On Tuesday, Oct. 2, as chairman of the Citizen’s Involvement Council (CIC), I co-hosted a Candidates Forum featuring the candidates for City Commission along with the candidates for state representative from our district. It was an excellent opportunity for citizens to hear from and question the candidates regarding local issues.

I prepare this editorial not on behalf of the CIC, but rather as someone who has served this community as a volunteer in neighborhood communications for the past nine years.

What was missing at the Candidates Forum was a good cross section of the community. Certainly there was a good turnout of the regulars, those already involved in political processes, but those many voters from the general population were generally missing.

Many of the candidates focused in on communications as key in resolving some of the big issues that face our community, and in particular the fractured state of this community’s political climate. Going door to door and asking a busy resident of that home for their time to explain the issues is highly challenging if not impossible.

The event was recorded by our local Willamette Falls Cable, but will residents take the time out from all their regular programming of reality TV programs to watch the Forum? That is still in question.

What is severely lacking in our community is a full disclosure communication of the highly volatile Measure 3-407. Some call it “Your Right to Vote” while others refer to it as an “Urban Renewal” measure. Whatever it is called, our citizens deserve an opportunity to hear the facts, and nothing but the facts without the emotional arguments that seem to distort those very facts.

For the past couple of years, some of our community have focused in on the negative, providing half truths and distorting facts in order to further their personal agendas. That has impacted many decisions in this community. our City Commission and all the way down to a Neighborhood Association. It’s been all about who will control the future of Oregon City.

On one hand we had a commissioner who was recalled based on the premise that he opposed The Rivers Urban Renewal Project, while others felt that the commissioner asked relevant questions in the best interest of the public. Our leaders are elected to do just that. He was only one of five commissioners, yet the brunt of decisions and the anger stirred by some, focused on that one commissioner. The terms that were often used were that the “citizens have spoken” and they want further growth.

Yet now we face an issue (Measure 3-407) of whether or not the citizens have the right to vote on urban renewal projects. Suddenly the proverbial “shoe is on the other foot” has occurred. If the “citizens really had spoken” and they weren’t happy with some decisions by one commissioner, they ask why not give those very citizens the right to vote on major decisions regarding urban renewal? If we truly elect officials to represent us, and then we turn around and don’t care for some of those decisions, why not take back a key component such as urban renewal and allow the citizens to have their say. Our community simply can’t face the prospects of discord and division that annual recalls of city leaders would create.

On one side you have proponents who are uncomfortable with the fact that many land/business owners have created their own Business Alliance using their combined financial power to push their agenda and are alarmed that the local Chamber has publicly stated that for the first time they will endorse candidates, and oppose the local measure. These individuals point to projects like Safeway at hilltop that was built without urban-renewal dollars. They also point to lawn signs that say “No New Taxes” and “No Jobs Lost” and state that the signs are clearly meant to confuse the voters that this is about taxes and jobs, when the measure has nothing to do with either, and is simply about the right to vote on big dollars issues involving urban renewal.

And on the business side, you have individuals and owners who would feel that elected officials should make decisions regarding future growth because citizens may not understand the impacts on taxes, or that waiting for a vote from citizens would severely hamper the possibility of attracting new businesses to locate here. This group would like to see urban renewal dollars used for projects like the local landfill and the cove.

In either case, we have half truths, distortions of the facts, and personal interests or financial gains for those pushing their agendas. Who do we believe? How do we get to the real facts of this measure.

At a City Commission meeting, I offered to organize a Forum/Debate of both sides of the issue on behalf of the CIC. My offer was to make it fair and above board, and have it conducted by trained professors from Clackamas Community College. But two weeks later, in another City Commission meeting, my involvement was called into question due to my position as chair of a city sponsored organization (unpaid volunteer position) and the city didn’t want to appear to be involved in the decision, let alone expend dollars in such a forum. I had no plans to use anyone’s funds, but only to coordinate an open forum where citizens could hear “facts” and make their own decisions. It’s not going to happen.

In the absence of any formal presentation of the facts, and confused by the weekly editorials and anonymous rants in the Oregon City News, we really need the issue addressed in a fair and open manner.

On behalf of the citizens of Oregon City, I plead with the Oregon City News, as the only local paper reporting accurate facts, to do this community a service by taking a full page of their paper to run a side by side article from both sides of the issue. Ask each side to have their chief proponent prepare their best arguments, and then, if possible, fact check those articles to the best of the editor’s ability to ensure that we are getting the honest truth.

Tom Geil is a resident of Oregon City.

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