Woodburn mayor responds to allegations levied in City Council's no-confidence vote

When there aren't enough facts, paint a picture, says the politician.

In a surprise move at the beginning of our Aug. 31 council work session, where votes are not to be taken — and with no advance agenda notice to allow public participation, Councilor Eric Morris, candidate for mayor, presented a case painting a picture for a vote of no confidence.

COURTESY PHOTO - Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson, Woodburn Independent - Opinion  Swenson: Community leaders stand at the ready
In his Sept. 7 guest column, Councilor Carney added some detailed brush strokes to the painting, to which I'll respond to with some facts.

At no time did anyone from Marion County have any direct conversation with your mayor about placing a COVID isolation center in Woodburn. Your mayor, like the rest of the Woodburn city government, was not consulted — nor involved — in the process of choosing the Super 8 Hotel as an isolation center, for which Commissioner Kevin Cameron publicly recognized and personally apologized. There was nothing that was "behind the scenes" or "secret," although those are tantalizing images when creating a good story.

On April 4, long before isolation centers were being discussed, I had contacted the hotel asking if they would take a voucher from a nonprofit for a local individual who had no other place to be isolated. It was for a fellow we had served at one of our community dinners. This is a long stretch from the picture of asking the hotel to be an isolation center months later.

The e-mail response referenced from the hotel was written to my personal account, as I was clear I was not calling on behalf of the city — and was discovered by me and everyone else when Councilor Morris made a records request for thousands of my personal e-mails. It was one of about 90% of my e-mails never opened. I've had no other contact with the hotel, besides protesting there alongside the seniors in the neighborhood.

On page 200 of Marion County's 234-page defense response to the lawsuit Woodburn filed to halt the use of the hotel as an isolation center, a meeting of various community leaders was cited where I mentioned that the hotel, back in the beginning of April, was willing to take vouchers from nonprofits for individuals who had no other place to go. In the county's defense, the mention was framed as a suggestion they place a center here. Good defense lawyer.

It was on page 200 because a single phone call and notes from a meeting are not central to the county's defense, nor are they relevant to our case, which is centered solely on violation of our zoning laws, that it should not have been surrounded by senior living and that they did not work with our city government in its decision-making process.

The only secret kept from the public in this story was that a vote of no confidence in your mayor was even taking place — contradictory to Oregon's Public Meeting laws that require open public processes, unless there is a compelling emergency or public interest. All the more interesting because I had agreed to make this a public agenda item at our next regular meeting on Sept. 16. The only emergency that Councilor Morris had before the 16th was the Voter's Pamphlet filing deadline on Sept. 8. His version surely will make a good read on his side of the page.

These have been trying times and I expect to be tried. It's the expectation of this (very unpaid) mayor's position — and I welcome it. And I would fully expect to be attacked in a political campaign. But being prosecuted by my opponent and my own city council, unannounced, in a city work session was quite unexpected.

Though I suppose it does make for an interesting story.

Eric Swenson is mayor of Woodburn.

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