This story has been updated from its original version.
As a new decade lands on our doorstep with a resounding thud, the noise brings to mind what an eventful and dramatic decade West Linn has had, with many events echoing those of the present day.
We had it all from 2010-19: Turmoil at City Hall, dissent in our neighborhoods and contentious discussion around land-use decisions. Let's go back 10 years as the first decade of the new millenium came to a close:
CITY COUNCIL: As the new decade began in 2010, a divided City Council was causing trouble in West Linn's City Hall, as supporters of Mayor Patti Galle and Councilor Teri Cummings began a recall effort against the other three councilors who often voted against Galle and Cummings — John Kovash, Jody Carson and Scott Burgess.
The petitioners needed 1,593 signatures, but in the end the effort failed. In February the council majority passed a vote of "no confidence" against Galle during a meeting boycotted by Galle and Cummings. The Tidings published an editorial urging Galle to resign, stating "Our version of local politics has taken on the air of a new reality television show."
As spring 2010 unspooled, Galle was working to push out City Manager Chris Jordan, accusing him and three of the city councilors of impeding an audit of public projects, threatening to report him to the FBI and Oregon Attorney General and asking outright for his resignation. Cummings and Galle insisted they met with the attorney general regarding concerns about the City's plan to build a new city reservoir in Bolton with a large pipe to feed the reservoir, a project the two called overblown and lacking enough research.
Before long, Galle's tenure unraveled, as she was accused of using false information in the voters' pamphlet regarding her educational background. Galle insisted the documentation of her degree was lost in a robbery shortly before her move to West Linn. State investigators seized Galle's work computer and inspected her City emails and in April 2010, Galle resigned and pleaded guilty to a Class C felony, for which she was sentenced to probation and paid a fine.
A record 21 West Linn residents filed for appointment as interim mayor; Councilor John Kovash was chosen by the council and in November 2010 Kovash was elected to the position.
Peace seemed to reign for a few short years. But in 2014, a petition was started to recall Mayor Kovash and Councilors Jody Carson, Jenni Tan and Mike Jones for what was described as a failure to listen to citizens. The petition failed but Kovash did resign in early 2015.
Newly elected Councilor Russ Axelrod was appointed interim mayor, then elected in the spring election after campaigning with fellow candidate Brenda Perry on a platform heavy on criticism of city staff, particularly City Manager Chris Jordan, and advocating for more citizen participation in government.
CITY MANAGER: In summer 2015 beleaguered City Manager Chris Jordan resigned after 10 years with the city, followed in quick succession by his assistant city manager and community development director — all of whom received generous severance packages.
Jordan's successor, Eileen Stein, started off strong with the seeming approval of all five councilors, but the honeymoon period was brief as the councilors — and their supporters — who opposed Jordan's prior creation of an "assistant city attorney" position were dismayed to find that Stein found the position to be helpful to city staff and suggested keeping it.
As 2015 rolled by, in City Council chambers, things were back to normal. Lacking a majority, Councilors Jenni Tan and Thomas Frank often split votes with Axelrod and Brenda Perry and little business was accomplished.
By December, Councilor Bob Martin was elected to fill the vacancy created by Axelrod, but his term was cut a year short by a leave of abscence. His decision to not run for re-election was hardly surprising on the heels of an investigation into allegations of harassment that were publicly leveled against him by two different residents. Martin ultimately was cleared in both cases but by mid-2018 he took leave for several months, citing the toll the case and City Council ire took on his health.
By 2016 Tan and Frank had declined to run again and the two new city councilors — Richard Sakelik and Teri Cummings (back again after a time away from the council) — were soon embroiled in the familiar West Linn Council Us & Them Show, Season Two, with Perry and Martin most often supporting Axelrod (who had since shifted his allegiances to the city manager/staff) and Cummings and Sakelik — who frequently criticized City staff and Stein and tended to vote in opposition to the mayor — in lockstep.
