After months of contentious debate, the council finally decided to appoint Brian Asher to the seat vacated in January by Jason Sahlin

The Aurora City Council voted to approve Brian Asher, treasurer of the Old Aurora Colony Historical Museum, to council Position 2 following two months of contentious debate after the abrupt January resignation of Jason Sahlin.

The council voted 3-1 in favor of Asher with Mayor Bill Graupp casting the lone dissenting vote. DANIEL PEARSON - Current photo of Aurora city hall.

Asher is scheduled to take his oath of office at the next city council meeting, slated for Tuesday, May 8 at 7 p.m. His term lasts until December 31, 2018.

When asked what he hoped to accomplish during his time in office, Asher thought about it before telling the Herald his primary interest is to see exactly how Graupp and city staff are running the local government for Aurora citizens.

"I want to see how this city government really runs, and hopefully make it run even more efficiently," Asher said. "I want the (council meetings) to run more efficiently so we can make timely decisions that are accurate. I want us to be able to weigh each controversial issue, or even simple issues, as fair and as straight-forward as possible."

Graupp said he was in favor of Craig McNamara to replace Sahlin when the former city councilor resigned, citing McNamara's several years of experience on the Aurora Planning Commission.

Asher has no previous civic experience but he has spent years volunteering with the Old Aurora Colony Museum, a private nonprofit organization. Again, Asher currently is the museum's treasurer.

"We had a lengthy conversation about this at the last (city council) meeting," Graupp said. "Anyone who wanted to ask a candidate questions they could have, but no one really had any questions this time around. We took a vote and moved around the table, just like how the council voted (at the last meeting), right?"

Councilor Kris Sallee admitted she was surprised at the outcome of the vote, anticipating no change since the council remained tied 2-2 at the end of March.

Sallee said she was in favor of holding a special election for Aurora voters rather than allowing the city council to make a political, or private-like, appointment to the publicly-voted-upon seat.

For the record, filling open seats via appointment during non-election seasons is a provision of the Aurora city charter, much like provisions found in the charters of many other Oregon cities.

"Having said that, it makes a good deal of sense to me to keep our experienced planning commissioners on that committee," Sallee said. "I had already voted for Brian previously. It's not like we say, 'Because he's on the planning commission, he's going to be really good at being a city councilor.' (Asher) has been involved with the (Old Aurora Colony Museum) board of directors, so he has experience with constructing and planning and all of those types of things. I think it'll be a nice change to have him on here."

She said she thought it takes about six month to one year to gain a firm grasp on the current state of affairs in Aurora politics, i.e. and how the city is being run.

Sallee said she has not (as of press time) discussed with Rhoden-Feely what made the latter change her decision to vote for Asher — Rhoden-Feely, herself a former vice chair of the city's planning commission, originally voted for McNamara to fill Sahlin's vacated post.

Why did this stretch on so long?

Former Aurora mayor Greg Taylor, after losing last fall's November 9 election to now-second-term Mayor Bill Graupp, originally was one of three applicants who applied for consideration to replace Sahlin.

However, Taylor's application was not complete because City Recorder Kelly Richardson had not received his permission to complete a criminal background check — an Aurora prerequisite of anyone running for city council.

Had Taylor granted permission, the city would have found a prior conviction for DUII — a charge that already was fairly well-known by Aurora citizens because Taylor publicly apologized and resigned as mayor in the aftermath when it occurred. Graupp, then a member of the planning commission, was appointed to succeed Taylor.

Sallee, Taylor's brother, would have had to recuse herself from voting on his appointment, but city staff vehemently tried to force her to not even participate in discussions of all three candidates because her brother was part of the mix. Sallee never was granted the opportunity to recuse herself during the March city council meeting — the city attorney made the announcement prior to Sallee speaking.

Sallee said the pressure during the March meeting made her want to step back altogether, but then Taylor abruptly announced he was taking himself out of consideration for Sahlin's former Position 2, leaving just Asher and McNamara in the running and no longer any reason for Sallee to recuse herself from the appointment process.

During the March Aurora City Council meeting, it appeared to many in the audience — several citizens spoke to the Herald but wished to remain anonymous —that Rhoden-Feely was pressuring Heitmanek to vote in favor of McNamara, suggesting they draw straws right then and there to decide who won.

Incidentally, there is a provision in the city charter that calls for drawing straws to determine the outcome of a tie during elections, but that procedure is not provided for those being appointed to open council and/or mayoral seats.

Heitmanek said he still believes Taylor to be the most qualified applicant for the position, not only because Taylor once was mayor but because his family has lived in Aurora for several generations — many residents of Aurora say they constitute part of the fabric of the town, which by 2015 U.S. Census Bureau estimates has a population of 979 — but because he knows the city of Aurora and local government as well as he does through personal experience.

And, Heitmanek said, there seemed to be some sort of an inside, concerted effort (he stopped short naming individuals or calling anyone's actions collusion) to keep Taylor from even being considered for the position.

"There was nothing there to disqualify him from being on the council," Heitmanek said. "Even with his sister being a current city councilor … she would not have been able to participate in voting for him but there is nothing wrong with (both Salle and Taylor simultaneously serving on the council), as far as the city policy on nepotism is concerned, as long as neither participant was outright in opposition of a competing party. There is nothing — a husband and wife could be on the city council if they wanted."

Rhoden-Feely told the Herald she decided to change her vote from McNamara to Asher because she thought that retaining her original vote would lead to calls for another straw poll, and that doing so was not in the best interests of the city nor of vital consequence for the public.

"I think that (Asher) is a great choice," Rhoden-Feely said. "That was never my concern. Drawing straws lead to my concern about there being allegiances on the city council — the real factor in the way people were voting. We only have five councilors and now we can move on to the actual issues we need to be working on."

In other news, the city council adopted a resolution raising water rates for all consumers for the first time in several years.

Mayor Graupp said an auditor from the Oregon Association of Water Utility analyzed Aurora's system over during a recent six-month period and determined that the city is not raising enough capital through billing customers to pay for the cost of running the system, including payments on a loan the city has for its water filtration system.

The city adopted the resolution but at press time no city councilor, the mayor nor the city recorder were available or able to provide a precise explanation of exactly how much the increase will be and the precise methodology behind its conclusion.

Judging by the most recent city council packet, which is full of strikethroughs on old information rather than rewritten to be concise, increases depend on the size of the pipe customers use to connect to the city's water and systems. For instance, those using a three-quarter inch pipe and currently pay $0.08 per month now will pay $10.81. Those with 1-inch pipe will see an increase of $6.50; one-and-a-half inch pipe charges will raise $24.45 per month; and those with 2-inch pipes now will pay $20.82 more each month for water-sewer services.

Next, the city council turns its attention to hammering out a budget for fiscal year 2017-18. The budget committee consists of five citizens and the city council. Anyone interested in participating please contact city hall at 503-678-1283 or send email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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