Candidate profile: West Linn's McCarthy brings 35 years of conflict resolution experience
Those familiar with the goings-on at City Hall know full well that the West Linn City Council has long been mired in dysfunction and conflict.
Mayoral candidate Bob McCarthy, with 35 years of professional conflict resolution experience as a "third party change agent," believes he has what it takes to help the city turn the page.
"We have this embarrassment. Our reputation has been sullied. Issues take way too long to solve. Interpersonal resentments are reflected in posturing and long meetings," McCarthy said. "It's not healthy for the city."
In his bid to become mayor, McCarthy faces Andrew Mallory, City Councilor Jules Walters and Council President Richard Sakelik. Current Mayor Russ Axelrod opted not to run for reelection.
After growing up in Westport, Connecticut, and moving to Oregon in 1975, McCarthy has lived in West Linn, where he raised two sons with his wife, Jan, since 1993.
McCarthy, who currently serves as president of the Bolton Neighborhood Association, stepped into that work to try and make a difference.
As president, he said he's tried to model how a government body, even a small one, can run smoothly, fairly and with good-spirited engagement from its members.
To do this, McCarthy said he's tried to reimagine the way the BNA communicates.
He said he has done this by giving equal talking time to everyone at meetings, making sure each person speaks directly and takes responsibility for their words, and having others paraphrase another speaker's words to make sure their intent is clearly understood. He said NA members should also feel confident to tell another member when they step outside the NA rules.
To help foster friendlier, more collaborative relationships between councilors, McCarthy said he thinks the council, if all were comfortable with it, should use one another's first names in meetings, except for when taking an official vote.
This type of familiarity keeps conversations moving along, while the formality of titles can make the dialogue feel stiff, he said.
McCarthy noted the deep interpersonal conflict between some members of the current council. In any situation — work, friendships or family — this type of struggle inhibits progress, he said.
"All business is personal. At some level those issues inhibit our ability to think well," McCarthy said. "If I were mayor, I would create the climate where we can have differences, where we can be creative, where we can argue with one another, where we can walk away — well, not anymore (because of health restrictions related to COVID-19 — with a hand on each other's shoulders, feeling good, feeling better, as friends."
Though his work is mostly devoted to resolving conflict, McCarthy said that when used properly, conflict can be positive. It can be used to inspire creativity and new ideas, but it causes bigger problems when subsumed and unresolved.
While he is usually the one putting issues to rest and helping others get along, McCarthy has learned a lot about forgiveness and reconciliation from dealing with personal conflicts.
McCarthy's background goes beyond his work as a change agent. From 1966 to 1969, McCarthy served in the U.S. Army at Fort Bliss, Texas, and later, as the Cold War intensified, in West Germany.
From his time in the military, McCarthy said he learned discipline, teamwork, responsibility and the importance of completing a mission.
Besides improving relationships on the council, McCarthy said as mayor he'd like to offer more support to the city's neighborhood associations. He said the city should see them as allies and should help them broaden their reach to engage all citizens in the neighborhood.
McCarthy said he'd also like to make sure people who call City Hall with questions or concerns or testify to the council leave feeling satisfied and that their words had an impact.
"People testify and they get a 'Thank you.' Oftentimes they leave dissatisfied," McCarthy said.
To help address that, McCarthy said he'd like someone on the council to quickly summarize what each citizen said after their comment to make sure they feel heard. He said this would be a small, positive step toward creating a better climate at City Hall.
Another of McCarthy's priorities is to build off the current council's work: waterfront planning, use of General Obligation (GO) bond funds for transportation, parks and facilities upgrades, addressing racism and fostering diversity in the city.
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