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Councilors reflect on Milwaukie service

by: PHOTO BY RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Joe Loomis and Greg Chaimov meet every Friday over coffee at Bob's Red Mill in Milwaukie to discuss a large range of topics.When councilors Greg Chaimov and Joe Loomis reflect on their service representing the city of Milwaukie, their minds don’t go to baseball, photo-radar vans or sewer negotiations with Clackamas County.

They certainly discuss those types of issues over coffee at Bob’s Red Mill, where they’ve met every Friday morning to keep each other informed of city happenings, ask after their families and root for Oregon State’s Beavers. Even after they retire from City Council after their last meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 18, the friends plan to continue their regular engagement at Bob’s.

City councilors, including Scott Churchill and Mark Gamba, who were elected Nov. 6, met last week to reassess city goals that ended up focusing on familiar initiatives. Although concerns about removing Kellogg Dam have the project to restore a Coho salmon run on the back burner until more information can be obtained, their top-five goals for 2013 include maintaining funding to prevent loss of services while completing Riverfront Park, Adams Street, a library expansion and railroad quiet zones.

But recent work at the city hasn’t resulted in monumental changes that Chaimov and Loomis can put their fingers on as symbolizing a new direction. Perhaps the most telling change: City Council now holds an extra monthly study session to discuss more in-depth issues facing Milwaukie. A communications agreement signed by all five city councilors on Jan. 18 strove for mutual respect and guaranteed access to city information to ensure “healthy debate” about competing ideas.

“I don’t think back on the past four years in terms of the specific substantive issues that we’ve worked on so much as the improvement in Milwaukie’s responsiveness to its citizens,” Chaimov said. “We talk more than we used to, and as a result we make better decisions.”

Loomis, who’s served on the elected body for nine years, said councilors no longer take split decisions personally. They’re able to talk about issues “civilly and politely and not embarrass the city,” which in the end, he thinks, helps them to make the best decision in best interests of all Milwaukians.

“I don’t know why strategy is a buzz word that always gets to me, and getting in disagreements always gives the impression that government behaves badly,” Loomis said. “We always felt like we were in the back of the bus, but now we’re the decision makers.”

Informed council

As a result of City Council’s discussions with staff, almost all issues are now brought forward to a public vote at councilors’ request. In the past, according to Loomis and Chaimov’s impression, councilors likely wouldn’t have asked the staff to look into replacing street lights with LED, for example, and then report back, as Gary Parkin did on Nov. 27.

A couple of years ago, they complained that staff would give information passively, rather than engaging the opinions and direction of City Council. City Manager Bill Monahan’s 15-minute report replaced what would have previously been content during work sessions.

“In the past, the entire discussion would take place at the council meeting where the decision was going to be made, and we wouldn’t have had the opportunity beforehand to discuss among ourselves,” Chaimov said. “Sometimes before you make the decision, you can iron out all the problems, so our decisions are better.”

Loomis credits Monahan with being “very good at keeping the council informed on everything going on in the city” and giving them a chance to weigh in on it. In 2010, Monahan replaced Mike Swanson, whose contract was not renewed.

“The previous city manager was a great city manager, but he just got tired — it’s a demanding job, and it wears on you,” Loomis said. “The other thing that Bill’s been able to do is that the five of us in the past have never been a cohesive unit, and he’s been able to make the five of us work as a team and make us feel like all our opinions matter. With the addition of Bill and the others council members, we’ve achieved openness and transparency.”

Milwaukie city councilors are unpaid, elected volunteers, and all five have had kept full-time or more than full-time paid jobs, so they saw having a city manager who can help them make informed decisions in a limited time as “really important.” City councilors believe a new tradition has been established in city management.

“Some communities need a visionary city manager who’s going to re-imagine the city in 20 years, but what we have needed, and what Bill has helped supply, is better decision making,” Chaimov said. “We finally got to the point where we were well enough informed that I think it’s going to be an institutionalized process. Whenever someone in the city does something that a citizen doesn’t agree with, it’s now always because City Council told them to do that, so it’s our fault.”

Monahan served as city attorney focusing on negotiations with Clackamas County over sewer rates prior to taking the city’s top job. The city and county came to a wastewater agreement this year after decades of bickering.

“There have been a lot of meetings about sewers, and sure, some of them have been held in private about dealing with negotiating terms, but it’s a good example of going forward and dealing with the issues of our constituents,” Chaimov said.

Photo radar, baseball

Loomis said that the first night officials voted on extending a contract for the photo-radar van last year was the “most enjoyable on council” for him because photo radar was dead for two weeks.

“It was proposed as a way to decrease accidents, but there were other means of accomplishing the same goal that are not so punitive,” he said.

But the issue came back to a largely supportive City Council, and Chaimov and Loomis still faced each other as friends on the following Friday at Bob’s. Loomis thought perceptions outweighed the value of the van, but other councilors disagreed.

“I think it’s a very valid point that you don’t want Milwaukie to be perceived as a place you don’t want to go because you always get a speeding ticket,” Chaimov said.

Although the friends shared in recent disappointment over dashed baseball dreams, they’re both now looking to a bright side.

Efforts to attract a baseball team at the ODOT site on McLoughlin Boulevard failed earlier this year as Hillsboro slid its offer ahead of Milwaukie. But Chaimov saw the effort as a success for the community in “an absolutely fabulous job” predetermining the community’s wishes and making sure that that project could succeed.

Chaimov said the effort garnered “far more positive comments from outside of the city” that will help the city for any future projects.

“We learned a lot about how to run a first-class process,” Chaimov said. “If you look at how Hillsboro accomplished it, what they did was they had all sorts of negotiations, and then they had one public meeting. We had residents involved heavily, but our long process didn’t cause us not to get our team.”

Loomis agreed that the baseball project “really resonated” by getting people excited and enhanced the city’s credibility with the region with “far-reaching” other benefits.

“From the beginning, we said we’re going to have to do it the right way, and going to the baseball task force meetings were some of the proudest moments I’ve ever had in getting consensus and bringing new people to the table in my tenure on the council,” Loomis said.

Send-off party

Deborah Barnes, city councilor from 2003-10, will be among those wishing Chaimov and Loomis well after the City Council meeting on Dec. 18. An after party takes place at Odd Fellows Hall, 10282 S.E. Main St.

Although she had disagreed with them on Swanson’s firing, Barnes said she had “great respect” for their opinions.

“We always listened to each other and worked together to make the best decisions for our city,” she said.

Swearing in and reception for new councilors Churchill and Gamba is scheduled on Jan. 2 to correspond with the first City Council meeting of 2013.



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