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Finding the perfect candidate

What does WL want in its next elected official?

In the midst of what could only be described as a tumultuous year for the West Linn City Council, November’s election carries with it a sense of closure.

Since February, when former Mayor John Kovash resigned, the Council has been in a near constant state of flux — first operating without a mayor, and then proceeding with just four members once Russ Axelrod officially took his place as West Linn’s new mayor in June. The summer was rife with conflict — largely centered on the Arch Bridge Area concept plan — and in August, City Manager Chris Jordan also submitted his resignation.

The timing of Jordan’s resignation was intentional; believing his tenure had become too much of a political issue, he chose to leave before the coming November election truly heated up. Now, in the weeks leading up to election day Nov. 3, West Linn is absent a permanent city manager and left to answer one overarching question.

“How does the city want to move forward?”

A number of issues, from the Arch Bridge plan to the appointment of a new city manager, are unlikely to move forward until the fifth and final Council seat is filled by one of three candidates: Mike Selvaggio, Bob Martin and Casey Stroupe. With some saying the very future of West Linn is at stake, the Tidings spoke with current councilors and community members alike about what they hoped to see from whoever prevails in the election.

The answers, predictably, were varied.

Following the plans

Axelrod, for his part, pointed to existing guiding principles adopted by West Linn when asked about the new councilor.

“Their decisions should be guided by West Linn’s aspirational documents and our Comprehensive Plan,” he said. “The person must believe that the primary purpose of our local government is to serve the people it represents. They should be a critical thinker who will take the time to evaluate details in order to render the best decision for the citizens and community. They should be collaborative in nature and have good communication skills.”

Resident Roberta Schwarz agreed, noting simply that the most important quality for a new city councilor should be experience.

“We need someone who knows the West Linn code,” she said.

City Councilor Brenda Perry added, “(We need) someone who both understands and is willing to abide by the city codes, charter and Comprehensive Plan.”

But for Michael Babbitt, a former chair of the Planning Commission who was recently appointed to rejoin that advisory group, it’s not just about knowing the city’s plans and codes, but showing a willingness to alter them when necessary.

“We have a history of creating master plans, neighborhood plans and conceptual plans that never amount to much beyond that point,” Babbitt said. “We hear all the time from Council, Planning Commission, applicants and citizens (about) all the problems with our Community Development Code, which often leads to less desirable development for West Linn. This is one of the reasons the City has such divisiveness.

“If we can get our development code in line with our vision documents, we have a lot better chance by having development or redevelopment pay the way, create trust with the government and reduce some of the divisiveness.”

Seeking compromise

Indeed, “divisiveness” was a common pitfall residents hoped to avoid in the coming election.

“For me the most important quality in a candidate for the next election is one who is not coming into it with an axe to grind or a specific agenda,” Babbitt said. “I have no doubt everyone on the Council cares about West Linn and feels like they know what is best for the city. However, it seems at times they are so busy trying to be right that they forget how to lead.”

Resident Cornelia Seigneur said she was looking for a candidate with the ability to listen and act for the best of the city.

“As a citizen I am looking for someone who is a community builder, who cares about the greater good of West Linn,” she said. “(Someone) who can bring people together, who does not cave to developers, who makes developers pay their own way, who listens to the Planning Commission.”

City Council President Thomas Frank, meanwhile, highlighted fairness and independence when talking about the next councilor.

“I am looking for a councilor that will listen to all sides of an argument and present a reasoned opinion to why they are voting or deciding on an issue,” Frank said. “I would like them to be independent and keep all 26,000 residents in mind as they legislate.”

Added City Councilor Jenni Tan: “I believe that the type of person who is best for the Council would be one that is willing to listen to all perspectives, to learn the facts, and to make decisions with an open and fair mind — and a person that is willing to collaborate with other Councilors respectfully to move the City forward in a positive direction.”

Finding a balance

The difficulty for any city councilor is working to address the needs of 26,000 residents — each with their own priorities.

Resident Dave Adams has worked for decades to preserve what he calls the “rural legacy” of the Stafford area. As such, the Stafford Hamlet is at the front of his mind when he considers the current City Council race.

“I came to the frustrating realization many years ago that defining the fate of my community is not in the hands of my friends and neighbors, but in the hands of the mayors and city councils of the cities that surround us,” Adams said. “We in the Stafford Hamlet have been working amongst ourselves developing a concept that we believe has the potential to finally resolve this 30-year conflict once and for all. ... I personally believe that it is essential that the vacant West Linn City Council seat be filled by someone willing to embrace the ‘Stafford Solution,’ someone willing to compromise in order to reach an acceptable outcome for everyone’s sake.”

Seigneur, who was injured in a serious accident while walking in her neighborhood earlier this year, also highlighted pedestrian and bike safety as top concerns, as well as preserving West Linn’s history, parks and “rural feel.”

“Being a great place to live also comes with a lot of challenges — crowded schools, increased traffic, inadequate infrastructure, etcetera,” Babbitt said. “Being a bedroom community without a large commercial tax base creates a lot of financial challenges for the City. We need a Council who can work together and be a unified voice for the City and not spend their time trying to take each other down.”

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..