2019: Year in review
Whether you thought it flew by in a flash or seemed to drag on for ages, West Linn saw some significant news in 2019, from the passage of a school bond valued at more than $200 million to lawsuit against a city councilor that changed the way many in the state view the records of public officials.
Here's a look at some of the people and events that made headlines in 2019.
The West Linn City Council faced two Oregon Government Ethics Commission complaints this year regarding illegal executive sessions.
The first, filed in November 2018, accused Mayor Russ Axelrod and Councilors Bob Martin and Brenda Perry of violating executive session laws on Oct. 15.
In January, the three councilors were found to have violated executive session laws by conducting an informal review of City Attorney Tim Ramis, without giving Ramis proper notice.
The councilors self-reported their wrongdoing to the OGEC when they learned their actions violated the law. They were given letters of education regarding executive session laws.
The second complaint, filed in September by two seperate citizens, alleges that the current council violated executive session laws earlier this year by meeting to discuss topics that were not authorized for executive session and making final decisions in those sessions.
The complainants, Perry, who is no longer on the council, and citizen Rory Bialostosky, say that the council improperly met in executive session to discuss the defense of Council President Teri Cummings in a lawsuit filed by Bialostosky. Cummings was represented in the lawsuit by the City Attorney's office.
Bialostosky and Perry argue that Cummings should not have been defended with City resources, because she was named individually in the lawsuit.
They also maintain that the council made the decision authorizing the city attorney's defense of Cummings in an executive session, although executive session law states that no final decision may be made in the closed sessions.
After a review of the recordings of the five executive sessions named by Perry and Bialostosky, the OGEC decided to launch an official investigation into the council's actions in those executive sessions. The OGEC is set to come to a determination on the case in May.
After running unopposed for two vacant city council seats in 2018, newcomers Jules Walters and Bill Relyea were sworn into the council in January.
While they were new to the City Council, they were already familiar with the goings on at 22500 Salamo Road. Walters spent the months leading up to the announcement of her campaign attending council meetings and Relyea served on the planning commission before taking office as a councilor.
Relyea and Walters joined the council at a critical moment in West Linn politics. West Linn has been known as something of a political battlefield for years, but 2018 was fraught with particular tension between councilors and with City Manager Eileen Stein. Replacing two of those councilors in 2019 did little to quell the fire, as many hoped it might.
Mayor Russ Axelrod, who was a member of the council majority in 2018, found himself something of an ally in Walters, and one he very much needed after losing the other members of his majority in Brenda Perry and Bob Martin.
It wasn't immediately apparent which way Relyea would swing as 2019 began. For the most part, he kept his cards close, but it eventually became clear he was in the camp of Councilor Rich Sakelik and Council President Teri Cummings, giving them a crucial third vote on key issues like the structure of City legal services, November's ballot measure proposing a charter amendment and the Bernert Creek daylighting study.
With the council as divided as it is at the moment, residents will be watching closely to see how things shake out in November, when Cummings, Sakelik and Axelrod's seats are all up for election.
Tualatin signs stafford IGA at beginning of the year
After the Cities of West Linn and Lake Oswego signed the three-party Intergovernmental Agreement on Stafford development at the end of 2018, Tualatin jumped in to sign earlier this year, after the council stale-mated on an initial vote to sign last year.
The IGA lays out guidelines for development of the Stafford area, which lies between each of the three cities. Specifically the IGA says that the Cities can't start planning development until the state's I-205 widening project is designed, fully funded and construction is less than two years away.
It also states that the section of Stafford north of the Tualatin River cannot be concept designed or requested for Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) expansion for at least 10 years.
After all three cities signed on to the IGA, the Home Builders Association of Metro Portland and David Marks, a member of the Stafford Land Owners Association, filed an appeal of the agreement with the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA). The appeal specifically challenged the 10-year moratorium on planning for the area north of the Tualatin.
However, the applicants dropped the case in August after consultation with legal counsel, which decided that the LUBA appeal was not the best way to challenge certain aspects of the IGA.
Stafford totals more than 6,000 acres, and only a small percentage of that acreage is considered developable due to its challenging topography. Debate over the future of the area has raged for decades, but heated up in 2010 when Metro designated Stafford as urban reserve land (which can be incorporated into the urban growth boundary within the next 50 years).
"I feel very good about this three-way agreement we have," West Linn City Council President Teri Cummings said when City Council signed onto the IGA in December last year. "Word by word, it was very carefully crafted with a lot of give and take on everybody's part, because all three cities have traditionally been interested in preserving the rural character of Stafford to the best extent possible."
Sex ed plan passes
A move by the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board to adopt a comprehensive sex education plan in February sparked controversy among a handful of individuals who felt the curriculum was too mature for school-age students and the district had been inefficient in its methods to commuicate with the community.
In the end the school board unanimously adopted the plan at the request of students who passionately testified about how studying such concepts in school would help them understand sexuality, gender identity and sexual harassment and abuse.
