San Soucie: A response to editorial on Beaverton charter
As a member of the Beaverton City Council, I took note of The Times' editorial on the work we have been doing to prepare a possible new charter for the voters of Beaverton to consider. I will not try to explain all of the work we have done yet — that will wait until a decision has been made as to whether and when to offer the proposed charter to the voters.
I would, however, like to offer some perspective on a few details about the work mentioned in the editorial. The editors wrote:
"Among those changes — more on that in a bit — the amended charter would drastically reshape the office of mayor in Beaverton, stripping the mayor of most of his or her official duties in exchange for giving the mayor a vote on the City Council."
This reflects a very different view from mine of the role of Beaverton's mayor, both today and under the possible new charter. Mayors of all cities today spend quite a large portion of their time representing their city with partners, organizations, and agencies with which the city works or hopes to work. This is especially true of Beaverton's mayor, as Beaverton is considered a leader or bellwether for many municipal ideas, programs, and solutions. This is why, with very little discussion, our work on the draft charter quickly established that the mayor must remain full-time, a rare circumstance in Oregon. We need to have a presence and representation in all of the places where elected persons are expected to participate. Part-time councilors can only do some of that work.
The duties removed from the mayor's office by the draft charter are personnel management and administrative duties — all others would remain.
This is still a big change, no question, but I would not discount the importance of the rest of the job, nor the vote at council that the mayor would pick up.
The editorial continues:
"The May election will not only decide which of them becomes mayor, but what the mayor does — whether it's a full-time job overseeing the city staff, or a part-time job that's "first among equals," with mostly ceremonial duties in addition to being a member of the council."
Just to be clear, the draft charter proposes that the mayor remain full-time. This is important to Beaverton. And work at the Washington County Coordinating Committee, Metro Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation, Joint Water Commission, U.S. Conference of Mayors and many other venues is far from ceremonial.
Regarding elements of the charter proposal, the editorial states:
"Right now, elements that have been discussed include: ...
• Creating some sort of grandfather clause to wholly or partially exempt sitting officeholders from term limits.
• Delineating which department heads are to report to the chief executive, as opposed to those which report to the City Council."
First, the current Beaverton charter already does such delineation, and the draft charter doesn't change that delineation, just the reporting chain. The city attorney, judges, and auditor report to Council in the current charter, and would under the draft charter. The new element is specific mention of support staff for the mayor and/or council. If a future council decides to create and staff such positions, the draft charter makes it clear that those persons would not report to the city manager, maintaining independence and responsibility to the mayor and/or council.
As for the "grandfather clause," those of us who are in support of proposing term limits for Beaverton electeds have consistently stated that those term limits should apply to us. We have been discussing how to word the language in the measure to make it clear that, should Mayor Denny Doyle win a fourth term in May, he would be able to serve that (last consecutive) term in spite of the term limits. I have heard no argument among us on this point.
The net result is that, should this charter go into effect in 2021, I would be the first to be officially limited, which would be fine by me. I — and my colleagues — will stand with the charter if it passes, and move along when our respective term limits are reached.
"The council can choose whether to squeeze all of these elements into a single amendment and tell voters to take it or leave it, or it can section them out, proposing multiple charter changes from which voters can pick and choose, voting for the elements they like and against those they don't."
Opinions will differ on this subject, but I will note that Washington County created a substantially revised charter for itself in 2008, and referred the entire charter to the voters as a single package.
Marc San Soucie is a member and former president of the Beaverton City Council.
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