Lauren Hughes fills Mike Kehoe's vacant seat

A new Lake Oswego City Council member took her seat Tuesday night immediately after a contentious vote in which one councilor refused to participate.

Lauren Hughes, a community volunteer and outspoken critic of some city policies, took the oath of office after the council voted to appoint her to a position vacated by Mike Kehoe, who announced in August he was moving to San Diego. She’ll serve the remainder of his term, through the end of 2014.Hughes

While the council was deadlocked 3-3 between two potential replacements for Kehoe on Sept. 10, Councilor Skip O’Neill changed his position this week, giving Hughes the fourth vote she needed to secure the open seat.

The reversal drew accusations of coercion and corruption.

O’Neill declined to comment on his change of heart and said he didn’t know when he’d be ready to address that topic to the public.

However, addressing the accusations about coercion, O'Neill said, “There are people in Lake Oswego willing to go to new lows. And there are some that can walk with their heads high and others that can’t.”

The final tally Tuesday was 4-1 for Hughes over Audrey Monroe, a business owner and school volunteer heading up this year's campaign for renewal of the Lake Oswego School District’s local option levy.

Supporting Monroe was Councilor Jon Gustafson. In favor of Hughes were O’Neill, Mayor Kent Studebaker and Councilors Karen Bowerman and Jeff Gudman.

Councilor Donna Jordan opted to not vote. She said she supported the process when the council focused on potential replacements with similar qualities to Kehoe, but she grew increasingly uncomfortable after the stalemate two weeks ago.

“It became very clear in the last couple of weeks that we had come to a position where it was not just finding a person who had fiscally conservative values like Mr. Kehoe, or that had connections with the school district like Mr. Kehoe, but a particular candidate,” Jordan said. “There were some very big city, big league politics, some very strong-armed movements in order to try to persuade at least four members of the council to vote for one particular candidate.

“I am abstaining … because I do not believe the process has been open and transparent as this council had portrayed itself to be when it was elected.”

Hughes is known to many for her denunciation of the city’s sensitive lands program, which regulates land use and development on both public and private properties near wetlands, water features and tree groves and remains a controversial issue in Lake Oswego. She’s on the boards of some political action committees, Lake Oswego Citizens Action League and Citizens for Stewardship of Lake Oswego Lands, and has regularly attended meetings of the council and city committees for the past four years.

Before the vote, Gustafson urged his peers to delay making a decision and push a “reset” button on the whole process.

“The nomination and potential appointment of Lauren Hughes has generated a level of discord in this community that this council has yet to see,” Gustafson said. “Some of the emails we have received have been beyond inappropriate. … There has been pressure put on some councilors that goes beyond lobbying. I don’t think any member of this body should be bullied, threatened or otherwise coerced to vote in a way they would otherwise be inclined to do.”

O’Neill campaigned with Studebaker and Bowerman when the three were elected last year with Kehoe’s support and with backing from some members of the groups Hughes is involved with. Kehoe also endorsed Hughes to take over his spot, although that isn’t necessarily part of the replacement process.

Bowerman said that stamp of approval helped persuade her to vote for Hughes. She acknowledged that the council has received loads of emails that were "very highly opinionated" but felt much of the criticism focused on the process.

To fill a vacancy, the city charter requires a majority vote of remaining council members, but the rules don't outline a procedure for selecting a replacement or offer ways to break a tie.

Without appointing a seventh member, the council could risk more split votes and impasses, Bowerman said.

Studebaker said the process has been democratic. The group began with about a dozen names offered by various councilors and community members and held informal votes to narrow the list to four. Those four people were interviewed Sept. 10, and the council whittled its options to two.

“There’s been a lot of pressure put on, and not just for any one particular person, but for everybody,” Studebaker said. “That’s the way the system is supposed to work. This community is very involved — admirably so."

But, at this point, he didn't support postponing a vote on Kehoe's replacement.

"We should carry through with it and get the job done," Studebaker said.

Hughes previously said her activism on sensitive lands reflected her desire to advocate on behalf of people “marginalized by the program.” She has also volunteered as a court-appointed advocate for children, is active in schools and sits on the board of NeighborLink, a transportation service for senior citizens.

“I’m unaware of any coercion,” she said Tuesday night. “I’m delighted to be appointed and looking forward to serving our citizens.”

Monroe offered congratulations to Hughes on her appointment and said she looks forward to returning her full attention to the school district's levy campaign.

"Lauren is well-qualified to serve, and I believe she will make valuable contributions in her new role as a city councilor," Monroe said. "I wish her and (the council) success as they continue to attend to city business."

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