Looking back at 2021 in West Linn
"Confusion" may be the defining word of 2021.
Perhaps that is generous, given that we dealt with an ongoing — and now resurgent — pandemic as well as threats to democracy, a ferocious ice storm, a deadly heat dome, supply shortages, rising inflation and the increasingly urgent question of when (if ever) society would return to some semblance of normal.
Unlike 2020, we got tastes of "normal" this year — hence the confusion. There was an outcry of relief when vaccines began to be widely distributed and students returned to the classroom on a part-time basis in early 2021. Oregon celebrated its grand reopening midway through the year, providing more cause for optimism as the economy continued on a welcomed, if unexpected, upward trajectory.
But then came the delta variant, and now omicron. With cases spreading throughout a widely vaccinated nation (though, thankfully, many seem to be mild), we end this year almost as confused as we've ever been since this pandemic nightmare started about 24 months ago.
At times, the route to clarity is best paved by reflection. So before we begin 2022, join us on this journey through the last 12 months.
— Patrick Malee
Chaotic start for new council
Typically after a November election, the first West Linn City Council meeting of the new year centers on the swearing-in of new members.
That was indeed the case Jan. 4, though very little else that took place would be described as "typical."
After then-City Councilor Jules Walters won the election for mayor over then-Council President Rich Sakelik in November 2020, while Rory Bialostosky and Mary Baumgardner earned spots as newcomers on the council, there was much discussion over how to fill the council vacancy left by Walters when she was sworn in as mayor. At the Jan. 4 meeting, those discussions evolved into a shouting match that disrupted the swearing-in ceremony.
Sakelik and City Councilor Teri Cummings, whose terms ended at the close of 2020, argued that the vacancy should be filled by the old council rather than the new one that was installed in January. Despite repeated attempts from Cummings to derail the meeting and alter the agenda, Baumgardner and Bialostosky were successfully sworn into office — though not without interruption as Cummings repeatedly stated "point of order" while the oaths were administered by Municipal Judge Rhett Bernstein — and Walters officially took office as mayor.
A historic ice storm
West Linn was particularly devastated by the snow and ice storm that hit the Portland region in February, as piles of downed trees lined the streets and many lost power for more than a week.
Portland General Electric said it was the region's worst winter storm in 40 years. Throughout the first two nights of the storm, residents heard trees snapping and transformers blowing. Each blown transformer lit the sky with a blue-green glow, according to residents who witnessed the event.
According to PGE, at least 11,000 customers in the West Linn area lost power in the early days of the storm. At one point, the city asked residents to use water only if necessary as power was out at the water treatment plant and the water supply was running low.
With temperatures below freezing, many neighbors began checking on one another, sharing supplies and helping to clean up tree debris.
Throughout the first two nights of the storm, residents heard trees snapping and transformers blowing. Each blown transformer lit the sky with a blue-green glow, according to residents who witnessed the event.
Damage from the storm was estimated in the millions, and the city removed enough debris to fill over 900 dump trucks.
Post office closes, with new one on the way
Amid widespread community outcry, the West Linn post office closed in late February â€“ but a new one is expected to open in 2022.
The closure of the office at West Linn Central Village came after several years of negotiations between the United States Postal Service and property owner Gramor, with Gramor granting several lease extensions in the hope that a new location could be found.
Oregon's congressional delegation joined the efforts of local officials and community members to keep a post office in the city, and in May the city announced that USPS had secured a location in the Cascade Summit shopping center. The lease for the office lasts 10 years, with the potential for two five-year extensions. This means that for the next decade, West Linn won't have to deal with the back and forth between looming closures and temporary lease extensions, as has been the case for the past four years.
The old post office was demolished this year to make room for new storefronts, while construction of the new office began later in the year and is expected to be complete in 2022.
A special day
Just a few days shy of a year since the state experienced its first case of COVID-19, elementary schools across West Linn-Wilsonville School District welcomed kindergarten students back to the classroom for the first day of hybrid in-person learning Feb. 24.
A plethora of added health and safety features went into making the reopening possible.
For one, all students and staff were required to wear a face covering while at school. The district also had a strict policy that A/B cohorts wouldn't mix, and buildings had a more rigorous cleaning schedule than typical. Bathrooms, for example, were cleaned every hour. High-touch surfaces were also disinfected throughout the day and a more thorough cleaning was done at the end of each day.
District officials carefully mapped out each classroom to ensure a 6-foot radius of space was between all individuals, per state guidelines.
The district's youngest learners were welcomed back first, and older grades followed in the ensuing weeks. When a new school year started this fall, the district was back to full-time in-person learning.
WLHS teacher appointed, then elected, to council
West Linn's newest city councilor is better known to most in town as a longtime history and government teacher at West Linn High School.
