A clean sweep opportunity
According to last week's West Linn Tidings, no candidates have filed for the three open seats in the November City Council election. This year having been "a tough year," was suggested as the reason, but people I have spoken to voiced a different concern. Their apprehension is related to the time commitment.
When I was on council from 2015-2018, we also had tough issues. For instance, the Sunset
School and Midhill developments were both contentious and time consuming. However the time we spent in meetings, during the first two years of my tenure, was miniscule compared to now.
Taking a baseline of the meetings in 2016, before Councilors Cummings and Sakelik were seated, time spent totaled 86 hours in 36 meetings. In addition there were 16 Executive Sessions totaling approximately an additional 14 hours.
In 2018 there were 43 council meetings and time was extended to 150 hours, an increase of 74%, but worse was to come! In 2019, 42 council meetings taking 161 hours resulted in an 87% increase over the 2016 baseline. Additionally there were 22 Executive Sessions in 2018 and 16 in 2019 accounting for approximately 19 hours and 28 hours respectively.
This year to date the council has already met for 90 hours in 29 business meetings, work sessions and special sessions. Additionally there have been 29 Executive Sessions with 8 of those in May alone. It's no wonder that potential candidates are concerned about the time commitment.
We also need to remember that our City Attorney attends all Executive Sessions and most of the other meetings. We pay for these services by the hour. Last year's budget for legal services was more than triple the one set two years earlier, and yet we still exceeded it by 22%.
However these long frequent meetings do not necessarily correlate with efficiency or productivity. During my final two years on council, I sat through many mind-numbing sessions where the same point was made repeatedly. This is not efficient time management.
One citizen I spoke to voiced concerns about transparency and ensuring that all citizens were heard. This of course is important, but when discussions go on for hours, do citizens have the time or inclination to stay to the end? This results in less transparency not more.
I believe that the role of the council is primarily to listen, ask pertinent questions and make decisions on what they hear. When making a statement, being concise is more efficient and more likely to be heard.
The good news is that we now have the opportunity to change this culture. Three new members will be able to set fresh rules of conduct. Councilors should maybe have a time limit on their remarks the same way that citizens do now. This would encourage them to be brief and succinct. Let's bring efficiency back to the way the City Council operates.
Hopefully any potential candidate will take note of this and recognize the opportunity for change. We as citizens also need to be careful who we vote for this year. Personally I'm looking for candidates who are willing to work as a team and do not have a specific agenda beyond what is best for our beautiful City of West Linn.
Brenda Perry is a former West Linn city councilor.
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