Beaty: Despite challenges, 'Beaverton had an amazing year'
Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty's faced a number of challenges during her first year in office:
The new city charter, a new city manager, a historic heatwave and of course, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The city's first female mayor spent 2021 paving the mayoral role for not only herself but for future mayors to come.
Before 2021, Beaverton operated under what is called a "strong mayor" form of government. Under that system, the mayor not only sets the city's agenda but supervises staff as well.
In 2020, voters approved a new charter that would change this structure to a "council-manager" form of government, where voters elect the city council and mayor and the council and mayor are responsible for hiring and providing direction to a city manager.
After bringing in Kurt Wilson to serve as the city's interim city manager, Beaverton city leaders selected Jenny Haruyama to serve as the permanent city manager.
Haruyama, Wilson and Beaverton City Council worked together during the first half of 2021 to set the framework for the transition.
Beaty said bringing in a new city manager took a lot of administrative pressure off the mayor's office to focus more on policy and priority. Still, there wasn't exactly a guidebook for her to follow on how to reframe her position.
"I kind of got stuck in the gray zone a lot and it was a challenging place to be," she said.
But Beaty would later learn that the most important part of her job is the relationship the mayor has with other elected officials.
"There are no shortcuts to relationship building," she said. "And I had to spend a vast majority of my time working with school board members and our congresswoman and making sure that our city's priorities were met."
While Beaty's own New Year's resolution is to prioritize her personal relationship, she intends to move full speed ahead in helping facilitate the city's goals into 2022.
Learning to live with COVID-19
With the omicron variant bringing more infections — even among the vaccinated — into 2022, the forecast on when the COVID-19 pandemic will ever end has grown murkier.
Beaty had hoped that Beaverton, along with the rest of the world, would be much closer to pandemic "recovery" by now. These days, she's cautious about using that word at all in her vocabulary.
The main priority right now, she says, is better access to testing.
"We have to equip people to do the right thing," she said. "When you're stuck between, 'Should I stay at home for five days and miss my paycheck and not be able to pay my rent?' They need to know for certain that they have COVID for them to be able to stay at home … we have to be able to deliver our testing this year, or we're going to be kind of in this loop for quite some time."
In May, the city will get an additional $8 million in American Rescue Plan Act to help support economic recovery. Policies centered around childcare will also be a top priority as families return to work.
Preparing for future heatwaves, extreme weather
Last summer's triple-digit temperatures proved to be one of the deadliest recorded natural disasters in Oregon's history, and it was no different in Beaverton.
Citizens not having access to any "cooling" technology was one of the main factors that led to dozens of deaths in June.
There is nothing in Oregon state law requiring landlords to keep dwellings cool. There is also nothing preventing landlords from outright banning portable AC units from their properties.
The issue came up last August when property owners in Beaverton told tenants to remove their portable AC units while a state of emergency due to heat was still in effect. This prompted Beaty to step in and ask local landlords and property owners to ease up on AC restrictions.
Since then, Beaty and other city officials have been working with lawmakers in Salem to pass legislation that will provide tenants with better access to cooling.
Both Sen. Kayse Jama and Rep. Pam Marsh are working on two complementary bills meant to do just that. Jama's bill would tackle the barriers renters face in installing portable AC units in their homes.
Meanwhile, Marsh — an Ashland Democrat — is working on a bill through the Committee on Environment Natural and Resources that would give citizens better access to cooling infrastructure.
At a more local level, Beaty pulled together a mayor summit meeting earlier this year on what to do until legislation is passed.
"(Metro Council) is delivering something on making sure that buildings that are built through the Metro Housing Plan have air conditioning and we're working with community-based organizations to be able to get low to no-cost to air conditioning units for people ahead of the heatwave. And then of course with the state law would give people access to the right to cooling."
One of Beaty's most major disappointments was the council not taking more meaningful action on banning fireworks in the midst of the heatwave last summer. In a 3-3 conversation back in June (before Councilor Ashley Hartmeier-Prigg was added to the seven-member council) councilors decided to not enact a ban on fireworks.
"As long as I've been an elected official, I've had people asking us to really seriously consider banning them within the city," she said.
Integrating a permanent homeless shelter into the community
With council support and in collaboration with state Sen. Kate Lieber and Reps. Wlnsvey Campos and Sheri Schouten, Beaverton in 2020 secured $2.3 million in American Rescue Act funding with the purpose of establishing a permanent shelter.
After receiving this "once-in-a-generation" money, Beaverton city councilors say they not only want to fill the need for much-needed services, they also want to make sure the shelter is something that is "embraced by the community."
Now the council is under "immense pressure" to find a location," Beaty said.
"Once we pick a location, that's when the real work begins," she said. "We're going to have to go out to the community, talk about what it would look like in their neighborhood and really listen to community members and provide opportunities for feedback.
Following through on police reform
The Beaverton Human Rights Advisory Commission recommended a number of policy, training and transparency reforms for the Beaverton Police Department at the start of 2021. These recommendations include expanding funding for mental health services, avoiding the use of BPD's "escalated force model and creating a "citizen board or commission for police oversight."
Beaty has been a vocal advocate for police reform since before she became mayor, but the recommendations came in during a time of tremendous transition for the city.
"The way that the community voted for the charter, I no longer had the ability to direct staff to do anything. And so the council really is working through this ability to work together to direct staff as one unit," she said.
But now with Haruyama on board the city has already started a joint process with Beaverton School District to hire a consultant to look into policy around school resource officers.
Haruyama has also created a pathway to talk about implementing an oversight committee, Beaty said.
"This will allow us to properly audit the work of the police department with a detailed eye and handle issues that come forward to them," she said.
While Beaty's first year as mayor didn't go exactly as she thought it would, "given the circumstances, Beaverton had an amazing year."
One of the most important lessons Beaty intends to carry into 2022 is communicating the importance of getting the vaccine.
"It's going to be key to getting out of this pandemic," she said.
The last 22 months of COVID-19 have brought in a lot of changes to not only the workplace but everyday life that will likely be here to stay forever.
"I don't want to lose those lessons around making sure that people's families have priority for us that we learn to do new things."
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