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Measure 3-552 would re-establish council authority over legal services in the City Charter

PMG PHOTO  - The legal services charter amendment will go to West Linn voters in November's special election. During the November special election, West Linn citizens will vote on whether to change the structure of the City's legal services for the third time in seven years.

In 2013, voters passed an initiative meant to clarify West Linn City Council authority over the city attorney. Alarmed by City staff hiring another legal advisor without approval from the council after the passage of the 2013 measure, the council drafted a new measure in 2017 to further clarify council authority over legal services and ensure that the city manager would not be able to hire more attorneys. The 2017 measure was turned down by voters."The unspoken consequences were huge because passage of Measure 3-429 in 2013 silently permitted city managers to hire legal advisors other than the City Attorney without Council approval," said West Linn City Councilor Rich Sakelik, who helped push Measure 3-552 onto the November ballot, along with Councilor Bill Relyea and Council President Teri Cummings. Mayor Russ Axelrod and Councilor Jules Walters opposed putting the measure on the ballot for the coming election.

Proponents of Measure 3-552, this year's measure, feel its language is even stronger than in the proposed 2017 amendment and would firmly cement the council's authority over legal services.They feel this will prevent a city manager-directed attorney providing advice to the City.

The measure would amend Section 23 of the charter, which covers the office of city manager, stating that the city manager has no control over the office of the city attorney. The measure would also add to Section 8 of the charter: "The Council may retain legal advisors as it deems prudent. The legal advisors shall report to and serve at the discretion of the council."

Sakelik and other proponents of the measure support it because they believe it will prevent the city manager from hiring another attorney. They hope this will keep the City from overspending on legal services and prevent collusions between city manager-supervised legal advisors and staff.

Opponents to the measure, including Axelrod and Walters, feel the measure wrongfully encroaches on the powers of the city manager.

"What is at stake here is the balance of power intended by our Charter and City Council/City Manager form of government," Axelrod wrote in a statement in the voter's pamphlet. "It is important that our city manager have reasonable authority over legal aspects critical to city operations, and especially on issues that are not the purview of the City Council, except to ensure consistency with City policy goals and objectives."

Cummings has a different view on that balance of power.

"I believe it is very important for the City to have a distinct separation of power between the City Attorney and the City Manager," Cummings wrote in her own statement in the voter's pamphlet. "And as a City Councilor, I also think it is very important to be able to rely on independent legal advice from an attorney who reports to all five City Councilors, not just one person."

Relyea did not have his own statement in the voter's pamphlet, but endorsed those submitted by Sakelik and Cummings.

In discussions on legal services for the past year, Sakelik and Cummings have pointed out that when a former city manager hired an inhouse assistant city attorney without approval from the council, the City spent more money on legal services than if it had stuck with just its council-approved contracted City Attorney.

"(Measure 3-552) will serve to protect our budget and the balance of power in our Council/Manager form of governance," Cummings said.

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