Transparency, process and fiscal responsibility
I ran for City Council in 2014 because I was concerned that West Linn was being run without consultation or input from citizens. Too many decisions were made with limited public testimony allowed. I wanted to increase transparency, ensure that a process was followed and always be mindful of fiscal responsibility. Teri Cummings helped with my campaign and shared these beliefs at that time. Since she became a Councilor, I am concerned that these ideals may be falling by the wayside.
Transparency is vital in politics. Decisions should be made with development and reasoning in a public setting. When a Councilor participates in a meeting, what they note down is just as important as what they say. These records provide insights into the individual decision maker's thought processes and reasoning. A previous version of the West Linn Council Rules stated that meeting notes were public records, the League of Oregon Cities say the same and interestingly enough, so did our City Attorney, who is now taking the opposite opinion.
The recent court decision regarding meeting notes dealt a serious blow to transparency and will be appealed. It is now a much bigger issue than whether Councilor Cummings can ignore Council Rules. Rules that she recently helped develop over a tortuous and expensive six months. This ruling could prevent scrutiny of other communications like private emails and notes from unofficial meetings. Moves are already being made to clarify the statute in question, because it is not a straightforward issue. All Oregonians should watch this closely, because it has the potential to be very problematic.
Process is another word frequently used by Councilor Cummings especially regarding the posting of agendas 10 days before meetings and including public testimony for review. Unfortunately this Council is having frequent Special Meetings where this rule does not apply. It then becomes a challenge for citizens to know when issues are scheduled for discussion. The Council meetings run so long, that many often tune out before an item is either concluded or postponed to another date. Even an important item like the new City Attorney contract negotiations was timed out and rescheduled. Most people have busy lives and cannot sit for hours as the City Council talks endlessly. So does this truly allow citizens to participate?
Fiscal responsibility becomes much more important as PERS costs escalate. I am still waiting to hear what Councilor Cummings' meeting notes defense has cost the City. Having an attorney and at times a facilitator charge by the hour for these meetings just seems irresponsible. Delaying this third ballot measure on City Attorney services to next year would potentially save the city $10,000, but only Councilor Walters was in favor of this action. Councilors Cummings and Sakelik also ignored the question about repeating the ballot again next year if it failed this time, because of course they will. Also I wonder whether our City Attorney should be working on this measure when he has a potential conflict of interest.
We have almost 26,000 citizens in West Linn and yet we only seem to hear from the vocal minority who support a limited personal agenda. Transparency, Process and Fiscal Responsibility are not just words, they are vitally important to each and every one of us.
Brenda Perry if a former West Linn City councilor
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