Have you had enough, West Linn?
You have to wonder what Jerry Gabrielatos was thinking last week when West Linn announced its intent to hire him as the new city manager.
The announcement came late on a Wednesday afternoon, just hours after Mayor Russ Axelrod — leader of the City Council that chose Gabrielatos after a seven-month recruiting process — clarified that he was not stepping down from the council.
Instead, Axelrod said he simply wasn't running for reelection this November — a rather seismic announcement in and of itself, particularly for Gabrielatos. He hadn't even been officially hired yet, and already the city's mayor of five years appeared to be on his way out amid circumstances that were typically chaotic and contentious for West Linn.
But here is what we'd tell Gabrielatos: There is hope yet, because three of the five seats on the council — Axelrod's and those held by councilors Rich Sakelik and Teri Cummings — are up for grabs this November, and as of this writing none of the incumbents had filed to run in the November election.
Axelrod has made clear that he intends to step aside, while Sakelik and Cummings have been mum about their plans. But even if those two run for reelection, the opportunity remains for citizens to challenge them and perhaps begin the sweeping changes that are desperately needed in West Linn.
Local citizens need to get involved and we were happy to see several candidates finally enter the races for mayor and city council last week.
Jules Walters, often the only voice of reason on this current council, will run for mayor. And six new faces — Alex Juarez, Alan Zezini, Rory Bialostosky, Andrew Mallory, Mary Baumgardner and Vicki Olson — announced runs for the two open council seats and for mayor (if Walters wins the mayoral race, her seat would need to be filled in the next available election).
This is a good start, but it is not enough. If West Linn is really going to escape the shrill echo chamber it's been trapped in for too many years, it will need many more fresh faces to step up in this election and beyond.
Since February, when the Michael Fesser scandal exploded and brought national shame to the city, citizens have called for an array of systemic and personnel-related changes in West Linn. Some of them have delivered impassioned pleas directly to the City Council or staff members, while others have gathered at city parks, bridges and street corners to peacefully protest racism at a national and local level.
Past dysfunction and racist behavior at the West Linn Police Department has been the biggest issue facing the city, but it is far from the only one. Rather, it is one large piece of a pie that has been crumbling for nearly two decades.
Counting those who served on an interim basis, West Linn is now on its fifth city manager in as many years. And even during the more "stable" Chris Jordan era of city management, which lasted 10 years between 2005 and 2015, misbehavior was rampant at a WLPD led by the now-disgraced Chief Terry Timeus.
Jordan cited a divided council as his primary reason for leaving in 2015, and while the faces at City Hall have changed since then, very little else has.
Today's council has become so spectacularly dysfunctional that Axelrod seemed to resign out of pure frustration near the end of a six and a half hour meeting Aug. 3, only to backpedal and say he meant that he would not seek reelection (this did not explain why, when Cummings asked during the meeting when he would be stepping down, he said "I'm not sure when.").
Still, we are glad that Axelrod is staying through the election. Losing a mayor for several months is the last thing the council needs.
At that same meeting, during a discussion about efforts to create a cultural center near Willamette Falls, Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde Tribal Council Secretary Jon George read a scathing letter from Grand Ronde Chairwoman Cheryle Kennedy, which compared recent actions by the council to the original westward expansionists from hundreds of years prior. Specifically, Kennedy said the council had been "culturally insensitive to our sovereignty and history of this sacred place."
This, and the contentious council discussion that took place afterward, was what led to Axelrod's announcement.
So we ask members of the public: Have you had enough of this yet?
The majority of the council is up for reelection this fall, and it will absolutely take a majority to turn this ship around. In theory, two new councilors (possibly three, if Walters wins the mayoral race) and a new mayor could sweep into office and create a council that, at the very least, promotes civility and equity within a community that desperately needs rejuvenation.
Two years ago, there was no "race" for City Council: Walters and Relyea were the only community members who stepped up to fill two open spots.
The 2020 race is off to a better start. With Andrew Mallory entering the race for mayor, West Linn citizens will now have two options to choose from. The same is true for the two open council seats which are also contested, with three people running, but why not more?
We sincerely hope Gabrielatos is the leader the city needs to get back on track. But he will need lots of help, and it is past time for residents to step up.
So if you were horrified by the details of the Fesser case, or have watched the council's interminable meetings and wondered how so little can be done over such a long period of time, take a look in the mirror and ask one question.
"Why not me?"
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