The Tualatin City Council has agreed to let voters decide whether to amend the city charter to modify the length of the mayor's term in certain circumstances. The measure, which would allow a city councilor who has served two terms to also serve two terms as mayor within a 20-year period, will appear on the May 17, 2022, ballot. Current charter language states that no one can serve more than 12 years in any 20-year period regardless of the position they hold.
The council approved a resolution in a 5-2 vote at its Nov. 8 meeting, with Council President Nancy Grimes and Councilor Cyndy Hillier voting "no."
Part of the meeting involved the merits of having the council refer the measure to the ballot or send it to voters as part of an initiative petition process after the signatures of 15% of all registered voters in Tualatin were collected.
Mayor Frank Bubenik said he supports sending the measure directly to voters, although without the current COVID-19 pandemic, he insisted, "We'd do the signature thing in a heartbeat."
"There's are several ways to get things on the ballot. It doesn't always have to be one way," said Bubenik. "We're doing a different process, which is allowed … cities around us do it all the time. There's nothing illegitimate about the council placing some of the (ballot measures) to be voted on in an election."
Regardless of how the measure makes its way to voters, Councilor Valerie Pratt said, "It's the voters that are going to decide. It's not us."
Councilor Christen Sacco said that being a member of the City Council and holding the position of mayor are two very different jobs, with the mayor attending different committees and meetings that councilors don't necessarily attend.
Sacco remarked, "I think that it is important that there is an opportunity for a second term" for a mayor who previously served two terms as a city councilor, such as Bubenik.
Councilor Maria Reyes agreed.
"I've seen more people going to the mayor than they do the councilors," Reyes said, pointing out that the mayor is the most "prominent" member of the City Council.
Councilor Bridget Brooks' take was that the council was placing the measure on the ballot "on behalf of community members that have come to us with the request."
Brooks reminded the council that the council starts its meetings by observing a moment of silence at each council meeting in observance of those who have lost their lives to COVID-19.
"This is not a time that I would ever ask our community members to go door-to-door getting signatures," Brooks said.
She added, "I think to have experience and also understanding of what this role is will help with the stability of governance in our city, so that people don't run for mayor with a lot of confidence and without a lot of knowledge and end up in a situation that isn't really sustainable for them, and have turnover that we don't need."
Grimes said she agrees with the purpose of the measure, but she expressed reservations about placing it directly on the ballot.
"It does benefit the city immensely to be able to have two terms as mayor just when you consider the breadth of the position, as well as the amount of experience that it takes to do it well, to create and foster those regional relationships, as our current mayor has said," Grimes said. "You know, my only concern — and my lack of support for the way we're putting this measure forward — is that I really wish we had not bypassed the normal process, community grassroots process, for getting things on the ballot."
She said gathering citizen signatures to place the measure on the ballot would be seen by the community as a more "pure process and less self-serving process."
Hillier echoed Grimes' argument, saying she would like to see the initiative process used. She has heard the same from some of the council's constituents, she added.
The measure would amend the term-limit measure approved by voters in 2016. That measure prevented then-Mayor Lou Ogden, who at the time had been Tualatin's mayor since 1995, from running again in 2018.
Asked about the current proposed measure, Ogden said he doesn't think term limits are good for local government and supports removing them.
"However, I think that should be the question before the voters, or the question to reduce the term limits," Ogden told Pamplin Media Group.Â "To simply say the mayor can serve two more terms after serving two city council terms seems to directly violate the intent of the measure passed previously by the voters and seems to specifically carve out an exception to fit the current mayor."
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