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Political activists say they are public watchdogs for Tigard issues



by: JAIME VALDEZ - Karen Crichton, of Lake Oswego, and Steve Bintliff, of Tigard, address the city council at last month's Town Hall. The two founded Tigard First, a local polical group that aims to be the city's 'watchdog.'Be prepared for a little more controversy at city meetings over the next several months.

A new political group has cropped up in Tigard over last few months; aiming to stop the city from imposing what it believes are unfair practices that go against the will of the people.

The group has connections to Occupy Portland and met trying to stop a Walmart store from opening off Pacific Highway.

In August, a group of political activists calling themselves “Tigard First” announced that they would be getting involved in city politics in order to bring more transparency to a system they see as dysfunctional.

Interested?

The group meets at 7:30 p.m., Mondays at Tigard Grange, 13770 S.W. Pacific Highway.

The group's meeting on Nov. 11 is cancelled in honor of Veterans Day

Named after an anti-Walmart group first formed in 2006, the group has spent the majority of its time trying to fight a controversial new Walmart superstore under construction on Southwest Dartmouth Street.

Tigard First members have argued that the city had greater authority in stopping the Walmart from coming to town.

“We decided from our experience protesting Walmart that there are systemic problems with city government,” said founding member Steve Bintliff.

When it formed in August, Tigard First members said they didn’t want to focus just on Walmart.

The group has already begun some of that work, questioning budgetary issues at a recent town hall and writing local media about the Tigard Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber is often used by the city for several city functions despite its lack of access for disabled residents.

“There is no ramp or access for people with mobility challenges, so apparently only able-bodied business-people & citizens are welcome at these functions/meetings-?” the group writes.

Bintliff said the group will continue to expose issues that it believes voters should know about.

Running for office

Tigard First is made of less than a dozen core members. Most are Tigard residents, but the group also includes members who do not live or work inside the city.

Bintliff said he sees Tigard First as a place where people can come and share their grievances about the city and as a watchdog for city government.

“People in Tigard have so much going on in their lives, they don’t have the time to dig around for information,” said Tigard First member Dave Otto. “If they have the info it would help them make better decisions.”

But in order to affect real change, Bintliff said the group is considering running for public office.

“We have to do something and change the dynamics in order to change how the elections go,” Bintliff said. “Otherwise you’ll just end up with the same old thing. If ever there was time for new blood that are more like the rest of us, it’s now. There would be a world of difference.”

Next year, Tigard city councilors Gretchen Buehner and Marc Woodard’s terms will be up, and Mayor John L. Cook was elected to fill the remainder of former mayor Craig Dirksen’s term, which expires in 2014.

Bintliff said there has been some talk about putting candidates up for the mayor’s seat and city council, but those decisions are still being decided.

“We could field a slate of candidates, or make a voters guide, or we could endorse somebody after really looking them over. That’s all on the table,” he said.

Roads Not Rails

The group has not come out formally in support of the Southwest Corridor Plan — a project by Metro and area cities to plan for growth in the area and possibly bring a MAX light rail line or bus rapid transit through town into Tualatin — but individual members said they support the plans.

“There is no transit out here except for a few bus stops,” Otto said. “If you’re not going to widen the roads, at least find a way to get people out of their cars. MAX is always full during rush hour.”

That contrasts with Roads Not Rails, a group working on the opposite end of the political spectrum.

Largely made up of conservative Republicans, the group has come out in opposition to the Southwest Corridor Plan, which could bring a MAX light rail line or bus rapid transit line to Tigard over the next several years.

The measure is headed to voters in March. If passed, it would stop the city from planning a transit line to town unless voters approve the price tag and changes in road capacity and housing density associated with the project.

The group also opposed the Tigard charter amendment on Tuesday’s special election, which it tied to the city’s work with the Southwest Corridor project.

“For us, they’re the same issue,” Roads Not Rails member Tim Esau said.

While Tigard First has said it plans on inserting itself into several local issues, Esau said his group would largely stay out of politics.

“We’ll just keep heading down this track we’re on,” Esau said. “Pun intended.”

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