Tidings endorsements: Walters, Bria and Bialostosky are best choices for West Linn
West Linn should feel proud.
Yes, you read that right. After one of the worst years in the city's history — a city manager fired without warning (remember that?), a shameful police scandal that is far from over, a harassment claim at City Hall, wildfire scares and, of course, the pandemic that continues to rip through the country — residents should still smile as they open up their ballots and fill in the dots.
In 2018, West Linn's uniquely circular politics seemed to have reached a nadir as just two candidates ran for two open City Council seats. This past August, when the city had yet to see a single candidate file for either mayor or two spots on City Council, we penned an editorial urging people to step up. Before that editorial even went to the press, several people announced their candidacies — but what happened next was shocking.
A total of 14 candidates stepped up to run for office this year, many who are brand new to the city's now-infamous political scene. This is a thrilling step forward for the city, regardless of how the election turns out. West Linn will need many more elections like this to truly change its reputation for dysfunction, but 2020 is a great start.
With that in mind, we believe there are several candidates who have distinguished themselves and deserve your vote.
Though she has been stung by the fallout of a harassment complaint in the last month, Jules Walters remains the best choice for mayor. Since joining the council in 2019, Walters has rarely had the opportunity to work in what would be considered a normal environment. Her first year was defined by marathon meetings and debates about public records, while 2020 has seen chaos emerge from every corner.
To be clear, Walters is not blameless in the mess of the current council. Her outburst at a June executive session, revealed publicly as part of the harassment complaint filed by two councilors, was unprofessional and represented the worst of what the council has become in recent years.
But in our view, this was out of character for Walters and we do not expect to see this type of behavior again. Through most of her time on council, Walters has been a calm — yet still forceful — voice of reason, and we believe she deserves a chance to lead a council that will look radically different no matter who ends up joining her on the dais. She has been ingrained in the community for years, starting with the West Linn-Wilsonville Education Foundation and youth sports before making her way to the council. And all along, she has been a consistent voice on behalf of those who have been marginalized or discriminated against — perhaps her most impressive quality.
Our hope is that Walters could use her two years of experience to her advantage, and hit the ground running next year as West Linn looks to rebuild its reputation.
Each of the other three candidates brings their own qualities to the table, and they should be lauded for stepping up to serve.
Council President Richard Sakelik arrived in the race with the most experience, having served since early 2017, and he is nothing if not dedicated to his service for the city. A retired marketing manager and vocational rehabilitation counselor, he cites his willingness to work 40 hours a week on the council. And even during a recent battle with cancer, Sakelik called into meetings when anyone would have forgiven him for missing them.
But Sakelik has also shown a nose for conflict during his time on the council and does not seem to take ownership of the part he plays in the group's dysfunction. We also disagree with some of the issues he has chosen to make a priority, like the city's legal services structure. It is difficult to imagine the city moving forward and healing its wounds with Sakelik at the helm.
Andrew Mallory presents an energetic and steadfast voice on behalf of change — particularly when it comes to the city's reputation for acrimonious meetings. He is especially passionate about transportation, and his experience filming a television show about green businesses could help the city navigate into a more sustainable future. But we believe Mallory could use more experience before jumping into the mayoral role; if he doesn't win, we hope he will find other ways to stay involved with the city.
Robert McCarthy was the candidate who surprised us the most. Little known and unable to campaign in a normal fashion due to the pandemic, McCarthy himself admitted that he has had trouble getting his name out in the community. But in speaking with him, we were genuinely impressed with his knowledge of city affairs and ideas about how to fix a broken council. While we are not endorsing him for mayor, we strongly urge him to find other ways to get involved and perhaps make a run for City Council in the near future.
For council, we believe Kim Bria and Rory Bialostosky are the best choices.
Bria brings relevant and important experience in both engineering and public works, and we were also impressed with her ideas about how to fix the council's dysfunction and create a healthier city. She comes across as kind, smart, engaging and personable, and also has prior experience on both the transportation and sustainability advisory boards.
Bialostosky has drawn attention for his age (21) and prior conflicts with several city councilors — including an ongoing legal case against Councilor Teri Cummings. This baggage gave us pause, but Bialostosky also presents the best understanding of the issues and has outlined clear plans for how to address them. We were especially impressed with his plan to address policing in West Linn — arguably the most important matter in the city moving forward. If he leaves his prior conflicts with the city at the door, Bialostosky could be a very effective city councilor.
Two other candidates, Jenny Koll and Kari Johnsen, also stood out (full disclosure: Our editorial board interviewed the mayoral candidates, but was not able to meet one-on-one with the council candidates due to time constraints). Neither candidate has a significant background working on city boards or commissions, but they had a strong grasp of the issues and other relevant experiences. If they don't win, we hope they stay involved as promising voices of the future. Each of the other candidates also deserves credit for stepping up and presenting their ideas for the city.
This is a pivotal election in West Linn. More than anything, we ask this: Please vote.
— Tidings Editorial Board
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