"I spoke to the students and they're not divided like we are. I heard one voice from the students and that was 'we want more information and we want it earlier,'" Board Vice Chair Dylan Hydes said before voting to adopt the curriculum. "There was one student I spoke with who was in 11th grade. She said that if she knew what consent was earlier in life, she'd be a lot happier now."
Had the board not adopted the plan, the district would have failed to comply with mandates from the State Board of Education passed in 2016, requiring comprehensive health curriculum to be taught in schools before the end of the 2018-19 school year.
Before the board's adoption of the plan in February, the district held five community meetings specifically about the curriculum in which many parents and community members expressed concern .
One parent believed teachers did not need to teach acceptance of a variety of genders and sexualities specifically when they could teach acceptance of all people and leave it at that.
"I'm not going to guide my son into becoming a girl (by teaching him gender identity) when God created a boy," said another.
Adoption of comprehensive health education plans sparked similar controversy in other Oregon school districts.
About 100 parents and community members showed up at a Hillsboro School District board meeting in September to protest adoption of a similar comprehensive health curriculum.
Summer brought to West Linn all the usual seasonal fun — kids playing in the fountain at Tanner Creek Park, water sports on the Tualatin and Willamette, vendors lining Willamette Falls Drive offering a variety of treats at the Summer Market, and of course, the Old Time Fair — but this year, summer also brought something no one in town expected, Bill Beaver.
For a town that doesn't see a whole lot of homeless activity, and typically calls the police whenever it does, West Linn certainly took a shine to the 73-year-old man from Marathon, Fla. who resided just below the Walmart parking lot for a few weeks in May and June.
A Facebook post about Beaver on the West Linn Community Page garnered over 150 comments, most of them sharing heart-warming interactions with the house-less gentleman.
"He is living an incredible life! Wow. Did not ask for a thing. Such a nice man. Walked away in awe in tears. Very inspirational," one person wrote of him.
"This man is Bill Beaver, he is a kind man who is no threat to West Linn. He isn't here asking for anything but kindness. He came here from Florida to fulfill a life-long dream of seeing the Rose Parade and also to watch an Oregon State Beavers football game," wrote another. "He enjoys meeting people and helping them gain perspective about life. We all lead such busy lives that we miss so much, myself included. I am so grateful that I finally went and met this man."
Not everyone took such a shining to Beaver though.
West Linn Police Chief Terry Kruger said WLPD received calls about him everyday he was in town, and many of the callers wanted to see Beaver gone.
Beaver himself also noted that while most people he encountered in West Linn were friendly, he had felt some hostility in town
According to "Humans of the Keys," a Facebook Page dedicated to following the lives of people from the Florida Keys, including Beaver, he made it back to his home in Marathon, Fla. after achieving his life-long goal of seeing an Oregon State Beavers football game.
Suit against councilor has state-wide implications
A judge serving in Clackamas County Circuit Court shocked local elected officials, journalists and public records advocates by ruling that official notes of local elected officials are not public record. The decision came in July after West Linn resident Rory Bialostosky sued City Council President Teri Cummings for her council notes after making two records requests for them, which resulted in no disclosed notes.
"It was a blow for transparency," Bialostosky said of the judge's decision. He has since appealed the ruling with Oregon's appellate court.
Bialostosky originally asked for the notes because he feels Cummings has ignored the interests of the majority of West Linn citizens. He said he also feels this council is very dysfunctional and believes Cummings' notes might hold some clues as to why.
Though Bialostosky maintained that public officials, such as the governor, frequently hand over their requested notes, Cummings disagreed.
"I do not know anybody that's ever had to hand in their notes, because it's not really being done. The League of Oregon Cities might be telling you you need be careful what you right down," she said.
Still, five former city councilors signed statements to the judge before his judgement stating that they knew their council notes were public record and would have handed them over if requested.
At a City Council meeting Aug. 5 current Councilor Jules Walters went on the record saying she was opposed to the idea of settling the matter in court.
Cummings was represented in the case by the office of City Attorney Tim Ramis, costing the City around $30,000 in legal fees. Whether it was legal for the City Attorney's office to defend Cummings is currently being investigated by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.
Historic paper mill reopens
After shutting down its paper-making machines for a year and a half, the more than 100 year old West Linn Paper Mill flipped the switches back on this summer, under new ownership and a new name.
The Willamette Falls Paper Company, a subsidiary of the Vancouver, Wash.-based holding company Columbia Ventures Corporation., began cranking out paper this summer.
The company is focused on sustainable paper-making and has found a way to make paper using no wood products. The company is currently using agricultural waste like wheat straw but would like to begin using hemp waste.
According to Director of Technology and Sustainability Phil Harding, using agricultural waste for paper offers environmentally-friendly benefits like requiring less water and producing a much smaller carbon foot-print than traditional Kraft pulp methods, used by 90% of paper mills.