Season 3 of the West Linn City Council Us & Them Show began in 2018 when Jules Walters and Bill Relyea ran unopposed for the seats vacated by Perry and Martin. Although Relyea/Cummings and Sakelik maintained a campaign of opposition to Stein and the assistant city attorney issue, Axelrod and Walters were steadfast in their support of City staff and representation of the citizenry, beyond what they referred to as the "vocal minority" (a term derided by Cummings and Sakelik).
The decade wrapped with a pinnacle of drama for the City Council, as it was accused of two executive session violations and Cummings was sued for a failure to produce public records.
A judge ruled in her favor, but as 2019 came to a close, the council was under scrutiny for its decision to approve legal representation by the city attorney in Cummings' suit.
LEGAL SERVICES: The city's debate over its legal services remains unresolved as the decade comes to a close. Since former city manager Chris Jordan's creation of a new assistant city attorney position in 2012 — which to many seemed in violation of city charter — the issue has nipped at the heels of staff and council alike.
In 2013 the City put a measure on the ballot changing the charter language so the position would comply with city rules, which passed. A 2017 ballot measure attempting to clarify Council's purview of the city's legal representation failed to pass, as did another attempt in 2019, despite the fact that the assistant city attorney resigned in 2018 and the City did not fill the position.
LOT: As the decade began, the Lake Owego/Tigard Water Partnership (which had long owned a water treatment facility located in West Linn's Robinwood neighborhood) announced plans to remodel the decades-old plant in a large-scale $250 million project slated to begin in 2013.
The plan to double the plant's capacity was rejected by the West Linn Planning Commission in 2012, but that was appealed by the City Council, which approved the project in 2013. Alarmed neighbors filed a lawsuit, accusing the city of holding backroom meetings about the project.
The suit was dropped, but the project approval was appealed to the Land Use Board of Appeals, which remanded the matter back to the City Council.
In the end the plant was expanded, the city was given enough funding to replace an aging water reservoir, and the bad blood created by the turmoil continued to simmer beneath the surface.
ARCH BRIDGE: In 2011 the historic bridge between West Linn and Oregon City closed for two years as a $10 million rehabilitation project overhauled the iconic structure. During the peak of the LOT controversy a new city project came to the fore, riling up many residents of the Bolton and Robinwood neighborhoods: The Arch Bridge Area Master Plan.
Early in the decade, the city conceived of an economic rehabilitation of the city's waterfront neighborhoods and hired a team of consultants to help perform outreach and a draft master plan. By 2015 efforts had stalled, weighed down by accusations of a lack of citizen involvement and unwanted influence by Metro.
Rebranded the West Linn Waterfront Plan in 2016, efforts continue, this time focused more on the industrial waterfront area and less on nearby neighborhoods.
RED TAPE: Adding fuel to the fire of the criticisms of the city's planning processes, Jordan's team in 2013 promoted changes in city code to "cut the red tape" in order to foster economic growth, but many citizens saw the efforts as an attempt to bypass the review needed for project consideration. By the second half of the decade, many of the changes were in the process of being dialed back.
STAFFORD: As the decade unspooled, developers began eyeing the lush farmland between West Linn, Lake Oswego and Tualatin, and residents there began to get nervous. Metro added the area to its urban reserves, prompting a LUBA appeal, which was rejected. Metro reaffirmed its decision in 2016, and the next year, the three cities signed an IGA regarding the future of development in the Stafford area.
LOCKS: In 2011 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed the Willamette Falls Locks, citing safety concerns and needed repairs too expensive to consider. As the decade progressed, efforts to garner support for reopening the locks and finding a new owner have continued.
In 2015 the Oregon Legislature mandated formation of a task force dedicated to this goal. Since that time the Legislature has set aside more than $500,000 in funding for the locks and ACE has indicated its willingness to let a new owner take over the site, but no measurable progress has been made.
