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Commission president has represented city on regional committees to make up for Dan Holladay's absenses

Oregon City Commission President Rachel Lyles Smith is the second citizen to announce a run for the vacant mayoral position.

Rachel Lyles Smith"I currently lead the commission with professionalism and will provide the respectful representation that our community deserves," she said. "I am a trusted leader. I don't play political games. I am transparent in my decision-making."

As previously reported, Damon Mabee announced he would run for the mayoral position just after the Nov. 10 recall of former Mayor Dan Holladay. Mabee ended up filing for the vacant position Dec. 17, the same day as Lyles Smith. When asked why citizens should consider voting for her over Mabee, Lyles Smith was willing to give both the short answer and a longer explanation.

"The easy answer is that I'm well ingrained in the current commission and everything we have going on," she said.

But Lyles Smith said she wouldn't be surprised if a third candidate steps up to run for mayor, perhaps one of the other commissioners. As Holladay started skipping regional meetings more frequently in 2020, she stepped up as commission president to fill those roles.

"There are lots of reasons why I'm the best fit to step up to the mayoral position of anyone who's on the commission, regardless of Damon," she said. "I think I've proven to the community that I can represent the commission, and moving to the mayoral position provides us the opportunity for stability."

If elected mayor, Lyles Smith wants to use her influence to stop sending a message that Oregon City is anti-development, a message she believes her fellow commissioners started delivering when they announced an intention to fight the state's new mandate to allow annexations without citizens' votes. Although the city charter calls for asking all the registered voters about proposed annexations, she believes the Oregon Legislature found a way to preempt the charters of several cities like OC.

"We're one legal challenge away from an annexation with these, what I consider to be kind of weak, criteria that don't necessarily protect our community like we would like to," Lyles Smith warned commissioners earlier this month at a work session.

She explained her statements about legal challenges in a subsequent phone interview.

"One of the things that I vowed when I ran for the commission (in 2018) was to reduce our legal bills," she said. "Just because you can doesn't mean you should, and just because we're right about the importance of home rule, doesn't mean we should push it to the nth degree. I can read our charter, and it says 'unless mandated by state law,' so we don't have much of a legal leg to stand on to fight the state on voter-approved annexations."

Commissioners ended up backing off of their earlier vow to fight the Oregon Legislature in court, but they're still hoping to pass more stringent regulations for proposed annexations. Lyles Smith supports increasing annexation regulations, as long as the commission allows for robust public comment in considering proposed changes.

"We're one of the few areas that has areas within the urban-growth boundary that is developable, so the time to try to stop development was almost 20 years ago when Metro passed the last expansion of the UGB in Oregon City," she said. "Growth is inevitable, so our job is to put as many guidelines as possible to make sure that the development is in the best interest of the community."

Lyles Smith said she would be happy to work with Mabee if he were elected mayor, even wishing him luck on her public Facebook page.

"We have a good mix of opinions on items, and Damon is a strong advocate for historic resources, so he might find some common ground with (Commissioners) Rocky (Smith) and Denyse (McGriff) on that one," she said.

Lyles Smith praised her fellow commissioners, despite their disagreements on the annexation issue.

"We have a good set of commissioners with the four we have now," she said.

Lyles Smith grew up hunting and fishing in the "true, rural South," in a town with a population of about 2,000. In 1996 she moved to what her family thought of as the nearest "big city" — Tallahassee (population 150,000) — to earn her bachelor's degree in geography from Florida State University.

After graduation, Lyles Smith specialized in geographic information system mapping technology for an environmental engineering consulting firm. She lived in Tallahassee for 10 years before moving to Nashville, where she met her future husband, Carl.

Since the couple moved to Oregon in 2010, Lyles Smith has worked for various state agencies, currently Oregon's Department of Land Conservation and Development, and previously the state's Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.

In 2014, she returned to school and earned a master's degree in public administration from Portland State University's Hatfield School of Government.

Go to orcity.org for more information about filing for the mayoral position before Jan. 4 in order for candidates to appear on the March 9 special election ballot.


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