Mayor Jeremy Ferguson plans to step down from his Milwaukie City Council role next December, and he will leave his job with the city of Portland before beginning his campaign to unseat Clackamas County Commissioner Jim Bernard.

by: CITY OF MILWAUKIE - Jeremy FergusonWith high ethical standards and consistent policy implementation, Ferguson hopes to end a perception of divisiveness on the countywide board where commissioners often begin meetings by stating their position on issues such as light rail, public housing or urban renewal.

“I’m the type of person who likes to talk about possible positions and bring people together before coming to mutually agreeable solutions,” he said.

Ferguson said that Aug. 9 will be his last day working for Portland Streetcar.

“There are strict laws on public employees and their campaigning activity, and I think it would be best that I don’t have any connection to the city of Portland when I officially start my campaign in September,” he said.

When he worked for TriMet, Ferguson did not participate in discussions or votes on light rail. He wished that Bernard, the previous Milwaukie mayor now living in Wilsonville, also had abstained from light-rail decisions that could increase the value of Bernard’s Garage property, a Milwaukie business owned by the former mayor’s family since 1925.

In separate decisions, Oregon’s statewide Ethics Commission determined that both Bernard and Ferguson could legally declare a “potential conflict of interest” and participate in light-rail decisions. But citing the fallout left for city and county leaders obliged to pay TriMet for portions of the project, Ferguson argued that Bernard also should have gone a step further than minimum state-mandated ethical behavior for a project of light rail’s magnitude.

“As a government leader, you have to hold yourself to the highest level of ethics possible,” Ferguson said. “Beside that, I wouldn’t have voted for the $5 million without knowing where the money was coming from.”

When he gets back from a family vacation next month, Ferguson will split his time between running for county office and making sure that the next mayor doesn’t have to manage the city’s financial crisis over light-rail debt. In May, he plans to appear on the same county primary election ballot with a bond measure for the city of Milwaukie.

“If it doesn’t pass in May, there will be cuts, unfortunately, and we’ve managed to trim all the fat that we can in the city already,” he said. “We can’t tell people to stop flushing their toilets or to stop drinking water, so the choices left for cuts will be really difficult.”

Another “loose end” that Ferguson hopes to wrap up is the city’s project to remove Kellogg Dam so fish and recreation can return to the streambed. Ferguson noted that the city’s due diligence should be completed by the end of August, and Wildlands Inc., the proposed project contractor, will have until the end of February to draw up an agreement that is expected to complete the $15 million project with minimal cost to the city.

“We’re positively progressing through our due diligence with Wildlands, and staff and council members have had opportunities to visit other sites and talk with staff members, and the feedback has been really positive so far,” Ferguson said. “Until my term for mayor of Milwaukie expires on Dec. 31, 2014, my focus will be on the big issues facing the city such as light-rail funding, Riverfront Park (construction) and the Kellogg Dam removal. The voters of Milwaukie elected me to work for them, and I will do so diligently until my term has ended.”

Past successes

The recently approved Tacoma Station Area Plan lays the framework for the area south of the light-rail station that’s in Milwaukie’s North Industrial Area, where property owners have asked for code amendments to make it possible for them to engage in market-driven projects.

“It allows for some mixed retail, so if an applicant came in today, they’d see more choices available for them,” Ferguson said.

Every computer in city offices used to get replaced on a cyclical basis, without any evaluation as to their use, so Ferguson advocated for implementing programs to save more than $100,000 annually. He also supported an agreement with the city of West Linn to share a finance department, along with capital outlay to replace an outdated phone system, which saved money on maintenance costs.

“While we’re lean, we’re not broke,” he said. “It’s a tough time to be in government, but it’s also a time where you know you’re going to make a difference. Since I took over we’ve been really focused on getting our financial house in order, and until we had to start paying for light rail, we were a debt-free community.”

Several recent interactions with the county, including transportation and library-district issues, have forced Ferguson to pay more attention to the county and how its governance can impact municipalities.

Wastewater talks had fallen apart between the county and city when Ferguson was first appointed mayor in 2009. In January of 2012, Ferguson along with County Commissioner Paul Savas and attorneys from both sides, decided to “hit the reset button” by throwing out all the old arguments and sitting down with blank pieces of paper to make a list of 12 concerns.

“We took that list of 12 and broke it down by meeting every Friday until it became an agreement framework,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson credited the resulting Kellogg Good Neighbor Committee, which advocates for funding projects to help the Kellogg Wastewater Treatment Facility fit better in the community, with matching grants that have attracted nearly $1.5 million in state investment for Milwaukie Riverfront Park.

Committee members allocated $150,000 for landscaping around the facility that Ferguson hopes will provide a “great screen for neighbors in Island Station and the rest of the downtown,” since certain native trees control odors by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. Water Environment Services can now plot reports of odor to weather conditions and its operations log to see if its employees were taking off a lid or conducting any other unusual sewage-plant activity.