Can citizens afford to look away?
Some citizens don't seem to mind the fact that the Lake Oswego City Council has spent more than $22 million of their money on Safeco only to now say it hasn't identified a use for the property, and suggest that we should leave such real estate decisions to our elected officials. But to look the other way is to abandon common sense. Here's why:
Representative government is predicated upon the consent of the people, and when it deviates from that consent, its actions are no longer legitimate. It then becomes the duty of the citizenry to oversee the actions of the government and make sure that they represent the public's best interest.
Any claim that our elected representatives are better equipped to make decisions has been undermined by their willingness to distort the facts and cover up the truth. There is no bigger deception than the effort to manufacture consent for a community center, which was the rationale for the Safeco purchase. You need look no farther than the reputable, professional citizen surveys to see that the city council exaggerated the extent of public support from the beginning.
1996: An overwhelming majority desired no increase in levels of service for Recreation, Library, Teen and Adult Community Center programs.
1998: An Aquatic complex had the lowest level of support, with only 2 in 10 rating it a high priority.
2000: Four in ten say a new recreation facility should not be a priority. 'Based on these findings, it appears that gaining voter approval of a bond measure to fund a new recreation facility will likely take a great deal of effort on behalf of the city and council members.'
2003: '... it seems unlikely that funding for a major new recreation/aquatic center would generate the required support within the community at this time.'
2005: 'Only about one-third display strong support for building a community center.
At this point in time, support is only lukewarm for building a community center in Lake Oswego (36 percent). Clearly if the city council believes that building a community center would be of great value to the community, it will have to work to build the kind of support that will be necessary for a bond measure to pass.'
Opposition voices were squelched from the first public meeting at Lakeridge and opponents of the plan were told to express themselves at council meetings and through the media. Throughout the Safeco debacle, the citizens have been treated with disdain. On June 19 we heard Councilor McPeak say, 'I'm prepared to let the citizens of this community decide on Safeco. Because this has been made to happen. It wouldn't have been my preference, and I think we could make the citizens understand why they should support the ownership of that property.'
The same councilor accused Ask Lake Oswegans of not wanting to let the people vote when the … $105 million Steering Committee proposal was ready and then within a week of its release voted to postpone a binding bond measure indefinitely.
Now the city understates the extent of capital expenditures and pretends that Safeco can be owned for $8/9 a month. Instead of working with the public, our city government places itself in an adversarial position to the citizens. When it comes to numbers, we are kept on a need to know basis, like children.
A city council that has the interest of its citizens at heart should welcome scrutiny and invite citizen participation. The degree to which city officials object to public oversight is directly proportionate to the degree to which oversight is necessary. When a city government resists public involvement, the citizens need to ask themselves if they can afford to keep looking the other way.
Vote yes on Measure No. 3-269.
Bob Harding is a resident of Lake Oswego.