Mayor Tim Knapp says Ben West's speech was 'inappropriate'
The dust has settled. And what remains is a more fractured Wilsonville City Council.
During an impassioned and accusatory speech at a meeting Thursday, Sept. 5, Wilsonville Councilor Ben West called out his colleagues for being biased against candidates with differing viewpoints in the selection process to replace former councilor Susie Stevens.
Then he criticized Mayor Tim Knapp and blasted Councilor Charlotte Lehan for being appointed to the council and then running as an incumbent in the subsequent election to gain power in the city. During the meeting, the council unanimously voted Charbonneau resident Joann Linville to be Stevens' replacement.
Knapp didn't say much about West's speech at the time. But on reflection, he described it as "inappropropriate."
"I don't think a loud tirade is an effective or helpful way of interacting with your colleagues," Knapp told the Spokesman.
Knapp also said West's comments will impact the council moving forward.
"People who are working together and may have different opinions need to learn how to function respectfully in order to convey those opinions," he said. "When an interaction like what happened in the meeting happens, I think it makes all of the other people less inclined to give credence to the person who is making accusations and insinuations. I think he will find that it has not benefited his standing with the council and likely with the electorate."
West, for his part, said he has worked "incredibly hard" to find points of commonality with his fellow councilors and even aligned with Knapp on various issues during the first eight months of his council tenure, such as their preference for giving property owners more latitude regarding payments for system development charges (one-time charges to developers to offset impacts on City infrastructure). And West also deferred to Knapp and Council President Kristin Akervall to narrow down the list of candidates from 10 to five.
However, he felt that the time for equanimity was over when Knapp and Akervall decided not to select Eric Postma, who he and former Council President Scott Starr insisted was the most qualified candidate, as a finalist. The pair also objected when none of the councilors selected finalist John Budiao, who finished third in a race for two open council seats during the 2018 election, as one of their top two preferred choices to replace Stevens.
"I feel like this was underhanded and shady," West said. "We trusted them to really be judicious on this decision, and that's clearly not what happened."
West hopes he didn't burn bridges because of the speech but said he is not afraid to speak his mind if he thinks it's in the best interest of the Wilsonville citizenry. He also said that if the council faces a similar selection process in the future, he would try to make it more transparent.
"I can be impassioned and outspoken, but I think I've proven in my term that I have wanted to work to do what's best for Wilsonville and get the job done," he said.
Regarding Postma, Starr said in a letter that was read at the meeting that Knapp had "verbally attacked" the planning commissioner during the initial interview process, which was done in private. In talking with the Spokesman this week, Postma said Knapp asked him mainly about the policy points in which the two disagreed and that the interview lasted well over the half-hour time limit.
Postma, also a former City Development Review Board member and former head of the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce, said he previously had expressed disagreement with Knapp over issues such as planning at Frog Pond (he doesn't think density on the outskirts of a City is preferable) and the merits of mixed-use developments (he's more skeptical than Knapp regarding benefits).
Also, while the City opposes a potential runway extension at the Aurora Airport, Postma represented the Chamber in expressing approval of the project. Budiao and West also were critical of the City, especially its strategies for growth and density, during the 2018 campaign.
Postma didn't corroborate the idea that he was verbally attacked, but also doesn't believe he got a fair shake during the interview process.
"My opinion is, I wasn't really given a fair opportunity. When the first questions you received were solely about positions you disagree with the mayor … I bring a lot of experience to the table with volunteer life for the city, my professional life, and I never received any questions about that until I asked if Council President Akervall had any questions for me," he said.
Knapp rejected the notion that he is biased against candidates with opposing viewpoints and said he was confident that the best five candidates were selected as finalists. Knapp also pointed out that the council established many considerations for the selection beyond experience volunteering for the City.
When asked, Knapp and Akervall did not say why Postma was not selected as a finalist.
"It's (Knapp's supposed bias) not accurate. It's not true. We carefully published a detailed list of considerations that would influence) the decision for the council appointment. There were a whole range of different things. There was no one overriding consideration," Knapp said.
Knapp also pointed out that he approved Postma's appointment to his planning commission position.
"I have appointed numerous people to boards and commissions that have had opinions significantly different than my personal opinions, and they have used those appointments to voice their perspective throughout a long period of time. That's (expressing differing viewpoints) healthy when it is done in a collaborative and respectful way," he said.
West said Knapp and the council's supposed bias has resulted in City policies that are more in line with what the Metro regional government wants than what Wilsonville citizens want. Metro generally has supported more density to address a regionwide housing shortage, while West thinks dense housing leads to issues such as traffic and worsened livability.
"I don't feel like a large portion of Wilsonville citizens want to see Metro's agenda be fulfilled in Wilsonville," he said.
West said he is committed to forming a strong working relationship with the rest of the council moving forward. However, for that to happen, Knapp said it is up to West to mend fences.
"I think he has created a steeper hill to climb for himself," Knapp said. "What can be done is pretty much in his ballpark for him to take the initiative. I have not seen an indication he is inclined to do so."
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