Retain charter integrity: Vote no on Measure 3-552
I put a statement in the voter's pamphlet recommending a NO vote on Measure 3-552, but given some inaccuracies presented by the three City Councilors (Cummings, Relyea, Sakelik) proposing this Measure in the community and Tidings recently, I'm compelled to provide additional clarifying comments.
Measure 3-552 contains two principal elements. First, it adds clause 8d to restore a previous clause (8f) removed in 2013. The Councilors claim this clause is necessary to "restore" the Councils control over legal services, but that is simply untrue. Our City Attorney has informed Council that 8d is not necessary because other sections of the Charter already provide the Council full authority and oversight of all legal advisers and services, and in fact, that is exactly the case since I've been on Council since 2015.
Secondly, the Measure adds language removing any "control" our City Manager (CM) has involving legal matters. This revision was never in the Charter previously, so it is not "restoring" anything. To the contrary, the second revision would undermine an essential functional role of the CM to oversee many legal aspects of City operations he/she is responsible for. In this regard, a portion of the explanatory statement in the voter's pamphlet also misrepresents the effects of the Measure "if passed."
The second clause originated after these Councilors voted to hire an attorney to assess how Council could prevent the CM from hiring any staff with a legal background. The Attorney offered this second clause only if Council felt it necessary to revise the Charter for this purpose, but it was not "recommended" to do so. In fact, the attorney, and our City Attorney, indicated that the Council can alternatively control any undesired hiring simply by adjusting the City budget over which it has complete control and authority. And in fact, the Council recently used this approach and eliminated a line-item in the budget for an assistant city attorney position used years ago. In most cities, the Council has a good working relationship with their CM to resolve such matters. However, if the CM refuses to cooperate (unlikely scenario), he/she can also be replaced because the Council has full hire/fire authority over the CM and City Attorney which are "at-will" positions.
It's important to understand there are many legal aspects of our City operations and governance that don't fall under direct purview of the Council, except to ensure consistency with City policies and goals. Therefore, it's critical that our Charter retain language recognizing the different roles, duties and responsibilities the CM has for various legal aspects of city management, and that we maintain these controls, and very importantly the related checks and balances of power and authority intended by our Council/CM form of government. We can retain these important City functions by simply voting NO on Measure 3-552.
Finally, I feel the need to apologize to our community and City for the disrespect voiced by Councilor Cummings toward me in her questioning my integrity in her Opinion piece last week. My values regarding legal aspects of city management have not changed. I have adjusted my thinking on some aspects after spending time carefully examining and learning about city management, issues and other factors as your Mayor. I take my oath to uphold our Charter and protect governance functions and roles seriously, and I deeply appreciate our community for the care you give and seriousness you take to protect our life and encourage meaningful, respectful discourse in West Linn.
Russ Axelrod is mayor of West Linn.
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