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West Linn City Council should have more oversight over governmental departments

It is so easy to be consumed by national and state politics in a presidential election that many people living in suburbs and smaller communities are not paying much attention to their local elections, thinking that smaller communities will be better run and they are at less risk than in national and state elections. That could not be further from the truth, especially in Oregon where our city is mostly funded by property taxes and fees. This year has been an exception with the concern over the unbelievably poor police treatment of a black man that led to a substantial lawsuit in an era of Black Lives Matter.

First off, citizens need to know that the council/manager form of government here in West Linn is one of the more extreme models of that type of government and contributed significantly to that issue. In our government, unlike in cities of similar size, our mayor and city leaders have absolutely no say in who is appointed to various city departments. It is ALL left to the discretion of the city manager. In our case, the city manager was not up to the job of running a city the size of West Linn, and, instead, she relied on consultation from officers when selecting the police leader even when questions about that candidate were raised by citizens. West Linn has had a history of questionable police leadership for years; the current situation is just an extension. As someone who has been concerned about the extreme form of council/manager government, I have spoken about changing to a less extreme form to no avail. Had those leaders chose to modify that form of government over the 22 years we have lived here, perhaps this issue would have been avoided because city councilors would have had a voice in the selection process. There are other departments where this change could have benefited citizens as well.

I am writing this because I believe changing our form of government should be an election issue. If our own elected officials do not have a voice in determining who should serve as department heads, one has to wonder why have a city council at all? I also believe we citizens should demand a functional as well as a financial audit of all the city departments. It's important to determine where improvements could be made and to insist that staff keep a log of which projects are being worked on, the cost of materials and contractors, the number of employees assigned, and the number of hours worked to get a handle on both overall costs and personnel needs for the purposes of better budgeting and staffing.

There are other changes I believe are important that new city council members should be asked to implement, but that is for a future article. Ask good questions!

Peggy Kirkendall is a West Linn resident


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