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Our Opinion: Kent Studebaker deserves second term as Lake Oswego mayor

After returning from their August recess last month, Mayor Kent Studebaker and the City Council engaged in a passionate debate about how best to restrict marijuana businesses if voters overturn the city’s ban in November.

Studebaker, who adamantly opposes allowing pot sales in Lake Oswego, argued for tough regulations; others argued against widening buffer zones around schools and daycare centers. In the end, though, the councilors sided with Studebaker.

And then they all went out to Maher’s Irish Pub, where the conversation veered away from city business and toward jovial banter about other issues of the day.

The gathering was a trivial thing, an inconsequential moment in the midst of all the important issues swirling around the city. But it’s a perfect indicator of Studebaker’s ability to restore civility to city government, to build consensus and to move the city forward in a way that weaves a variety of opinions into a cohesive vision of the future.

It’s why we believe Studebaker deserves your vote and a second term as mayor of Lake Oswego.

Don’t get us wrong: We understand that this is a race for mayor, not for Mr. Congeniality. And we realize that Studebaker’s vision of the future can sometimes get obscured by his quiet, soft-spoken demeanor and professed desire to “lead from the middle.”

But there is something to be said for a leadership style that has put an end to the angry, personal name-calling and divisiveness that dominated Lake Oswego politics just four years ago. And it is hard to argue with the results of Studebaker’s administration — results he attributes mostly to his colleagues but which would not have happened without his agenda-setting guidance.

Under Studebaker, the council has restored financial stability and reduced the city’s debt burden; prioritized street maintenance and infrastructure; pushed back against external agencies to craft a Sensitive Lands policy that is as unburdensome for Lake Oswegans as legally possible; refined a Tree Code and stormwater manual that strikes a balance between environmental protection and private property rights; sold off the financial albatross that was the West End Building; developed strategic plans for Boones Ferry Road, the Southwest Employment Area and the downtown core; and increased funding for parks, pathways and the arts.

And he has accomplished all of that while welcoming public input at a series of forums where community members were encouraged to gather for roundtable discussions and advisory votes, and through a personal schedule that includes regular meetings with neighborhood representatives and civic groups.

There certainly have been missteps in the public process — a decision to restrict comments to one City Council meeting per month was misguided, for example. And there have been eye-rolling moments when it seemed as if the mayor had tired of public discourse or seemed bent on cutting off discussions and moving on.

But the council has reversed that decision, and Studebaker acknowledges that he has to do a better job of dealing with the occasional frustrations of what can sometimes be a long and cantankerous process. He insists that he enjoys the process of governing, and we believe him.

Studebaker’s challengers are certainly formidable.

Budget Committee Chairman Dave Berg is a proven, dynamic leader who brings unquestioned expertise to the table on a variety of issues, from city finances to environmental regulations. Perhaps more than anything else, it is Berg’s disciplined guidance that has helped to right the city’s financial ship. Under Berg, budgets tend to pass unanimously after reasoned discussion and debate, and it is because of those budgets that the city is even in a position to talk about what Berg likes to call the “nice to haves.”

Councilor Jon Gustafson offers a vision of the kind of Lake Oswego where we all want to live: a community rich in educational, recreational and cultural opportunities, with smart transportation and housing options, a protected natural environment and a sustainable future. Indeed, if there is anything that gives us pause in our choice of mayor, it is the loss of Gustafson’s voice on council.

Gustafson is the council’s conscience, a passionate and tireless advocate for underrepresented segments of our community and a constant reminder of the need to make sure that every one of us is heard. Gustafson sees the world through a prism of possibilities, and we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Lake Oswego is a better place because of the part he has played.

But in the end, we believe only Studebaker combines all of those characteristics into a philosophy that allows Lake Oswego to move forward in a productive way while living within the city’s means. We applaud the mayor’s willingness to make that philosophy work for longtime residents and newcomers, for seniors and young families, for developers and neighborhoods, and for the business community.

We like that Studebaker is open to new ideas but unafraid to stand by his principles when they clash with those ideas. And we appreciate his commitment to doing all of that in a way that is open, honest and respectful.

For all of those reasons, we urge you to re-elect Kent Studebaker as mayor of Lake Oswego.