Decision 2020: West Linn's next mayor
When Jules Walters first toured a home in the Bolton neighborhood 13 years ago, she knew West Linn would be the right place for her family. Walters recalled how neighborhood kids came over to play with her kids, and she knew then that West Linn was a perfect fit.
The Walters family moved to West Linn from southern California when Jules' husband, Joe, got a job in the Portland area. After researching the metro area, the couple thought West Linn might be the right place to raise their four kids because of its excellent schools, parks and safety reputation.
Thirteen years later, West Linn has a reputation for dysfunction, mismanagement and racism on the police force as well as in the community. However, Walters said schools, parks and safety are still what make West Linn great.
"We know that there is still work to do, but what we need is a leader, as mayor, who is looking at the next 20 years and thinking, 'What is West Linn going to be? And how can we continue to support those things that make it special?'" said Walters, now a mayoral candidate with two years of city council experience.
Walters said from her first day on the council in January 2019 that she would make diversity, equity and inclusion a priority.
While she mentioned helping plan last year's Multi-City Equity Summit and working with the West Linn-Wilsonville School District to highlight bullying and harassment of LGBTQ+ students, Walters said this year's revelations in the Michael Fesser case made it clear that there is work yet to be done.
"We need to take a hard look at that, at where we are being equitable and fair," Walters said.
She noted it's not just WLPD that needs to examine its practices. The city also should be looking at its hiring practices and land-use policies, according to Walters.
"We do the equity and bias audits, and that sort of examines what the structure of the building looks like," she said. "Is it sound? Where are the weaknesses? Once that's done, that's where big discussions about DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) come in, and you start to rebuild that house in a better way."
In the race to be West Linn's next mayor, Walters faces newcomers Andrew Mallory and Robert McCarthy and Council President Richard Sakelik, who has spent the past four years on the council.
Walters still has two years left on her current council term, and if she were to lose the mayor's race this November, she could serve out the remainder of her term. If she wins, the council will hold a special election to fill her vacated seat in May.
Over the past two years on the council, Walters said one of her focuses has been to improve the city's relationships with different regional partners.
"We have a reputation of not being invited to the table because our politics have always had a reputation," she said. "Let's end that legacy and start fresh."
Building partnerships takes "showing up, doing the work and being honest, approachable and understanding," she said. That's what she'd like to do as mayor.
Walters noted that the council meetings' length and frequency in recent years have inhibited community participation.
According to her count, the council has had more than 100 hours of meeting time this year and 60 hours of executive session time.
"Meetings definitely need to be much, much more efficient," she said. "Absolutely, there is time for public comment. There is time for a brief council discussion on an issue, but really what the mayor needs to be doing is setting a manageable agenda with the city manager based on the issues that the community really feels are important, and then keep the conversation brief. Sometimes that means perhaps using the gavel more when needed."
Just a few months before West Linn's next mayor is sworn in, its new city manager, Jerry Gabrielatos, will move across the country to begin leading the city. That's one reason some are calling this a critical period for the city.
Walters said she's been talking with Gabrielatos over the past few weeks and is looking forward to the opportunity to work with him as mayor.
Walters said there's a certain balance between working collaboratively with the city manager and overseeing their work. In working with former city manager Eileen Stein, and watching other councilors work with her as well — in an often contentious manner — Walters has developed her own philosophy on the nature of the relationship.
"What happens sometimes is you get councilors who are trying to manage the city, or you have city managers who are perhaps pushing forward certain policy that's in their own interest that they'd like," Walters said. "You don't want a council that's making decisions based on friendships. You need a stronger city manager in there to make sure we're making decisions that are right for the entire city because the council is political and the city manager really shouldn't be."
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