The West Linn Paper Company was one of West Linn's largest employers for nearly 130 years before closing down in 2017.
While the mill doesn't currently employ all of the 250 people let go in 2017, it has rehired many of those workers so that its new staff is 95% former West Linn Paper employees.
Willamette Falls Paper Company entered into a five-year lease agreement with renewal options with Portland General Electric, which owns the property and is currently working with the City of West Linn on redeveloping the entire waterfront area around the mill.
School district passes $206.8 million bond
The West Linn-Wilsonville School District carried on its tradition of successfully passing capital bonds this year. The passage of a $206.8 million bond in November's special election marked the district's 9th bond since 1979.
The bond passed on a margin of 61% to 39% with those in opposition voicing concern that the price tag was too big and stating that some of the projects included were unnecessary.
The seven projects to be funded by the bond will address capacity needs across the district, as population grows, especially in Wilsonville. The projects will also improve school safety and provide technology and facility upgrades.
The biggest ticket item on the list is a project to retrofit Athey Creek Middle School as the new Arts and Technology High School and build a new middle school on the district's property on Dollar Street. In total, this project is expected to cost $88 million.
Another significant project, though less costly at $8 million, is to enlarge the stadium at West Linn High School and add more parking spaces.
The bond will also fund a new primary school in Wilsonville, a new auditorium at Wilsonville High School, rewiring all schools, new technology for the schools, more secure entrances at schools and green houses at each middle school, among other things.
WLHS GSA walkout gains national attention
A group of students made national headlines when they walked out of West Linn High School Nov. 8, sending a message about the harassment they've faced and the better response they'd like to see from school administration.
The walkout, organized by the Gay Straight Alliance, came after a number of LGBTQ+ students reported incidents of harassment and a Chick-fil-A food truck had established a presence at home football games.
Over 100 students participated in the walkout, many sharing stories of how they had been targeted by other students with slurs, physical harassment and vandalism and how they felt school administration had not adequately dealt with the incidents.
The presence of the Chick-fil-A truck (the company's non-profit is known to donate to anti-LGBTQ causes and even conversion therapy) on campus, they said, exacerbated the feelings of homophobia and reitereated the fact that administration was not listening to their calls for help.
The students caught the attention of state Reps. Rachel Prusak and Courtney Neron (Wilsonville) and state Sen. Rob Wagner.
"Every student at West Linn High School deserves to feel safe at school and in their community," Prusak was quoted saying in a joint press release with Wagner. "The lives of all our kids should be valued and respected, no matter how they identify or who they love, and our school systems should be places of inspiration for all students."
Several students from the walkout, including GSA President Susie Walters, appealed to the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board at the board's next meeting.
"I have been asked inappropriate questions by staff and faculty regarding LGBTQ conversations. I have been discouraged from signing up for certain required classes. I have been discouraged from attending many West Linn-Wilsonville school events," Walters told the school board. "I have been physically harassed on school property. I have been called 'dyke,' 'faggot,' 'lesbo' and 'queer' by my peers. I have received death threats to my person and to my fellow LGBTQ peers."
A week after the students' testimony at the board meeting, WLHS Principal Greg Neuman acknowledged the harassment of LGBTQ+ students in an email to WLHS families, writing, "This type of behavior in our school community is unacceptable. We are deeply committed to fostering a safe environment for our students free from bullying, harassment, and discrimination of any kind."
Neuman said school and district staff would be consulting LGBTQ advocacy groups about how to better ensure safety and equity for students at WLHS.
Long-awaited parks master plan finally adopted
After debating, re-working and amending the Parks and Recreation Master Plan for over a year, the West Linn City Council finally approved the 20-year visionary plan, Oct. 14.
However when the council adopted it, they said they wanted to amend it as soon as possible. City staff made the desired amendment, which council adopted at its next business meeting in November.
The master plan, which was last updated in 2017, lays out the goals for the Parks and Recreation department over the next 20 years.
The 20-Year Master Plan for West Linn Parks, Recreation and Open Space, as it's officially titled, had been ready for adoption for well over a year but was delayed by debate over the mention of a possible aquatic center. Disagreements between the council, Parks and Rec Advisory Board and Planning Commission also contributed to the lengthy adoption process.
As the document neared adoption this fall, citizen concerns brought to the council delayed adoption yet again.
When the council was set to adopt the plan at its Sept. 9 meeting, a resident alerted the council to the fact that the public hearing for that meeting had not been properly noticed to the City's neighborhood associations, as is required by code.
Highlights of the plan include increasing access to the Tualatin and Willamette Rivers, an indoor recreation center, and enhancements at Maddax Woods, Sunset Park, Fields Bridge Park, Oppenlander Field and Marylhurst Heights Park.
"We're very proud of the plan.The community is very proud of the plan. You should be very proud of the plan," Mayor Russ Axelrod said when the plan was adopted.
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