San Soucie: Charter gives insurance for Beaverton's future
Is Beaverton a one-man show, or an ensemble?
You elect six people in Beaverton — one to serve as leader, five to provide additional perspective, program and policy development ideas, and budget management. The charter proposal just divides the leadership role into administrative and public portions and gives the administrative role to a trained, credentialed professional hired by the elected people acting as a group. This is both a practical operating recommendation, as well as a risk management recommendation.
One-man bands can be fun, until the one decides there is only one. Should city authority be concentrated in one person, or shared among all your elected people?
Council-manager is a very typical structure, used by almost every city in Oregon. The mayor would remain the public face of the city, leading policy development work, giving answers when answers are needed, showing up at civic events and inter-governmental committees, lobbying the county, state and federal governments.
Under our current structure, in a city our size with so much activity, administrative management details can fall through cracks. The departments report to the mayor, who can be busy elsewhere.
And if the mayor has an agenda of personal benefit? What limits are there on a rogue mayor? Nowhere near enough — fewer than in the federal Constitution. The mayor is accountable only to the voters.
So, let's just recall a bad mayor! Sounds fine, but in practice, it's a lot of work, takes a long time, and depends on a citywide vote. Unethical or criminal activity could continue unabated for months, maybe longer, even with a successful petition drive to put the recall on the ballot.
So we looked hard at the council-manager form of government. Early in our work, the message from upstairs was "this is a council project, let them do their own publicity." But if it isn't the mayor's priority to inform the public about a significant council discussion:
• Councilors have to advertise the work without staff help.
• Public meetings aren't scheduled and staffed.
• Surveys aren't mailed to voters to gauge public opinion.
• Information about the work doesn't appear on the city website (unless a councilor complains vigorously on camera).
• Video from hour-long information sessions becomes hard to find on the city website.
• The proposed charter isn't published in the city's own voters' pamphlet.
• The proposed charter doesn't appear on the city website where the voters' pamphlet says to look for it.
The mayor can make things happen just by picking up the phone, or walking to someone's office. Council has to request staff assistance (maybe not get it), or hire consultants (laboriously and expensively) to do outreach.
These are, frankly, modest complaints. It could be much worse, and that's what concerns us. What happens if the issues are more serious and the stakes are much higher? Better to anticipate that problem than to react to it with challenging and uncertain tools.
This proposed charter does not aggrandize the job of city councilor. We will remain part-time, focused on budget and program and policy development. But instead of staff being responsible to just one elected person, they will be responsible to all the city's elected representatives. This puts you, the voter, more in control, not less.
Marc San Soucie is a Beaverton city councilor.
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