The recent revelation that Lake Oswego was involved in offering $5 million (some call it a “bribe”) to the West Linn City Council in an attempt to persuade council members to overturn an early December decision made by its planning commission is beyond shocking — it is shameful and, at the very least, unaffordable to Lake Oswego residents and taxpayers.John Surrett

Never officially approved by the outgoing Hoffman council of Lake Oswego and certainly not by the incoming Studebaker council (they were not even sworn in yet) the offer was hatched in secret by LO staff, Lake Oswego-Tigard Water partnership senior management, consultants, and, of course, legal advisers during the remaining weeks of December following the West Linn Planning Commission’s 7-0 unanimous decision.

The decision involves the Lake Oswego-Tigard water agreement project where the (West Linn) Planning Commission decided not to grant conditional use permits for the project’s proposed expansion and reconstruction of the Lake Oswego water treatment plant in the West Linn Robinhood neighborhood near Mary S. Young Park and for a new much larger water transmission pipe from the plant to LO along Highway 43.

As managing partner of the project bearing the burden of obtaining all the permits for the project, Lake Oswego appealed the planning commission’s decision to the West Linn council. Hearings were held by the council Jan. 14-15 with a decision on the appeal slated for Jan. 28.

The revelation of the $5 million offer was made by the West Linn council after holding a surprise executive session prior to its regular meeting — one day before the swearing-in ceremony of the new Lake Oswego council. To his credit. Mayor Studebaker alluded to the $5 million controversy during his acceptance remarks, emphatically stating that there had been neither prior council approvals nor any council discussions on the subject and vowing that there would be council deliberations.

Many, many questions need answers. Who authorized the secret meetings? Why was LO staff involved — particularly to discuss a huge amount of money to be paid to West Linn? Would they write the check? Lake Oswego has no budget allocation for this expenditure, nor does the project budget. There are several references in the intergovernmental agreement where large expenditures of money must first have council approval before a check is written.

It comes down to this. Fearing that Tigard will view the Lake Oswego appeal to the planning commission as insufficient performance and sue, Lake Oswego’s $5 million offer to the West Linn council is an “extra mile” gesture of good faith meant to convince Tigard that they have done everything possible. If the commission’s decision is upheld, the project is in serious jeopardy and most likely would be abandoned. I’ll reserve my opinion about that in this column. But, again fear crept in and panic took over with secret meetings and millions of (unbudgeted and unapproved) dollars in play in handicapping the outcome of the West Linn council vote.

Negotiating out of fear is never good. Remember what FDR said about fear? It was something like “... the only thing that we have to fear is fear itself.” So, let Tigard sue us. Stay tuned. There is much more to this malodorous story.

John Surrett, of Lake Oswego, is a former candidate for mayor of the city.

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