We need fiscal responsibility
Taxpayers in West Linn may be shocked to learn that legal fees for the City Council have exceeded a quarter of a million dollars in the first seven months of this year — a total of $257,972 paid to our contract city attorney. That's over $36,800 a month on average and considerably higher than the monthly average of $23,417 for the first six months last year. In 2018, it was only $12,847 monthly for the first seven months. So what could explain this threefold increase?
There are several factors at play. The major reason is the number of council meetings that have consumed many hours of attorney and staff time with repetitious and unproductive arguments. In 2016, before Councilors Cummings and Sakelik took office, council meetings and work sessions totaled 86 hours. This number went up to 150 hours in 2018 (a 74% increase) and then 161 hours in 2019, when Councilor Reylea was elected, giving Cummings and Sakelik a three-person majority. From January to August this year, the meetings reached 97 hours. Add in another estimated 50 hours for executive sessions (there isn't a publicly available record showing the length of executive sessions) and you can see how costs add up. On a single day (Aug. 3), three consecutive meetings went on for an exhausting eight hours. Each meeting hour is billed by legal services at $305 an hour. The total for council services over the seven months of this year was $165,590.
The council majority of Cummings, Sakelik and Relyea have consistently used their 3–2 advantage to push through expensive projects and policies over the objections of Mayor Axelrod and Councilor Waters. At a recent meeting, they voted to spend up to $5,000 on a plaque in Savannah Oaks Park to honor Ed and Roberta Schwarz. This was added to the end of the agenda, without any opportunity for public comment. Plaques like these are generally placed posthumously. They also agreed to spend $20,000 on a survey to open up Bernert Creek in Savannah Oaks, a project which, if adopted, could cost up to $1 million.
The idea of having an in-house attorney to reduce legal costs like other neighboring cities was also dismissed by the same council majority. Even getting a competitive quote on legal tasks was ruled out. The failed Measure 3-552 designed to take away legal responsibility from the city manger was put on a special ballot last year by this majority and cost the city more money.
It was the same 3-2 majority that fired former City Manager Eileen Stein without cause in December, set up a panel of citizens to interview potential candidates for the position and then selected the least popular choice.
Another costly issue is the legal battle surrounding Councilor Cummings' refusal to give up her notes to public view even though this was required by the West Linn City Council rules. All councilors are instructed that their notes are public documents, as are those of all elected officials throughout Oregon. This issue is being appealed and so the costs continue.
West Linn's reputation has been badly tarnished over the past year. We need new and independent voices on the City Council who are fiscally responsible, will build back relationships with partners like Metro, resolve our city police issues and serve the whole community, not just a vocal minority.
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