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Candidates debate what's next for West Linn

Event was hosted by West Linn Lobby Club


TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - Bob Martin and Mike Selvaggio made their case for election at an Oct. 6 candidate forum hosted by the WLHS Lobby Club. Candidate Casey Stroupe did not attend.In what is fast becoming a West Linn electoral tradition, the Lobby Club at West Linn High School hosted a candidate forum at West Linn High School. Two of the three candidates for City Council appeared Oct. 6; candidate Casey Stroupe did not attend for unspecified reasons.

Candidates Mike Selvaggio and Bob Martin fielded questions for about an hour from Lobby Club representatives and audience members alike, covering a range of topics including citizen involvement, the future of WLHS, hiring a new city manager and potential development projects across the city.

According to Todd Jones, the WLHS teacher who runs Lobby Club, about 80 people attended the evening forum.

After opening statements from each candidate, the focus shifted to a set of questions from the Lobby Club and members of the audience.

Future management

After former City Manager Chris Jordan resigned in August, it was no surprise that the first question posed to candidates asked what qualities they would look for in a new city manager.

“The priority will be someone who knows city code inside and out and is prepared to carry it out,” Selvaggio said. “We’ve had a lot of issues with what I think — my wife and a lot of neighbors think — is not enough public involvement in the process. So I’m looking for a manager that knows it’s not just to tick a box to say, ‘Well, we have public involvement because we talked to a few people.’”

Selvaggio also noted that he would not vote in favor of a candidate without unanimous support from all five councilors.

“We have the majority of Council up for reelection in 2016, so any City Manager hired on 3-2 vote would be in danger of being un-hired the very next year,” he said. “I don’t want that to become an impediment to finding a qualified manager.”

Martin, for his part, added that his preference would be for the new City Manager to live in West Linn.

“I can’t tell you how many times as a planning commissioner I heard people complain that the people making decisions that affected out life didn’t live here, they lived in Lake Oswego,” Martin said. “I think somebody who lives here is going to be more in tune to our local needs and values.”

Above all else, Martin agreed with Selvaggio that citizen outreach should be of utmost concern to whoever steps in as manager.

“Unfortunately we had a city manager who, through his long tenure, got to a point where he felt citizens should be managed,” Martin said. “I want to see citizens honored, not managed. We need a city manager who comes into the job with that approach. They work for us.”

Future development?

The candidates were also asked to address the oft-discussed prospect of development in West Linn.

“We have a little bit of room to grow,” Martin said. “Depending on what’s happened since 2003, we have room for about 1,500 units on 500 acres, which is about a 14 percent increase of population. Fourteen percent, to me, is not enough to make a significant change in our tax base, so that incentive for growth — that it gives us a better tax base — seems pretty weak.”

Further, Martin said whatever happens should be in the hands of citizens, as opposed to the Council or city staff.

Selvaggio added that development — particularly on privately owned land — will come whether people like it or not.

“It’s important to remember that whether there is development coming in West Linn is less our decision than whether it happens smartly,” Selvaggio said. “Citizens, through neighborhood associations, City Council and advisory boards, have a much better platform to explain how it happens than whether it happens.”

What’s the code?

Some of the night’s sharpest critiques were aimed not at Martin or Selvaggio, but rather at the controversial “regulatory code streamlining” project — formerly known as the “Cut the Red Tape” project — that began in 2013 and was eventually passed by the City Council the following year.

“I think the red tape code provisions were a bad idea,” said Martin, who was on the Planning Commission at the time the project began. “Of the 34 (code amendments) presented, I think maybe half were implemented. The half not implanted were draconian.

“My first act as councilor is going to be to go back and repair what was done with that code.”

Selvaggio agreed, and said that the project reminded him of a tactic he’d seen used in state politics.”

This is an old trick of taking a lot of different issues, bundling them together and putting together what is called an ‘omnibus bill,’ trying to pass a whole bunch of stuff en masse,” Selvaggio said. “I don’t like it because it makes citizen involvement much more difficult.”

Selvaggio went on to promise that, as city councilor, he would push for a “single subject” rule to ensure that issues are handled one at a time.

Courting the youth vote

Most WLHS students are too young to vote in the election, but both Martin and Selvaggio had ideas to share when asked about how they would change or improve the high school.

“This high school, to me, is an amazing place,” Martin said. “You have better facilities than the university I went to, and it was a big university, a state university. ... But I do wish you had a pool.”

Martin also noted he would work to allow more community members to use high school facilities when they are not occupied by students.

Selvaggio, meanwhile, said he would focus on long range planning and putting additional funds toward job training and college preparation programs.

“I think what we need to start planning for is, what kind of facilities are we going to have in next 10, 20, 30 years? Because like all buildings in West Linn, this has a useful life,” Selvaggio said. “As great a facility as this is, do we know if this is going to be sufficient in 20 years? I sure don’t, but I’m going to guess it has a useful life of around 20 years.”

Election ballots were set to be mailed Oct. 14.

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..