Philomath city councilors air frustrations at Monday meeting

The Philomath City Council’s ability to function while making decisions for its citizens showed cracks during a three-hour meeting on Monday night.

Mayor Chas Jones adjourned the meeting just before 10 p.m. — not unusual for the lateness of the hour. But what was unusual were the back-and-forth frustrations aired that appeared to leave most of those at the virtual table emotionally drained.

To summarize the evening’s proceedings:

• Councilors spent the first 25 minutes of the meeting on the consent agenda, a method most boards and councils utilize to quickly move through routine, procedural and informational items that can be grouped together to save time. Instead of a single motion and vote as typically seen, it ended up as four separate votes with a renewed discussion on what should be included in the minutes, a matter that included comments from City Attorney Jim Brewer.

• An attempt to appoint six individuals from 10 applicants to the city’s Inclusivity Ad Hoc Committee turned into an extended, sometimes emotional, exchange between councilors and committee candidates that took several unexpected twists and turns after the initial results of the voting were not met with acceptance. In the end, the council scrapped the voting that had taken place and sent the matter back to the committee itself to figure out its next move.

• A discussion and expected vote on proposed guiding principles meant to “inspire and promote positive interactions with one another, staff and the public” was tabled for a future meeting.

• During council reports, Jessica Andrade had various requests, including moving meetings to Wednesdays to allow councilors more time to review packets and indicating that she’s not receiving clear guidance from city staff, saying she feels “ignored and dismissed.” Jones would not allow Andrade to make motions on those topics at that stage of the meeting. A conversation then followed that included perspectives on councilor responsibilities, the council-city manager relationship and the general breakdown of the process and ability to make decisions.

The evening’s final discussion opened with Andrade’s comments on moving meetings back a couple of days for preparation purposes. She also requested that emails from constituents be included in meeting packets and that councilors receive after-meeting summaries of tasks that need to be done in preparation for future meetings, especially if deadlines are involved. Andrade said those issues had been proposed in a work session.

In addition, Andrade was seeking support from the council to sign a pledge to raise awareness about the decline of the monarch butterfly, an effort she said was brought to her attention through the National Wildlife Federation. She also suggested that a comprehensive vision for Philomath’s future be completed.

At the point of Andrade making motions connected to those issues, Jones interjected and said it’s highly recommended that they be put in writing and presented to other councilors ahead of time, adding that they would not be entertained at that time.

“I think that goes to the point of we don’t have enough time because we are all volunteers and I think we need more time to go over these hundreds of pages before these meetings,” Andrade said. “And we need clear guidance from staff.”

Teresa Nielson responded by saying that she feels it falls on the councilors to know what needs to be done.

“I think there’s a certain amount of personal responsibility we have to take in how we collectively organize our time to volunteer for City Council,” she said.

Catherine Biscoe agreed with Andrade on the limited opportunities to reach out to staff and the idea of moving back meetings. She added that the council needs a clear understanding on when motions can be brought forward.

“There’s a functionality piece that’s missing so that we can move forward more efficiently,” Biscoe said. “There’s a little bit of a breakdown here that’s playing a part in this role of we’re always trying to catch up. And Councilor Andrade’s bringing some valid points forward and if we can’t talk about them now or before the public hearing process or in new business, when do we talk about them?”

Jones said that any information that could lead to motions and decisions should be shared ahead of time with staff so it could be placed on the agenda.

“I’m not opposed to moving a meeting but we’re certainly aren’t going to make that decision this evening and we’re not going to have that conversation for an extended period of time,” he said.

The direction that the discussion had taken struck a nerve with the city manager.

“I don’t appreciate getting into a public meeting and being blindsided with all of this information and then being thrown under the bus that my staff isn’t doing what you’ve asked us to do; it’s just not fair, it’s not fair to staff at all and I don’t think it’s appropriate at all,” Workman said.

“We do what we’re asked to do, provide you with as much time as you need, make ourselves available if you have questions and I feel like for the most part this is working for most members of the council,” he added, offering to talk the issue through outside of the meeting with councilors who had complained.

Andrade followed up by saying that “people sometimes misinterpret certain things and therefore, it is extremely helpful to have written guidance” on action items. She also reiterated that she doesn’t have enough time to go over lengthy packets with a full-time job.

“This is not OK, I feel ignored and dismissed so many times. I legitimately do not have time to write up an agenda item summary,” Andrade said in reference to getting action items on the agenda. “This is the best I can do until we get guidance and until we get more time.”

Andrade added that she didn’t mean to blindside anyone or to say that staff was doing a poor job.

