On Sept. 17, West Linn will hold a special election to elect a new municipal judge and to do some charter housekeeping. We think these ballots include some overdo changes that will benefit residents and should be approved.

Municipal judge

West Linn has been in need of a new municipal judge since former city Judge Heather Karabeika was appointed to Clackamas County Circuit Court in the spring. In the interim, Rhett Bernstein, who has been a prosecuting attorney for the city since 2007, has been acting in her place. Now he wants to officially get the seat. As the only name on the ballot, we agree that Bernstein has earned the position of municipal judge.

We watched as he represented the city during the yearlong battle over a backyard swimming pool in a designated wetland in 2012 and into 2013. He was thorough, professional and well-organized. We think Bernstein will represent the city and its residents well as judge.

The remaining four boxes to tick on the ballot are measures amending the city’s charter. The charter defines the local governing system and has been modified 11 times since its adoption in 1995, most recently in May 2012.

Measure 3-428

This measure amends the charter so all annexations outside the urban growth boundary will be approved by the majority of voters. The change deletes an entire paragraph from the charter, which has the caveat that property could be annexed if needed for public facilities, such as schools, road, parks and infrastructure.

The new section reads: “Unless mandated by state, the city of West Linn shall not annex any territory, by delayed annexation or otherwise, without the approval of a majority vote among the city’s electorate.”

We believe this change gives residents more power and inclusion to decide when and how the city grows.

Measure 3-429

This charter amendment gives the city council clear power to hire and fire the city attorney, who, according to the current charter, already reports directly to the council. The amendment just confirms the present way the city is operating.

The measure adds this to the charter: “The office of city attorney is established as the chief legal officer of the city. The city attorney shall be appointed and removed by a majority of all incumbent members of the council.”

This amendment makes no real changes, but it strengthens and clarifies the language in the charter. The council is getting no more or less power with this amendment; it is just a simplification and should be approved.

Measure 3-430

In a twist of irony, the city is using a special election to change the date of special elections.

This measure amends the charter to fill mayor, city council and judge vacancies that have more than one year left in the term during the more popular May and November elections rather than a September or March special election, as is the current process.

We think this change is commonsense as it will save tax dollars by holding fewer special elections. Also, because more residents tend to vote during the May and November elections, the vacant positions will get greater voting turnouts, representing the greater public. This is a win-win in our eyes.

Measure 3-431

Though some residents have taken issue with this measure, we believe it rights order and process. This charter amendment establishes the duties of the city council and the city manager. Currently, the city council has power to hire and fire the city manager. In turn, the city manager is charged with appointing, supervising and removing city personnel.

The proposed amendment makes clear that elected officials will not interfere with the city manager’s outlined duties, including handling personnel and awarding contracts.

The new section states: “No city council member may directly or indirectly, by suggestion, or otherwise, attempt to interfere, influence, or coerce the city manager in the award of a public contract or any personnel decision.”

Like the hierarchy of a business, the president (city council) of a company hires a manager (city manager) to run the business (city of West Linn), which includes hiring staff, running day-to-day operations and firing those who are underperforming. Typically, a president doesn’t meddle with or control personnel. If he perceives a problem, he instead goes to the manager with the expectation of righting what has gone astray. If the manager cannot correct the issue, he or she could expect to be fired, just as the city council has the authority to do to the city manager.

Some contesting this amendment suggest it gives the city manager too much power; however, we see it as the city being able to run like a business without the sometimes whim or not always fully informed sway of elected officials.

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