Tigard mayor's timing could hurt city
Timing is everything. And Tigard Mayor John L. Cook's announcement that he is leaving the city and won't run for re-election may have been disastrous.
On May 15, voters turned down a city levy that would have put money into police, library and parks maintenance operation.
On May 17, The Times found out Mayor Cook had decided not to seek re-election when his current term is up at the end of this year. (Cook asked the newspaper to hold the story until Monday, May 21, which we agreed to do.)
Cook's reasoning is sound: He told the newspaper that he and his wife have purchased their "dream home" outside the city limits and plan to move there in January 2019, making him ineligible to seek another term. Fair enough: we take him at his word and wish him well.
But announcing that he plans to step down the same week that voters — by about 55 percent to 45 percent — turned down the city's levy will mean that many people will conflate the two events. The mayor champions a big levy; the levy fails; the mayor decides not to run for re-election.
Remember, neighbors like the City of Tualatin and the Beaverton School District successfully passed their money measures the same night that Tigard's went down in flames. That kind of loss is a gut-punch to any city.
The reasons this turn of events might be important later on are twofold. First, dire cuts are expected from the city. Such popular programs as school resource officers and library services will be pared back dramatically. These cuts won't be palatable to all and will need a vocal champion. The mayor is the most visible member of any city council. The mayor has the bullhorn and the name recognition to champion unpopular decisions.
But not if he's already packed his bags and is heading for the door.
Second, when a city loses a bond or levy election like this, the traditional option is to go out to voters, find out why it lost, hold some listening sessions, pare back the request, and try again with a leaner option. That very option — a police-only levy — was floated Tuesday night. And with good reason. Voters who said "no" at $1.18 per $1,000 of assessed value might very well say "yes" to a lesser increase and a more focused spending agenda. (Again, see Tualatin, which put up a successful bond measure that same night with a solitary focus on traffic woes.)
But that same voter might still vote "no" if the last levy has been conflated — rightly or wrongly — with the ouster of the mayor. Voters might remember the "dream home." More likely, they'll remember that the mayor voted big, lost the hand, left the table and called it a night.
That kind of stigma would make the next levy effort, if there is one, that much harder to pass.
Imagine if Cook had announced in March or April that he was stepping down, and used that as his campaign to help pass the levy that would see his city in good financial footing for the foreseeable future. That strategy might have won a few more "yes" votes. Lou Ogden in Tualatin is termed-out as mayor. He made that city's bond effort one of the key planks of his final State of the City speech. We suspect some of the "yes" votes in Tualatin came about in support of Ogden's last hurrah.
To repeat: We don't believe Cook is dropping out because he championed a levy that failed. We believe he's buying his dream home outside the city. We thank him for his service and wish him luck.
We just hope his timing doesn't hamstring the city, and the next mayor, moving forward.