding $2 million. This conclusion is unfounded and paranoid.

But think about it: In the event that a majority of taxpayers did vote against a city real estate purchase, would it be consistent with the principles of democracy or proper for local government to act in opposition to the will of the people?

This forward-thinking charter amendment requires elected officials to plan ahead and prevents them from keeping the taxpayers out of the loop. It brings accountability. It will prevent the city from excluding you from participating in some of the decisions that affect you financially. When local government resists transparency and wants no public participation, we should question its motives. The very fact that city officials resist oversight is a clear indication that it is sorely needed. Vote 'Yes' on Measure No. 3-269.

Kevin Poling is a resident of Lake Oswego.