PARKING: A controversial issue thought long resolved boiled to the top late in the decade and some students at West Linn High School decided they were fed up with a restricted parking zone around the school. A burgeoning student population over the decade had pushed more and more student drivers into neighboring streets, angering neighbors by the blatant violation of city codes.
One student threatened to sue the city over the parking rules, and the school district and City Council found itself stuck in the middle between voting citizens and a large group about to vote, each pointing the finger at each other. Finally, in 2019 the district blinked and added a parking lot project to a list of capital improvements to be completed with bond funds.
THE FALLS: In the 2010-19 decade, West Linn and surrounding communities seem to come to the realization that they had a gem in their midst — Willamette Falls.
The Willamette Falls & Landings Heritage Area Coalition (WFHAC) was formed and submitted a feasibility study to the Park Service that met all 10 of the criteria to obtain designation as a National Heritage Area. The final step is to obtain congressional approval.
Across the river, the shuttered Blue Heron Paper Co. mill was purchased by a private buyer and an agreement was signed with the county, Oregon City and Metro to enhance redevelopment with a public riverwalk installation.
After no progress for several years, the buyer sold the mill to the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde, which has not yet announced its plans for the site.
The Tribes also partnered with Portland General Electric to install a fishing platform at the falls, a traditional tribal harvest site, a move that angered other regional tribes that also claim historic fishing rights at the falls.
On the West Linn side during the same period the West Linn paper mill closed for nearly two years, then reopened under new owners again just as the decade concluded, with a plan to manufacture more sustainable paper.
Just above the falls, the City of West Linn began coveting the site of Blue Heron's old settlement pond on the shores of Willamette River for inclusion in its long-term parks master plan, which included more access to the river for citizens. The site currently is owned by Water Environmental Services/Clackamas County.
SURPLUS BUILDINGS: Unused city buildings were on the minds of many in the past decade. Two former fire halls met with very different fates — the small Robinwood-area station was adopted by a group of dedicated volunteers, offering to complete building maintenance and rental scheduling for management autonomy from the City.
A similar effort was begun by neighbors of the Bolton fire hall, but progress has been slow. An appeal for remodeling funds from the City has yet to see any money and the City Council has not yet given the project its seal of approval.
West Linn's former police station also is in limbo, as the City wants to maintain ownership of the nearly 100-year-old building as an anchor for redevelopment in the Arch Bridge area but has no use of the building.
The only interested tenant, Willamette Falls & Landings Heritage Area Coalition, has requested $600,000 for building rehabilitation from the City, which has so far committed $400,000 to the project.
Executive session ethics complaints weren't the only legal troubles faced by West Linn over the last decade.
CITY HALL: Then-assistant city Manger Kirsten Wyatt filed a tort claim against the City in 2016 alleging that she was passed over for the interim city manager's job because she was a woman raising young children. Four months later Wyatt left the city after coming to "mutual separation agreement."
WLPD: In 2012, a former animal control officer with the West Linn Police Department settled a sexual discrimination lawsuit as well, and in 2017 the WLPD's own chief, Terry Timeus, faced accusations (but no charges) of driving under the influence.
Timeus resigned and one of his lieutenants, Mike Stradley, was put on paid leave for two months for policy violations in the incident.
A Portland man filed a lawsuit against the City alleging that Timeus investigated him in a racially motivated attempt to have him fired.
Timeus, according to the lawsuit, began an investigation despite the fact that the business where the plaintiff was employed was outside of West Linn city limits.
Two WLPD detectives were put on the case at Timeus' request, according to the suit, which was sent to federal court in 2018 at the request of the defendants.
Also in 2018 an arbitrator ruled that the West Linn Police Department was justified in firing Officer Tom Newberry in 2017 after several racist Facebook posts became public, but that Newberry also should receive back pay because the department was aware of the posts and did nothing about them. The city planned to appeal the ruling.
Editor's note: The original version of this story incorrectly described the City Council tenure of former Councilor Bob Martin, who served his full term that ended in 2018. The Tidings regrets the error.
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