Portland suburb divided by proposed City Hall term limits
The May 19 primary election is just weeks away. And that means politicos are hard at work trying to persuade their community to support candidates and measures.
In Wilsonville, two campaigns have spent recent months calling Wilsonville residents, installing signage and writing editorials to advocate their views on the ballot measure to impose term limits on Wilsonville city councilors.
The measure, if enacted, would prevent Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp and Councilor Charlotte Lehan from running for reelection and bar representatives from serving for more than 12 years in a 20-year period.
Those against term limits, led by the political action committee Protect Wilsonville Elections, have accused the architects of the measure, namely Doris Wehler and the Wilsonville Term Limits PAC, of spurious motivations for putting forward the initiative and of relying on special interests for funding.
And both sides have blamed each other for supplanting signs in the Charbonneau neighborhood.
Here's a closer look at the two sides:
Wilsonville Term Limits
The Wilsonville Term Limits PAC, run by Wehler, former council President Scott Starr and real estate broker Debi Laue, has relied on hefty donations from Wehler and Starr as well as a $4,000 donation from Aurora Airport developer Ted Millar and a $5,000 donation from the No Tolls Oregon PAC, which advocates against tolling through candidates and issues.
This is based on 2020 public data available on the Oregon Secretary of State website.
In total, Wilsonville Term Limits has received $14,000 in contributions, the majority of which came from a small number of donors. It also has spent nearly all of that money.
The PAC spent about $9,000 on hiring Summit Staffing Solutions for canvassing efforts as well as over $1,000 to Pip Communication, a consulting firm run by former state representative Julie Parrish. Wehler said PIP Communications provided access to a database that helped with canvassing.
Wehler has heard the accusation that the term limits measure is "all about the Aurora Airport," which is a hot-button topic in Wilsonville because the city government has tried to thwart expansion there.
Charbonneau residents complain of loud planes flying over their community, though some in the Wilsonville community (including the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce) wish the city were on friendlier terms with airport leaders.
Wehler blanches at the airport accusation, stating that some Charbonneau leaders are too fixated on this topic and that her motivations and qualms with the Wilsonville government extend far beyond the airport.
"I'm more concerned about instituting projects and where they're (City Council) spending taxpayer dollars, like the two pedestrian bridges (projects to add bridges over I-5 and the Willamette River, which were supported by Knapp and Lehan)," she said.
And Wehler said those supporting term limits have a variety of reasons for doing so, including the belief that term limits foster a healthier government.
Wehler thinks the incumbency advantage makes it too difficult for candidates to usurp longtime representatives. Knapp and Lehan have been Wilsonville's two mayors for over 20 years and served on the City Council before becoming mayor.
As for the specific donations from Millar and No Tolls Oregon, Wehler said: "He's (Millar) somebody I got to know pretty well when I served on the chamber board and he believes in term limits.
"Lindsay Berschauer (a director of the No Tolls Oregon PAC) — she used to live in Wilsonville and she didn't agree with leadership then and doesn't agree with it now. Her donation was kind of a surprise."
Wehler also was frustrated with signs being taken down but didn't think it was an organizational tactic implemented by the anti-term limits campaign but rather by individual people.
Wehler has long opposed Lehan and Knapp and some view the term limits measure as a way for her to discard them.
"I think if some of the backers on 'yes' have individual issues with individual people in our city government, I wonder how our community would react knowing that's the motivation behind this. We could be limiting ourselves for decades to come based on individuals not liking the current government," said Katie Hamm, a city Development Review Board member and director of the Protect Wilsonville Elections PAC.
Wehler, for her part, thinks some of the current councilors are out of touch with the Wilsonville community and that term limits help ensure that elected officials respond more proactively to concerns.
"(The measure is about) getting new people that are a little closer to neighbors and the general citizenry and can hear (their concerns) better than people with a lot of preformed opinions already," she said.
Protect Wilsonville Elections
The Protect Wilsonville Elections PAC is led by Hamm and Wilsonville resident Albert Levit. Longtime Charbonneau leader Tony Holt also was one of the leaders before he died recently.
The PAC has collected about $10,000 in contributions, much of which has come from donations of $100 or less. The campaign also hasn't spent money on consulting or canvassing firms, unlike their pro-term limits counterpart.
"It's been grassroots, people in the community who feel strongly about this," Hamm said. "We don't have major donors. The majority, if not all, of our contributions are $100 or less. There's a lot of people who have contributed to the cause."
However, Costa Villebois LLC (affiliated with the Villebois developer Rudy Kadlub) donated $2,000 and Susan Myers of Capital Realty Group, which owns property in town, contributed $1,000.
"Developers on both sides have donated," Wehler said.
The PAC, as of Thursday, April 30, had only spent about $3,000, but Hamm said some expenditures might not have been filed yet and that she anticipated the campaign would spend most of the contribution money.
For her part, Hamm said she's spent her time texting and calling people to discuss term limits.
"If the mayor or City Council is not doing a good job, that's what elections are for," Hamm said. "If a new, better candidate runs and is elected, that's where the population gets to speak. That's how local leaders are held accountable for the job they're doing."
Hamm said their signs have been taken down in Charbonneau but didn't comment further on the matter. However, another PAC affiliate recently emailed Pamplin Media Group complaining of signs being uprooted.
Like Wehler, Hamm was optimistic that her side ultimately would prevail.
"I don't think it's (term limits) the right move for Wilsonville. I don't think it's the right move for any local government. I feel optimistic about it," Hamm said.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.