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The evaluation comes amid a period of deep uncertainty for West Linn's legal structure

This story has been updated from its original version.

Through years of debate over the structure of West Linn's legal services, the City Council has never taken one seemingly obvious step: conducting a formal evaluation of the city attorney.

That soon will change, as the council asked City staff during a Dec. 3 work session to begin an evaluation process — which includes public notice to allow for residents to comment. West Linn's longtime city attorney Tim Ramis practices with the Jordan Ramis firm that holds the contract for the City. Ramis was last evaluated in 2011.

The evaluation comes amid a period of deep uncertainty for West Linn's legal structure. In-house Assistant City Attorney Megan Thornton — who'd been with the City since that position was created in 2012 — resigned in May. Citing concerns with the City's budget outlook, City Manager Eileen Stein opted to not immediately fill the vacancy and instead conducts a weekly meeting with Ramis to track ongoing legal matters. Ramis, meanwhile, informed the council in the fall that his firm would likely be raising its hourly rates by about $125, which prompted further debate over how to move forward.

Controversy erupted shortly after Ramis told the council about the rate hikes. On Oct. 15, the council held an executive session that was noticed as a meeting to "review and evaluate the employment-related performance of the chief executive officer of any public body, a public officer, employee or staff member who does not request an open hearing." In this case, that person was Ramis, and two councilors — Teri Cummings and Rich Sakelik — refused to participate after learning that Ramis would not be present.

Mayor Russ Axelrod and councilors who did attend — Bob Martin and Brenda Perry — said Ramis did not have to be there because the session was not a formal performance evaluation. Rather, the council simply wished to discuss the potential rate hikes and cited the ORS statute that was closest to describing the topic of the meeting. Nonetheless, the City eventually self-reported a procedural error to the Oregon State Ethics Commission (Ramis was never asked if he wanted the session to be public or private, which is required by law).

Resident Karie Oakes wasn't satisfied with that self-report, and recently filed her own complaint to the Ethics Commission regarding the Oct. 15 executive session.

That complaint remained unsettled as the council discussed the evaluation process Dec. 3.

"There's nothing in the contract requiring (an evaluation) but it's good practice," Axelrod said. "There are two key pieces. One is the performance of Tim (Ramis) in city attorney services from a council perspective — how is he doing as the chief legal officer for the council? And second ... how well is the legal structure of the City working?"

The council was unanimous in its belief that the two outgoing councilors — Martin and Perry, whose terms expire this year — should be part of the process given their extensive experience working with Ramis and his firm. Stein, meanwhile, encouraged the council to narrow its focus during the evaluation.

"I'd ask you to think about the quality of service the attorney has provided, and (keep that as a) separate question from the legal structure of the City," she said. "I don't want feedback solely based on this interim arrangement."

At the Dec. 3 meeting, Ramis said he had no problem with the evaluation, adding that he hoped to see specific examples cited alongside problem areas that are identified in the evaluation.

An opportunity for public comment is open through Dec. 13 at https://westlinnoregon.gov/citycouncil/city-attorney-evaluation-2018-public-comment.

The council will further discuss the evaluation during an executive session Dec. 17.

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