Legal services charter amendment defeated on election night
A blow to the West Linn City Council majority seeking to limit the city manager's control over legal services came in the form of a defeated Ballot Measure 3-552 election night Nov. 5.
Initial results posted at 8 p.m. showed that 65.2% of the 6,567 votes counted were against the measure.
The council majority, Council President Teri Cummings, along with Councilors Rich Sakelik and Bill Relyea, battled to get the measure on the ballot -- hoping to amend the City Charter and re-establish council authority over all the City's legal services.
"I believe it is very important for the City to have a distinct separation of power between the City Attorney and the City Manager," a statement from Cummings reads 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."
If the measure had passed, the charter would have been amended to include the words:"The council may retain legal advisors as it deems prudent. The legal advisors shall report to and serve at the discretion of the council," A passed measure would have also altered Section 23 of the charter to clarify that the city manager will have no control over the office of the city attorney.
"I'm grateful to the voters. This was a really confusing measure for a lot of people. It was a little bit confusing in the way it was written, I think and not something that people are used to thinking about day in and day out in terms of how our attorney services work for our city," said Councilor Jules Walters, one of the measures opponents. "I'm really grateful that people took the time to ask questions and read about it and learn about it and I'm really glad that the checks and balances that our current structure has are being kept in tact.
This isn't the first time West Linn residents have voted on a charter amendment concerning legal services. Such ballot measures have also gone before the voters in 2013 and 2017. In 2013 voters passed an initiative meant to clarify West Linn City Council authority over the city attorney.
Feeling that the 2013 measure was a sneaky power move by the then city manager, which actually removed some legal services authority from the council, in 2017 the council drafted a new measure, which was ultimately turned down by voters.
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 biased advice to the City.
Opponents of the Measure 3-552 have argued that the measure could have great fiscal impacts for the city's spending on legal services, while proponents of the measure have maintained that to not amend the charter would lead to increases in legal services spending. The true budgetary impacts have been impossible to estimate. Both sides have relied on speculation over how much services the council and city staff may need from the city attorney and other legal advisors.
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