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Commissioners add consideration of eight-year service limitation to other potential reforms

Oregon City Commissioner Rocky Smith said last week he felt "awkward" asking voters to allow him and other elected officials to serve without term limits.

Term limits are among the items that city commissioners plan to refer to Oregon City voters in the May election. Having previously served as a city commissioner from 2009-16, Smith said he liked the city's current system that allowed him to run again for a commission seat in 2018 after a two-year break.Rocky Smith

"We don't have a situation where someone can serve for decades in a row," Smith said. "The break forces someone who's been involved in the city to take a break where they can reconnect to the community… rethink where they're at and make the really hard decision to run again."

Commissioner Adam Marl said asking voters about term limits came out of a conversation he had with Commissioner Frank O'Donnell. Marl distinguished the need for term limits on statewide and national seats, which have six-figure salaries, with an Oregon City commission's "community volunteer who is probably foregoing money" by having to attend lots of city meetings.

O'Donnell pledged not to run again when his second four-year term expires at the end of 2024, even if he would be allowed to run for a third term by a potential change in city charter abolishing term limits. He worried that forcing commissioners out of office after eight years is unnecessarily limiting the pool of qualified candidates.

"We already have term limits, and it's called voting," O'Donnell said. "I simply want to give this city the best leadership it can."

While eliminating term limits in Oregon City promises to be a controversial proposal, two other charter reforms at least so far seem to have universal support.

Oregon City Commission members support allowing commissioners (not just the mayor) to select certain advisory board members, as well as a charter reform to elect the top two vote-getters as commissioners, rather than having candidates jockey for specific seats on the commission.

Oregon City has two of its four City Commission seats up for election every two years. Revising the process for electing city commissioners — eliminating filing for positions — would follow the lead of many other cities in Clackamas County.

If this charter reform is approved, OC voters would get to mark their ballots for two City Commission candidates, and the two candidates who receive the most total votes would be elected as commissioners. This reform would prevent newcomer candidates from having to target particular incumbents, as well as avoiding situations where two of the more qualified candidates are running against each other for one position, thereby eliminating one of the two best candidates out of all of those running in city elections.

Another reform would allow the entire City Commission, not just the mayor, to select members of the two appointed bodies that make decisions that "directly affect peoples' lives," the Planning Commission and the Historic Review Board. Except in rare cases where their decisions are appealed to city commissioners, the Planning Commission and the Historic Review Board are often the final decision-makers for subdivision development applications and proposed changes to structures in historic neighborhoods.

In November 2020, O'Donnell pushed commissioners for the two less controversial charter amendments to go before voters during the March special election, but the other commissioners decided to make mayoral replacement the only question for voters. During a public hearing on Feb. 2, commissioners are expected to give their blessing to asking voters about the three proposed charter amendments during the May 17 election.

This article was updated on Jan. 21 from its original version online to correct the fact that Rocky Smith is now the former commission president. Denyse McGriff was elected commission president in January, and Pamplin Media Group apologizes for the error.

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