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Municipal forms of government and recall

“This city is what it is because our citizens are what they are”

— Plato

In West Linn City Hall, for over 15 years (1996-2012), a dense, soundproof windowpane, framed by grid-like venetian blinds, was all that separated this eyewitness from the oft-contentious city council chamber.

On Monday nights, this observer sat parked in front of keyboards and audio-video switches peering at monitors in the camcorder control booth adjacent to council chambers as videographer for the city of West Linn. Beholden often to many lengthy nights of discussion and testimony by innumerable citizens and public officials engaged in the imperfect craft of “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Recollection of those dynamic experiences has guided this observer to believe that a central thematic dialectic exists within many citizens over which form of municipal government West Linn should have, simplified as follows:

(1) Those that have faith in the status quo in the West Linn council-manager form with a city council that oversees the general administration of the city, makes policy, sets budget and appoints a city manager for administrative operations (55 percent nationally).

(2) Those that would prefer a mayor-council form that has a mayor elected separately from the council and is paid full time with administrative and budgetary authority (34 percent nationally).

(3) Those that would prefer a town meeting form, believed by many as the purest form of democracy. Voters meet to decide basic policy and elect officials to carry out those policies (5 percent nationally).

That tenure, in retrospect, bore witness to the execution of West Linn council-manager plans, policies and procedures intermingled with its citizens’ conscious or unconscious requests to have some form or combination of that trilogy as a government-in-one. It often provided grand dramatis personae.

Now, skip forward to present day and the recall effort by a small vocal minority of citizens against the mayor and three council members. The petitioners claim that West Linn policies and procedures are in conflict with what its citizens want, therefore, recall them. Their dissatisfaction stems from their disagreement with the policies and procedures as executed under the aegis of a council-manager form of government, not for criminal or unethical activities.

Yes, there was a council misinterpretation nearly two years ago over procedural implementation during an executive session. For that reason, the Oregon Ethics Board ordered the council to reeducate itself. Recall folks won’t accept this.

So, if you’re asked to sign the recall petition, please consider the essence of what is occurring. Additionally, (know) that nationally (per Ballotpedia), recall efforts are increasing at an astonishing rate “due to voter dissatisfaction. Most recalls aren’t based on allegations of criminal wrongdoing.” Rather, they are prompted by “residents’ opposition to plans, procedures and policies.”

Our elected mayor and councilors deserve respect, praise and criticism, not condemnation and recall for dedicated public service. They have been terrific at expunging the dysfunctions of four years ago. Let them fulfill their terms of office, then, let the dissenters run for office so that the voters can decide. Please don’t sign the petition.

“While the people retain their virtue, and vigilance, no administration, by any extreme of wickedness or folly, can very seriously injure the government, in the short space of four years.”

— Abraham Lincoln, first inaugural

Jon Miller is a utility advisory board member and a resident of West Linn.



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