Balance of power
Once upon a time in the land of West Linn, there was a City Manager who some thought wielded too much control. Let's call him CJ.
Because this caused disquiet among the City Council and many in the land, he left to seek his fortune elsewhere in 2015.
Still some could not stop thinking about him and were frozen in time, unable to move forward. One such person is Councilor Teri Cummings, who continues to fear the legacy of CJ and is the driving force behind the ill-judged 3-552 measure.
When CJ left four years ago, the City Council searched high and low for a new City Manager; one who would bring both experience and up-to-date ideas.
West Linn was lucky. The City Council and panels made of citizens from all city neighborhoods approved the choice of Eileen Stein as the new City Manager and she has served us well.
The City of West Linn abides by the Council/City Manager form of governance. So what does this mean? It means that power is shared and balanced, with clear boundaries between the two areas.
Now under Measure 3-552, Councilors Cummings, Sakelik and Reylea seek to upset that balance by diminishing the City Manager's powers and placing total control of legal services under their jurisdiction.
The City Attorney bills by the hour and currently the City Manager reviews this billing and ensures that attorney response times are timely and questions requiring attorney time are appropriate and not wasteful. Is it realistic for the council to review billing, assign tasks to the City Attorney, oversee contracts, and handle Human Resource issues, union negotiations, legal questions from staff and a myriad or other tasks?
Can an untrained City Council with one scheduled business meeting a month manage this?
City Councilors are elected to serve four-year terms. The only qualification for a councilor being city residence for at least one year and that they remain a resident for the whole of their term.
Compare this with the qualifications required of a City Manager. These include a minimum of an under-graduate degree in public administration or public policy or political science with experience in financial management, economic development, strategic planning, organizational communication, project management, labor relations, city planning, human resources etc.
A City Manager is also required to have had an average tenure of seven to eight years of progressively responsible experience as a City Administrator.
Questions have been raised about the West Linn City Charter noninterference clause (Section 21A). It states: No City Council member may directly or indirectly, by suggestion, or otherwise, attempt to interfere, influence, or coerce the City Manager in the award of a public contract or the hiring, discipline, or termination of any personnel. This shall not prevent a City Council member from providing input to the City Manager relating to City business or the performance of an employee or department.
This clause defines the boundaries between elected officials and the City Manager. Balance of power is vital to ensure that the city runs efficiently. Too much power on either side of the Council/City Manager governance invites the potential for abuse.
Join me on voting no on Measure 3-552 and keep city management balanced and in experienced hands.
Brenda Perry is a former West Linn City Councilor.
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