Oregon City voters elect first person of color to commission
Oregon City voters have overwhelmingly voted to keep Denyse McGriff and Frank O'Donnell on the City Commission.
McGriff earned 61% of the vote, while O'Donnell was getting 55% in unofficial returns from the Nov. 3 election, with updated vote tallies from Friday.
McGriff made history a second time with her election victory. With her appointment by city commissioners in March 2019, she became the first person of color to serve on the Oregon City Commission. On Tuesday, she became the first person of color elected to the Commission.
"I have been humbled and grateful for the outpouring of the support that I've received for this campaign," McGriff said. "My goal is to do my very best for everyone, no matter whether we agree, and we're not always going to agree, but I'll always listen."
Prior to the tide-turning 2018 election in Oregon City, O'Donnell was the only commissioner to vote against annexation applications based on the "home rule" provision of the Oregon Constitution. His reelection, along with McGriff's nod from voters, overturns an attempt by the Home Builders Association of Metro Portland to support candidates with a more skeptical view of allowing voters the right to weigh in on proposed annexations, as approved by commissioners on Oct. 13.
McGriff and O'Donnell defeated candidates Jeff Akin and Dave Hayden, who both have histories in Clackamas County Court; neither Akin nor Hayden have any history volunteering for the city.
McGriff and O'Donnell didn't run as a slate, but say they respect each other's sometimes diverging views. While they both want to designate the public works yard as part of Waterboard Park, McGriff wanted a couple of historic buildings there retained, while O'Donnell wanted them razed.
McGriff and O'Donnell have both advocated for the creation of an ordinance for the proper care and preservation of trees on all public property, expanding protections for larger trees beyond city property to include land owned by public entities such as the Oregon Department of Transportation, the school district, the county, etc. This reform came after a series of failures by city staff that led to the removal of a healthy walnut tree from city property in 2019.
McGriff and O'Donnell disagree about beginning a process that could extend protections for trees on private property. O'Donnell wants the city to stay out of regulating tree removal on privately owned land, while McGriff would like the city to sponsor a poll on the issue or find other ways to obtain public input.
O'Donnell and McGriff also have different viewpoints on financial issues. They don't see eye to eye on McGriff's goal for the city to prioritize restoring the Buena Vista Club House, with O'Donnell saying that city funding shouldn't go to the property.
Although they disagree about getting more public input on the tree issue, McGriff and O'Donnell collaborated on a policy allowing public comments at City Commission work sessions.
McGriff and O'Donnell have joined the two other commissioners in supporting the mayoral recall election, in part because Mayor Dan Holladay had been planning an announcement to open Oregon City businesses early, in defiance of state orders to slow the spread of COVID-19. Holladay received a warning letter from the state's attorney general, and city commissioners voted April 26 to affirm the governor's order.
Very different backgrounds led McGriff and O'Donnell to the Oregon City Commission.
McGriff worked for the public sector most of her career, while O'Donnell retired from the private sector. In 2016, O'Donnell ran against a city planner whose background was similar to McGriff's.
McGriff is now retired after working as a city planner in cities across the state, including Tillamook and Oregon City. She spent the final 17 years of her career as a senior project manager for the Portland Development Commission.
McGriff has chaired Oregon City's Planning Commission and McLoughlin Neighborhood Association, and was a member of the Library Building Committee and a community advisory group providing input on the McLoughlin-Canemah Trail. In those capacities, she has become well versed in managing controversial meetings, from neighborhood-membership votes to appealing city decisions to land-use planning on the Willamette Falls Legacy Project.
O'Donnell won election to an open City Commission seat in 2016 as the outsider candidate, describing himself as a "reluctant" community activist. He petitioned for a rollback of water rates in the 1990s and organized neighbors upset over new city codes aimed at removing membrane structures from their private properties.
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