Lauren Hughes, Audrey Monroe are top choices for vacant seat

After two hours of interviews, straw polls and deliberations, the Lake Oswego City Council remained deadlocked Tuesday night on which of two local women should fill a vacant seat.

The seat was vacated by Mike Kehoe, the top vote-getter in the 2010 council election and a prominent supporter of local schools and business-minded fiscal conservatism. He resigned last month because his family relocated to San Diego. More than a year of his term remains, through 2014.

A short list of possible replacements included Dave Berg, Lauren Hughes, Audrey Monroe and Dan Williams. All said they represented the same conservative philosophy as Kehoe and supported local schools.

By the end of the night the council was stuck 3-3 between Hughes and Monroe.

To appoint a replacement, the city charter requires a majority vote of the remaining council members. That means contenders for the seat were seeking four votes out of six. But the city’s rules don’t outline a procedure for selecting a replacement or offer ways to break a tie, Mayor Kent Studebaker said.

“We’re trying to do this as openly and responsibly as possible,” Studebaker said. At the same time, “there’s no clearly defined procedure in the code.”

The plan was to interview the four candidates, chosen from about a dozen earlier suggestions from council and community members. The council hoped to then take a straw poll to narrow the field to two, followed by a formal vote. The new member could then have taken the oath of office and assumed the position Tuesday night.

Instead, officials declared a stalemate after four straw polls.

About 50 people were at city hall to watch the process, which at times drew comparisons from the audience to the surreal comedy of a “Monty Python” sketch.

Candidates highlight priorities, experience

Each candidate had a few minutes to present his or her background before fielding questions from the council. During interviews, both Berg and Hughes tried to dispel concerns they were tied to single issues or beholden to specific political factions or viewpoints.

Berg, sales and marketing director for SPC International Inc., chairman of the city’s budget committee and a board member of the group Citizens for Local Accountability in Lake Oswego, highlighted his experience with environmental regulations at the state level. He worked as a program operations manager for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in the early 1990s and said that experience would lend itself well to the city council’s ongoing effort to change the way it designates and regulates environmentally sensitive lands.

“I understand the code, I understand the program, and I have not only developed but managed and enforced an environmental program,” he said.

While he submits monthly opinion pieces to the Review that focus on city spending and policies, Berg said, “I’m not an idealogue. ... I’m pragmatic about my approach. I listen to my options, incorporate my private sector experience and use that to make logical and rational decisions.”

He noted he has worked well with city council members as a citizen member of the budget committee.

“Let’s continue to positively surprise the community together,” he said.

Hughes is a community volunteer known to many in city government for her vocal criticism of the way Lake Oswego maps designate sensitive lands on private properties and restricts homeowners’ use of the land around tree groves, wetlands and streams.

But she said her activism on that issue really reflects her desire to advocate on behalf of people “marginalized by the program.” She has also volunteered as a court-appointed advocate for children, is active in schools and sits on the board of NeighborLink, a transportation service for senior citizens.

“I realize within the confines of these walls I’m defined by sensitive lands,” Hughes said. But, “I see the council position as a way of extending that advocacy for others.”

Hughes described sensitive lands and an ongoing effort to update the comprehensive plan as the most important council goals this year. She is on the boards of two political groups, Lake Oswego Citizens Action League and Citizens for Stewardship of Lake Oswego Lands, and has regularly attended meetings of the council and city committees for the past four years.

Hughes said that experience has given her a history and knowledge base “that will allow me to hit the ground running and allow me to immediately contribute to the achievement of the current council goals, as well as other issues the council will face.”

Monroe has children in Lake Oswego schools, is a school volunteer and is currently heading up this year’s campaign advocating for renewal of the Lake Oswego School District’s local option levy. She is president-elect of Lake Oswego’s chapter of the National Charity League.

Her family owns a wholesale refrigeration and HVAC distributor, but in recent years she has worked in professional sales as well as political work. She was grassroots director in 2010 for Chris Dudley’s campaign for governor.

“City council is nonpartisan, as it should be,” Monroe said, noting she wanted to explain the motivations underlying her political work: “I am a pro-business fiscal conservative.”

She said she believes in private property rights and efficient spending, and would bring knowledge of schools and a relationship with the school board to the council.

