A small-town mayor's Job No. 1: Don't embarrass the town
Driving through Metolius on a beautiful summer day is a joy. Sure, it's a little rough along the highway, but do yourself a favor and cruise the town's streets — the nice park, huge trees throwing cooling shade on streets lined by mostly well-kept houses and landscapes. The community does a great job of taking care of itself, overall.
This summer, though, political upheaval is tearing at its seams of Metolius.
John Chavez became mayor of Metolius by one vote back in 2018, edging Tryna Muilenburg 91-90 in a three-way battle with Carl Elliot getting 73 votes. The three-way split shows how divided, at least politically, that community can be. Certainly it was no mandate for Chavez's leadership.
But, by one vote or 1,000, it's an honor to be elected mayor of your community. And even in the smallest of towns, the mayor's job comes with responsibility. But the main responsibility? Don't embarrass your town.
But Chavez has embarrassed his town, through a series of legal foul-ups and his response to them. In light of that, a recall effort against him has kicked into gear.
Recalls are tough and ugly. In small towns, it pits virtual neighbor vs. neighbor. In a real small town like Metolius, it truly is neighbor vs. neighbor.
But, assessing this situation, the recall effort has merit in this case.
This year-plus has been a tough one for Chavez. He got in a fight with his brother in 2018 and was arrested, then he got arrested for driving while intoxicated this past spring. He eventually violated his probation and was mandated to serve 10 days in jail, but the courts allowed him to serve it in segments, as long as he showed up to serve by July 1.
When he didn't, he was arrested. He told the judge that he was "too busy" with his mayor duties to serve the time. The judge didn't appreciate the sentiment, and he was immediately jailed to serve out his short sentence.
The actual governmental responsibilities for the mayor, and the city council of Metolius, is generally light. The town's government has small budget ($1.4 million) and a town recorder to handle many day-to-day operations.
Chavez, his supporters note, did put in a lot of effort into the mayorship, often volunteering to do physical labor, like mowing the lawn at city hall. His supporters, and even detractors, know he takes great pride in being the mayor of his town. That is impressive.
What seems to be the final straw for the recall backers, though, was his failure to report to serve jail time. Muilenburg, who lost the mayor's race by that one vote, is one of the leaders of the recall effort. But she isn't alone.
The rest of the council reportedly met with Chavez in July, presumably to point him in the direction of resigning for the good of the order. Chavez volunteered to take a six-month leave of absence. I think he needs to reconsider.
Instead of the leave of absence, Chavez should just resign. Save the community, and himself, the pain of the recall, from further embarrassment. The recent jailing was kind of a third strike. He's failed Job No. 1 — don't embarrass the town — three times.
His supporters know Chavez as someone who loves Metolius and that he volunteers to do labor. He could win back some respect by continuing to volunteer in such a manner without wearing the mayor sash. What's more, if he did that, and was serious about restoring his reputation, he could run for council and maybe even mayor again.
The first step, though, is stepping away at this time.
- Tony Ahern
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