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Is city council oversight lacking?

Our city council is a body with multiple roles legislative, quasi-judicial and oversight. The first two roles are fairly clear and well understood; oversight less so. The issue is how does the LO council sees its roles and executes them.

Looking at agendas is a good starter. Most agendas are taken up by legislative and quasi-judicial roles along with informational study sessions. Relative to the “high value” of projects and spending, little time is spent on important projects; however, hours will be taken up on sewer annexations.

Let’s take the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Project as an example. In 2012, there was an update at a January City Council meeting, a joint meeting with Tigard City Council in May and an update in September. The water project could cost Lake Oswego $175 million over the years of construction and bond repayment and the city council spends time on it at three meetings in a year; is that enough?

Sound oversight requires staying on top of important topics and making sure they are on track and on budget. Is the city council doing this? Our city’s budget is about $100 million a year. Countless hours are spent on the annual budget both in budget committee meetings and council meetings. But how much time is spent throughout the year on high value projects?

Again, let’s turn to the water project as an example. During the May 2012 meeting, Councilor Gudman asked if Stafford expansion was used in calculating costs and rates of the water project. Staff said yes with expected population of about 6,900 and the costs of build out were included in the project costs.

Fast forward to March 2013 and the Acuity review of water rates and issues (paid for by citizens). Again there is a question about Stafford (minutes not yet available at time this was written) and council is told by staff that Stafford is not in the costs or water rate calculations. Shouldn’t this discrepancy be challenged? What is the number of ratepayers assumed?

Isn’t it the council’s responsibility through oversight to stay current on key projects and question staff on changes and developments that affect the projects? Our city does not have “metrics” for key projects that can be evaluated by council over time. How can the council oversee projects that are moving targets without a “baseline” (metrics) from which to measure the projects?

Again, let’s turn to the water project and look at ozone water treatment. Ozone was added at a cost estimate of $18 million (now reduced to $7 million). Is ozone treatment required? Staff says it assembled a “blue ribbon” panel and decided it was the wave of the future and needed to be included. No council minutes show that this addition was ever discussed with council. No questions were asked, yet the EPA has clear guidelines for water testing and where ozone treatment is required. Where does LO stack up in the “bins” EPA has set up? Our council is likely not even aware of the EPA regulations. Is that adequate oversight of the biggest project in city history?

Finally, oversight of finances, is the council up to speed on bond financing for the water project? What bonds when and at what cost? How does it affect future overall borrowing capability? Who knows?

Gerry Good, Lake Oswego, financially backed the Acuity review of the city of Lake Oswego’s water issues.




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