Wilsonville City Council majority opposes upcoming term limits measure
Mayor Tim Knapp and Councilor Charlotte Lehan have decided not to propose a ballot to compete against the one that would create term limits on the Wilsonville City Council: Not because they like the existing measure, but because they object to the proposal's entire premise.
"We could come up with an alternative that would be less bad," Lehan said. "But none of it would be as good as what we have now, which is without term limits for either the council or the mayor and where all the power is in the hands of the voter."
After a petition created by Frog Pond resident Doris Wehler received enough valid signatures to be placed on ballots in the May 19 election, the Council could have proposed a competing ballot measure during a meeting Monday, Feb. 3. The Council agreed not to take that path, and the measure will move forward as proposed.
Despite the deference to the public, Knapp and each councilor made their case as to why term limits would be a good or bad idea during the meeting. Councilor Ben West was the lone councilor to argue in favor of term limits, which would prevent the mayor and councilors from serving for more than 12 years in a 20-year period.
Knapp and Lehan's primary argument was that term limits imposed on the mayor, in particular, would hamper Wilsonville's influence in the region. Knapp, mayor since 2008 and a councilor prior to that, is involved with many leadership bodies outside of the council such as Metro's Joint Policy Committee on Transportation and Greater Portland Inc.
He said that fostering relationships over a long period of time with fellow leaders regionwide is essential to advancing Wilsonville's policy preferences. To make this case, Knapp cited the myriad federal grants South Metro Area Regional Transit (SMART) has received to improve services while Lehan mentioned the City's influence over land-use issues like the siting of Coffee Creek Correctional Facility and protecting land south of the Willamette River from industrial development.
They pointed out that if term limits are imposed, a first-term councilor could only serve a maximum of two terms as mayor.
"The reality is that a huge number of the decisions that affect our community are not made in Wilsonville. They're made at other tables. If we're not at those tables in a responsible, credible, trusted way we will forfeit our ability to influence those decisions," Knapp said.
"One of the reasons I think this is a dangerous road to go down is that it will forever weaken the City of Wilsonville's position in the region and beyond," Lehan said.
West did not agree with those assertions.
"I just don't think the sky is going to fall (if term limits are imposed), and Wilsonville will continue to be an amazing and beautiful city that we all love," he said.
Akervall and Councilor Joann Linville also expressed concern about the term limits measure. Linville pointed out that there had been over 50 councilors in the City's 50-year history and just two mayors who served for more than 10 years (Knapp and Lehan).
"In my mind these facts would refute the argument that city councilors are elected for life," Linville said.
She added: "I might only assume that the purpose of putting the term limit initiative on the ballot at this time is a political measure rather than one borne out of our Wilsonville experience."
Akervall, for her part, said the combination of experience and fresh perspectives create a healthy blend on the council and that Wilsonville's high marks on community surveys is proof that the community doesn't demand major changes.
"I have serious concerns about it," Akervall said about the measure. "I think that we all live in a pretty incredible city. I think we all feel that. I believe that we didn't end up this way by chance. I think it's taken a lot of different people working together in a productive spirit to make it a special place."
Again, West was the lone dissenter. The first-term councilor said he would be OK with having term limits imposed on him and that he helped canvass for signatures toward the end of the petition process (Wehler supported West during his 2018 campaign and West and Wehler share similar views on local policy).
West also mentioned that governmental positions from the president of the United States to the Lake Oswego and Tualatin city councils have term limits.
Knapp, who has clashed with West on the council, suggested the measure was aimed at reversing the City's stances on issues like the Aurora Airport development, transportation and housing.
"Term limits are not the answer to try to tilt the table," he said.
However, one thing West, Akervall, Linville, Knapp and Lehan could all agree on is that the City would not propose a competing ballot measure.
"I don't think that we should do something that looks self-serving. We should respect the petition process that was put out there," West said.
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