Doris Wehler's resignation doesn't solve Wilsonville's problems
The community spoke and leadership listened.
Once Doris Wehler's comments promoting violence and spewing racial tropes on a podcast with former state representative Matt Wingard spread like wildfire over social media, parents in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District implored district staff and school board members to force Wehler to resign. And the board quickly obliged.
That's how these things work. If you put enough pressure on public leadership, especially locally, they likely will bend to the whims of voters.
And Pamplin Media Group lauds such efforts. Wehler's comments were abhorrent and they were not taken out of context; the podcast discourse as a whole was perhaps even more toxic and racially-charged than the comments that received widespread attention.
With that being said, we couldn't help but ask in the wake of this controversy: Where have Wilsonville's social justice advocates been? And could they, in fact, learn from Wehler?
Wehler has been one of the most politically influential people in Wilsonville politics for decades and her position with the committee is just a sliver of the overall pie.
Just a few months ago, she spearheaded a petition to impose term limits on Wilsonville city councilors. The petition passed in a landslide.
This effort, she admitted, was in part driven by a desire to end the tenure of Mayor Tim Knapp and Councilor Charlotte Lehan, who she thinks bring too much housing to town and aren't friendly enough to the Wilsonville business community.
Further back, she led a recall vote of Lehan and advocated against the siting of Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville and the development of Wilsonville City Hall around the property that includes the Stein-Boozier Barn and Murase Plaza in Memorial Park. She's also championed and financially backed many conservative politicians, including Wingard, Wilsonville City Councilor Ben West and former Councilor Richard Goddard. Recently, Lehan said the city agreed to a low-density plan for the Frog Pond West neighborhood in part due to the activism of Wehler and others.
Not to mention, she was named the Rotary Club of Wilsonville citizen of the year for her volunteering efforts, was an honorary member of the club until leadership asked her to resign last week and has been the president of the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce multiple times.
Anecdotally, she's probably the most likely person to attend Wilsonville City Council meetings of anyone who is not a city employee or elected official.
Wehler likely pulled this all off in part because she had the money and the time to dedicate to investing in her vision for the Wilsonville community. But another explanation is that she cares about her community and made the effort to try to change it.
And we think you should too.
If you've been inspired to protest the killings of Black people at the hands of police, press the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office (which the Wilsonville government contracts with for policing services) to be more transparent, equitable and diverse, and ask Wilsonville officials if contracting with the sheriff's office is beneficial despite the city's lack of power to change police practices.
If you want Wilsonville to become a more diverse place, push Wilsonville officials to follow through with a plan to bring more affordable housing to town. If you want the school curriculum to reflect the realities of the American experiment, push the school district to adopt a curriculum that paints a more realistic portrait of American history — both breakthroughs and blemishes. If you aren't certain where you stand or feel like you want to have more productive conversations about equity than those that take place on social media, attend the upcoming Conversations with the Community meetup in Villebois or a Wilsonville Alliance for Inclusive Communities meeting.
Wehler's resignation from the tertiary planning committee with no voting power, or from the Rotary or Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce, solves none of Wilsonville's problems and marginally impacts the district. Real change will come not from the subtraction of one voice, but from the addition of many others.
Just this year, we saw Wilsonville's district counterpart West Linn break out of its malaise after learning of West Linn police officers' racially-motivated targeting of Portland Black man Michael Fesser. Citizens across the country are demanding more from their police and elected officials and we think this will lead to positive change. It's also worth pointing out that the outcry over the controversy seemed to be louder in West Linn than Wilsonville.
We wholeheartedly denounce Wehler's comments. But we hope the Wilsonville community will become more like Doris — not in the way she views the world but in her tenacity to shape it.
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