She mentioned redevelopment of the Wizer block downtown, management of the city’s water partnership with Tigard and basic services such as public safety and roads as key issues. She has watched past council meetings online and pored over meeting minutes to get up to speed.

“While I do not perhaps know every nuance of every city issue, I’ve accumulated a working knowledge of current council priorities,” Monroe said.

Williams said he found common ground with outgoing councilor Kehoe when the two were running for council in 2010; Williams also ran for a seat in 2012, and he has served on the city’s budget committee in the past. In 2011 he founded NeighborLink, which provides free transportation to people 60 and older in Lake Oswego, and is an executive in the wood products industry. He also became a licensed Realtor about 10 years ago.

He told the council he has concerns related to population and housing density, finding a solution to “flawed sensitive lands efforts” and spending taxpayer dollars efficiently — issues also of concern to Kehoe.

“That view needs to remain a component of council policy and direction,” Williams said. “Many of us share Mike’s concern the city has become an increasingly expensive place to live.”

Williams said wrapping up the comprehensive plan update would free staff members to work on other projects, such as overhauling the sensitive lands program.

Sensitive lands were among top priorities on the council, he said.

“It just hits me right in the gut,” Williams said. “I don’t know what the intention was but we overstepped.”

Votes yield multiple ties

Of remaining council members, Studebaker and councilors Karen Bowerman, Jon Gustafson, Donna Jordan and Skip O’Neill were present at city hall. Councilor Jeff Gudman participated by phone.

In their first attempt to narrow the field of contenders, each of the six could vote for up to two candidates.

Jordan chose to vote for only one: Monroe. Bowerman voted for Berg and Hughes; Gudman voted for Hughes and Williams; Gustafson voted for Berg and Monroe; O’Neill voted for Monroe and Williams; and Studebaker voted for Hughes and Williams.

That meant Berg had two votes, while it was a three-way tie for Hughes, Monroe and Williams, who each took three votes and progressed to the next round.

In the second straw poll, councilors could vote for up to two candidates with the slate limited to Hughes, Monroe and Williams.

Bowerman voted only for Hughes this time; Gudman again voted for Hughes and Williams; Gustafson voted for only Monroe; Jordan again voted just for Monroe; O’Neil again chose Monroe and Williams; and Studebaker again supported Hughes and Williams. Again, it was 3-3-3 between Hughes, Monroe and Williams.

In their third try, council members were to pick just one contender as their top choice. Bowerman, Gudman and Studebaker chose Hughes, while Gustafson, Jordan and O’Neill chose Monroe — another tie, this time between Hughes and Monroe.

Schools and sensitive lands are sticking points

Studebaker gave his rational for voting for Hughes.

“One of our biggest issues is sensitive lands, and she is as knowledgeable about that as anybody around,” he said. With Monroe, he added: “My only concern is she doesn’t have quite the breadth of knowledge Lauren has on city issues at this point.”

O’Neill said he felt Monroe best represented the base of citizens with children in Lake Oswego schools.

“I think there are issues here in Lake Oswego that are far greater than sensitive lands,” he said. “I think it’s one important issue, but it’s not the only issue in Lake Oswego.”

Bowerman argued that Hughes’ experience extends to issues other than sensitive lands.

In addition, Hughes received an endorsement from Kehoe, Bowerman noted.

“I find this to be also out of respect for Mike,” she said.

Gustafson contended that Hughes has “done an excellent job of representing the LO Stewards and being a fierce proponent of property rights, and she does know her stuff.”

But on the council, he said, “It’s important there be the appearance of objectivity and that someone’s mind isn’t made up, and they’re not on this body to fight for a single issue. I don’t mean to suggest that’s all she’s going to do, but it’s important that appearance be avoided.”

He said he appreciated Monroe’s “fresh eyes,” “positive outlook” and apparent good fit for the “fiscal conservative role that it seems we’re trying to fill.”

Jordan said a driving force behind Kehoe’s election was supporters who knew him through schools and youth sports activities rather than politics, and she wanted to find someone who filled “that niche.”

From her perspective, she said, Monroe best fit that mold.

Gudman suggested bringing Williams back into the options to vote for instead of staying deadlocked on Hughes and Monroe, but no one seconded his motion.

“We have to pick somebody,” he said.

Instead, the council will revisit the topic at an upcoming meeting. The next scheduled session is 7 p.m. Sept. 24 at city hall, 380 A Ave.

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