“I am saying that staff can do better so that we can do better as council members and I would appreciate the additional support,” Andrade said, who later gave other examples to back up her views.

Councilor David Low followed with his perspective of the situation.

“I really don’t know what to say … I feel unsafe being able to just speak my mind because that will be taken out of context or I’ll be disrespected or I’ll inadvertently disrespect someone else,” Low said. “I think we have a fundamental challenge here and for me it boils down to trust.

“Some of us don’t trust the city manager — let’s just be upfront about that and it’s been expressed in other venues but I think it’s apparent here,” he added, “and we also do not understand the City Council-city manager relationship.”

Low also said he feels that meetings have become “just a terribly frustrating process” and that councilors need to focus on making decisions instead of falling down rabbit holes chasing information.

“I think we have to take responsibility for as much as we can in the time that we have and it’s never going to be perfect but just get on with it and get the job done,” Low said.

Earlier in the meeting, the process of selecting six individuals from 10 candidates seeking seats on the Inclusivity Ad Hoc Committee broke down. The city took applications and invited each candidate to the meeting to answer questions. Then councilors voted through email to the city recorder.

The top three vote-getters were to be appointed to two-year terms and the next three would get one-year terms. One of the candidates who was the sixth person to get on the committee then revoked her application.

Three people had tied for seventh and so another vote would need to be taken to determine the sixth committee member. Plus, there had been a tie for third and fourth for a two-year term and a one-year term.

A few of the applicants were outspoken against the council, saying “this entire process has been pretty troublesome and I think that’s putting it mildly.”

Two other candidates — one who had tied for third and one who was among those tied for seventh — also withdrew.

Councilor Ruth Causey made a motion to table the voting and send it back to the committee, which is currently made up of Andrade, Jones and Nielson. The motion passed on a 7-0 vote. The issue had taken up nearly 90 minutes of meeting time.

In other news out of the April 12 meeting:

• The council approved with its consent agenda proclamations to recognize Arbor Day and the National Honor Society’s centennial.

• Julie Arena, Benton County HOPE Advisory Board coordinator, spoke to the council on the latest information involving that organization. The board has been asking for feedback on draft recommendations on homelessness and housing issues. A virtual public forum was planned for Tuesday and a survey on the recommendations was scheduled to end later this week.

• A public hearing on system development charge methodology reports (water, sewer, transportation and parks) was opened and closed with no comments.

• The visitors/petitions portion of the meeting included comments from three members of the Build a Better Skatepark group that is pushing for improvements to the skatepark at Philomath City Park.

• The city recognized six individuals who earned a certificate of completion for the 2021 Philomath Citizens’ Academy — Zina Allen, Rose Bricker, Maeve Dempsey, Abigail Karfman, Dawn Schmidd and Alan Thornhill.

• The council accepted the resignation of Joey McGlinchy from the Planning Commission. McGlinchy said in a resignation letter that he expects to be moving out of the state by the end of this summer because of a career opportunity for his wife. McGlinchy is also a candidate for the Philomath School Board. The city plans to accept applications until June 1 with an appointment to be made at the regular June meeting.

• The council adopted a resolution on a 5-2 vote (Andrade, Biscoe nay) to set the utility fees for 2021-22.

VOTING RECORD
Following is a list of votes taken by the Philomath City Council at its April 12 meeting:
• To approve an amended consent agenda that included proclamations on Arbor Day and the National Honor Society’s centennial. Motion: Low. Seconded: Andrade. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To amend a motion on the table to approve minutes from recent meetings (see below). Motion: Causey. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To approve amended minutes of meetings from March 1, March 8 and March 22. Motion: Low. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To approve low-income criteria for city fees as amended. Motion: Low. Seconded: Causey. Vote: Passes 6-0 (Yes—Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; Abstained—Andrade).
• To hold the record open on a public hearing for system development charge methodology reports. Motion: Andrade. Seconded: None. No vote.
• To table voting on Inclusivity Ad Hoc Committee members and send the matter back to the committee itself to determine how to move forward. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Biscoe. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To accept Planning Commissioner Joey McGlinchy’s resignation, thanking him for his service he provided to the city and its residents throughout the time he served and direct staff to begin advertising the vacancy in order to fill the position at the June regular meeting. Motion: Lehman. Seconded: Nielson. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To adopt Resolution 21-06 setting utility fees in the city of Philomath. Motion: Lehman. Seconded: Low. Vote: Passes 5-2 (Yes—Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Andrade, Biscoe).
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