Stage set for Beaverton debate about future of city government
Beaverton voters may face whether they want to retain the mayor as the elected chief executive — the only Oregon city that runs that way — or switch to a system under which the city council appoints a manager to oversee government.
Though the City Council is discussing changes in the 1980 city charter, which gave Beaverton its current form of government, what finally goes to city voters in the May 19 primary may be less far-reaching — and more focused on the council itself.
Mixed into the debate about charter changes is the question of Mayor Denny Doyle's salary. At $194,168, it led all other pay for Oregon elected officials until June 11, when the City Council cut it by $10,000 on a 3-2 vote. The council has the authority to set the salary.
Councilor Mark Fagin went along with the $10,000 cut, which he termed "minor."
"I am not in agreement with making a major adjustment to the mayor's salary in the middle of someone's term," Fagin said. "Once you sign up for a job, you should know where you're going with it."
Doyle's current term ends in 2020. He is seeking a fourth term in the May 19 primary.
Since voters approved the charter in 1980, Beaverton is the only one of 240 Oregon cities with an elected chief executive who prepares the budget, hires and fires department heads, and oversees city government operates. In all other cities except Portland, the mayor and city council appoint a professional manager to run city government.
Portland's mayor is the elected chief executive, but under its commission form of government, that person shares authority with four elected commissioners who oversee bureaus assigned by the mayor.
Voters have approved only one significant change to the city charter since 1980. In 2008, the same year then-Councilor Doyle unseated Mayor Rob Drake, voters decided to require elections for the formation of urban renewal districts. (Voters did create such a district in 2011.)
Councilor Marc San Soucie, elected in 2008, said his chief interest is in strengthening the role of the council, which still has legislative functions, including approval of the city budget.
"Is there a way to think about some of those role questions without grappling with the big question of whether we should have a strong mayor or a council-manager form or something like that?" San Soucie said. "It occurred to me it might be possible to do that."
Fagin, who was elected in 2012, said, "After we come to some consensus on form, then that goes to some of the other things I think we need to discuss."
Among them, Fagin said, are the number of councilors, whether they should continue to be elected citywide, and if there should be term limits. Hillsboro, Tigard and Tualatin all have two-term limits for councilors, but Beaverton does not.
Councilor Lacey Beaty, elected in 2014, has been exploring a bid for mayor, but she said her concerns are broader.
"I think what I am concerned about is that a lot of these options are all or nothing," she said, whether it's the current mayor-council system or a council-manager system. "I think part of what we are trying to protect here is council's ability to navigate and work within the system."
San Soucie, Fagin and Beaty all voted to reduce Doyle's salary.
"If we address the form (of government), I think we have to address the salary," Beaty said.
"If we move away from a strong mayor, what I don't want is a ceremonial mayor that is basically cutting ribbons. Our city, I think, is as far along as we are because we have a chief executive here. If we disinvest some of the power from the mayor's office and invest it somewhere else, the mayor still has to go out and work out in the community to do things."
Beaty has advocated raising councilor pay, which is about $20,000.
Beaverton city officials are gathering information for the council to consider in setting the mayor's salary. The council will hire a facilitator from outside city government to lead the discussions on mayor and council roles.
Doyle has been largely silent on the charter changes, and unless there is a tie, he does not vote on council actions although he presides at council meetings. Still, he said, voters will have to decide whether the switch would be good for the city.
Also, he said, other Oregon cities hire professional managers to run government at a cost comparable to his salary — and often have one or more high-paid assistants.
"We have me," Doyle said.
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