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Citizen seeks term limits while Tualatin council changes rules

A Tualatin woman gathers signatures in the hope for term limits just after the city shortens the amount of time she has to do so


TIMES FILE PHOTO - Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden supports the ordinance recently put in place by the city that shortened the amount of time a petitioner has to collect signatures from two years to 180 days.After six years of living in Tualatin, Mae Heide decided she wanted to try and enact one small change to the city's governing structure — she wants to impose term limits on the city's councilors and mayor. When she filed her petition, she had two years to collect the necessary signatures — totaling 15 percent of the city's registered voters — that would get her initiative on the ballot. By the time her petition was finalized on May 22, however, her window had shrunk to 180 days.

“It certainly made me sad,” said Heide, a retired teacher. “Obviously, it's not gonna stop us.”

The change in timing was the result of a work session on Dec. 8 that saw the Tualatin City Council presented with a draft ordinance by City Attorney Sean Brady. The proposed ordinance was designed to update the city's election process, and meeting minutes state that it was drafted at the request of council, well before Heide filed her ballot initiative on April 28.

“The fact that (a petition) took two years to get certified, what's the downside of that? I'm not saying I agree or disagree with it,” said Mayor Lou Ogden at the work session, noting that he was trying to elicit conversation about the matter. “The downside might be that the situation has changed: the petitioner no longer supports that position for whatever reason; what was once an issue maybe years later is no longer an issue.”

On May 11, council voted to pass the ordinance, and minutes show that Ogden called a five-minute recess, allowing Brady time to modify the ordinance to the council's specifications. Ordinance 1381-15 passed unanimously, with councilors Ed Truax and Wade Brooksby absent.

When the original draft ordinance was presented in December, it was done without a specific petition in mind, but by the time the council voted on it in May, they did so knowing that it would affect Heide's ballot initiative.

The council “wanted it to apply to this petition,” said City Manager Sherilyn Lombos, adding that if council had waited until the next meeting to approve the ordinance's changes, it would have come after Heide's ballot initiative was finalized and would not have applied to it. “They made the modifications and changes and adopted it so it could apply to the current petition once it was finalized.”

The changes

While a decrease from two years to six months for signature collection might seem like a big change, it's fairly standard in the area. Tigard gives petitioners 90 days to collect signatures, and Sherwood, Wilsonville and Hillsboro all fall into the 180-day category. However, both Oregon state law and Washington County provide two years, as do the cities of Beaverton, West Linn and Lake Oswego.

“For me, sitting with them for two years makes them stale,” Council President Monique Beikman said at the Dec. 8 work session. “I, myself, plan on going out to the public soon with an initiative for the marijuana dispensaries. I think I could do that in six months — I don't think I'd have a problem.”

But the timeframe in which a petitioner can collect signatures is not the only thing that Ordinance 1381-15 changed. In addition to that, it states that anyone who files a petition must be a Tualatin resident, and that the petition's election must be held in conjunction with a statewide general election, meaning November of even-numbered years.

“Since initiative petitions for city charter amendments are relatively rare, the council wanted to act in a timely manner in order to have this ordinance apply to any outstanding or upcoming petitions which have not already been qualified to collect signatures,” Ogden wrote in an article for Tualatin Life.

In the article, he explained his reasoning for getting behind these ideas. He said that since significantly more people come out to vote on years when a president or governor is up for election, placing ballot measures — such as Heide's term limits proposal — in the larger election cycles means a better representation of voters' true feelings.

And while it might seem unlikely that a non-resident would take the time to petition for something within Tualatin, it's happened before. The light rail petition, which was completed last spring and passed in the special election held in September 2014, had a chief petitioner who lived outside of Tualatin but worked there.

The current petition

As the petition stands, it asks the question: Should members of city council be term-limited to serving no more than 12 years in any 20-year period? This week, Heide and her supporters began canvassing Tualatin neighborhoods, and it's this question they'll continue presenting to citizens as they move through the process.

“I think term limits are a good thing. I like the idea of people serving the public and then moving back in to being (private) citizens again,” Heide said. “I think it keeps the people in leadership closer to what people are thinking. And when they make rules, they have to live under the same rules. I think it makes common sense.”

Per the petition, current council members would be able to finish out the terms they're currently serving. They would not be able to run for re-election if it meant reaching 12 years during a subsequent term. Ogden has served on the council since 1993 — the next longest standing councilor is Truax, who began serving in 2001. Beikman began serving in 2007, Joelle Davis in 2009 and the rest of the councilors in 2011.

However, it's possible there is a problem with Heide's petition. In Ordinance 1381-15, clause 1-24-090 states that “every amendment to the city charter must be separately stated.” The clause goes on to say that when two or more amendments are submitted, they must be voted on separately. The current term limits petition would apply to both the mayor and councilors, who appear under separate items in the city charter. It's possible that they need to be addressed separately — with signatures collected for each and spearate measures presented to voters for each.

“I actually don't know,” Heide said when asked if she thought this applied to her petition. “I'm learning. … This is a new challenge for me.”

Brady said that this clause was put in the ordinance to model Oregon's constitution, referring to Armatta v. Kitzhaber. In 1996, Ballot Measure 40 passed, only to be overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court in 1998 because it contained more than one amendment to the Oregon Constitution. Since then, Brady said, that case has been cited in court when similar instances come to fruition.

“At this point, we don't look at whether or not it complies with our ordinance,” he said of the current petition. Heide “can collect signatures. It's all under state law and under our ordinance.”

Brady said that ultimately, someone would have to challenge the term limits petition in order to take it to court. However, he said that he would not speculate as to how the law would apply in this specific situation.

Heide needs to collect 2,109 signatures by Nov. 24 to meet the 180-day requirement. If that happens, the next available election would be in November 2016.

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