Todd Jones was appointed as an interim councilor in February and sworn into the office March 1. In May, he was officially elected to fill the remainder of the term vacated by Jules Walters when she became mayor.
The WLHS teacher of 17 years said he applied for the interim council position to bring to fruition the ideas he and others have had to better the community. Given his experience on the city's Citizens' Budget Committee, one of Jones' main priorities was to craft a biennial budget to address city needs — particularly those surrounding infrastructure and support of local businesses.
Jones also said he would aggressively pursue state and federal funding for some of those improvements, like the needed roadwork on Highway 43 and Willamette Falls Drive. He also hoped to elevate citizen's voices within the city government, specifically through diverse representation of West Linn residents in citizen advisory groups and more specific means for youths to advise the city.
Uncertain future for Oppenlander Fields
After community pushback in the spring about the potential sale of the West Linn-Wilsonville School District's Oppenlander property, the district and city of West Linn agreed to let voters decide whether the city should buy the 10-acre parcel on Rosemont Road. That vote will take place next year when the city puts a bond out to the community.
The community has used Oppenlander, a large rectangular property with grass fields and open space, for youth sports and dog walking for the past 40 years. A large contingent of community members, in particular families with kids in youth baseball, rallied to ensure the fields remained after learning the district had put the property up for sale in May. Nearly 2,500 residents signed a petition calling on the district and city to preserve the land as a park.
The price of the property will be determined in a future appraisal to take place later this year, according to the announcement. Earlier this year, the site was appraised at $6.5 million.
Dealing with record-breaking heat
Records, they say, are meant to be broken.
Amid a "heat dome" that covered the region in hot air, temperatures set new records for three straight days and peaked at 113 degrees June 28.
The Adult Community Center was offered as a cooling center for those who didn't have air conditioning.
More than 100 people across the state died during the heat wave, including more than a dozen in Clackamas County and one in West Linn.
More fallout from Fesser case
The ripple effects of the Michael Fesser scandal at the West Linn Police Department continued this year. In February, federal prosecutors announced they would not pursue charges after investigated whether WLPD violated Fesser's civil rights in the 2017 false arrest. The U.S. Attorney's Office, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the FBI launched the investigation in 2020 after West Linn paid Fesser $600,000 to settle a civil rights lawsuit.
Prosecutors said they could not prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the officers involved in the arrest willfully violated Fesser's civil rights.
Meanwhile, in May the Police Policy Committee of Oregon's Department of Public Safety Standards and Training voted unanimously to recommend permanently revoking the certifications of former Chief Terry Timeus and former Sgt. Tony Reeves. That recommendation was later approved by the state's Board of Public Safety Standards and Training. Another former WLPD officer involved in the false arrest, Michael Stradley, resigned from the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training after being on leave for more than a year.
Changes on the school board
After a long and uncertain election season during the spring, West Linn-Wilsonville School District Superintendent Kathy Ludwig swore in the three new board members — Kirsten Wyatt, Louis Taylor and Kelly Sloop — July 12. They replaced outgoing members Dylan Hydes, Regan Molatore and Ginger Fitch.
Wyatt and Taylor ran unopposed for their seats, while Sloop narrowly defeated Seiji Shiratori to earn her spot on the board.
Later in the year, Board Chair Chelsea King announced she would run for state Senate.
A new police chief
Nearly one year after the city of West Linn fired former Police Chief Terry Kruger, City Manager Jerry Gabrielatos selected Peter Mahuna, who served as captain under Kruger and interim chief after Kruger's departure, as the police department's next leader. The city announced Mahuna's selection as chief Nov. 17.
Mahuna, who came to WLPD after 26 years with the Portland Police Bureau, began serving as acting chief of police in April 2020 after the city put Kruger on leave over his mishandling of the Michael Fesser case.
Throughout the recruitment process, which was led by the city's hired consulting firm Emergency Consulting Services International, the city touted public participation. ESCI recruiters met with several community groups at the beginning of the process before developing a candidate profile. Several community members also participated in an interview of Mahuna and the other two finalists for the position, Cory Chase and Terry Moss. Some of those community members, however, criticized the process after Mahuna's selection was announced.
More than 100 join lawsuit against former WL doctor
One-hundred-and-fourteen women and girls joined the lawsuit alleging that former West Linn doctor David Farley, who last year moved from West Linn to St. Anthony, Idaho, sexually abused them at West Linn Family Health Center, Providence Willamette Falls Medical Center in Oregon City and Legacy Meridian Park Hospital in Tualatin.
Most of the alleged abuse occurred at West Linn Family Health Center, which Farley opened in 1993 and owned until last August, but some of the suit's plaintiffs assert he abused them at the Providence and Legacy hospitals in Oregon City and Tualatin. The suit now seeks $570 million in damages for the victims. When the suit was initially filed in October 2020, the four original plaintiffs sought $40 million.
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