The Newberg City Council is expected to return to seven members Thursday, as Matt Murray is slated to be sworn into the District 1 seat, beginning a term that runs through 2020.
With three candidates to choose from during a special meeting Aug. 14, the council came to a unanimous decision on Murray despite finding all three candidates qualified for the job.
The decision was not without controversy, as one candidate, Michelle Joslin, later complained of underlying sexism possibly playing a role for at least one councilor, but most of the five councilors present commented on how they felt Murray gave the strongest interview with answers that seemed to demonstrate preparation for the job and a keen understanding of city issues.
"I thought he had a real grasp of the issues, was well able to answer the questions …," Councilor Scott Essin said at the meeting.
Murray is a senior sales engineer with ITT Gould Pumps who moved to Newberg with his family about five years ago. He takes the seat previously held by Hayley Delle, who resigned from office in May just a few months into her first term for personal reasons.
During the meeting, councilors seemed to gravitate toward Murray not only for attending the past several meetings and reading the meeting packets, but especially because he answered that the most critical issues facing the city were affordable housing and economic development
"Folks in the Portland metropolitan area, they're moving out here because they can't afford to live there anymore," he told the council. "So one of the things I'm passionate about is affordable housing. We need that and people are coming here to look for it. So how do we do that in a sustainable way, at the same time promoting economic development? We have to have it."
The other candidates were Joslin, a branch manager for a mortgage lender in Beaverton, and Helen Brown, a retired early childhood educator who has served on a number of city committees, including the budget committee.
Joslin, who has lived in Newberg with her family for about four years, said the decision would not have bothered her save for a comment from Council President Stephen McKinney.
"When I think about Matthew it's great to have another guy on the council. He didn't say that, did he?" McKinney said as he was weighing the benefits of each candidates aloud.
While Joslin said she's willing to accept the decision if the council felt Murray was more qualified, that comment "cast a shadow of a doubt" that the decision was not based solely on qualifications and that overt sexism played a role.
"When I do something, I mean it, and I would like to know that I lost because I was not qualified," Joslin added after the meeting. "I would like to have that dignity, and I feel like the comment took that dignity from me."
Noting how her life has been peppered with minor incidents of sexism, she said they can build up over a lifetime for women and minorities who face them.
"It very well could have been a joke, but I think that kind of insensitive joke could only be uttered by someone who hasn't felt the sting of discrimination – because it's not a joke to those people," she said.
McKinney chose not to respond directly to Joslin's concerns, but stressed that he based his decision on who he thought was best for the job and not on the sex of the candidate.
"I'm not going to respond; there's just nothing to it," he said. "I was delighted by the breadth of the candidates."
Brown declined to comment for this story, but she said she did not feel that sexism played a role in the decision.
Councilor Patrick Johnson, who made an initial attempt to appoint Joslin that failed for lack of a second by the council, explained that all three candidates would have been strong additions to the council, but he felt Joslin's financial background would have been particularly helpful while also adding diversity to the council.
"We had three really, really strong candidates … if you have three people that you see as pretty equal, I'm going try to err on the side of making our group a little more diverse," Johnson said.
Although Johnson said McKinney's comment made him uncomfortable, he hoped residents would not see it as tarnishing McKinney's achievements on council.
While Bacon said she has never been treated like she was unequal to the rest of the council, she said she felt McKinney's comment was "completely inappropriate."
"I heard him say it and I wanted to assume he was kidding, but he should know better than to make jokes like that …," she said. "I found it very disrespectful of both Michelle and Helen – and me, actually, because I work just as hard as everyone else there, sometimes harder."
Nevertheless, Bacon noted that Murray "did his homework very well," while Joslin's comments on the issues seemed to stray toward areas more under the purview of the Newberg School District than the city.
"(Murray) said a lot of things that impressed me, that made me believe that he would be a team player and wasn't there to really express an agenda on anything, but to hear the details and hear the plans and hear the staff reports and hear the public comment and then come to a decision," Bacon said.
For his part, Murray said he has met with Mayor Bob Andrews and city staff last week to bring him up to speed on becoming a councilor with more meetings to come.
"It's just a learning experience for me, so I'm trying to soak it all in and really understand the process and how everything works," he said.
He is scheduled to be sworn into his seat at Thursday's meeting.