The Philomath City Council’s evening got started with the swearing-in of members. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Beyond the volunteer contributions of an unpaid mayor and six council members, Philomath’s city government structure also depends heavily on several individuals to fill seats on boards and committees.

Names were flying furiously around the table during the Philomath City Council’s meeting on Jan. 9 and although not all seats had been filled, the roster of those contributing saw some significant comings and goings.

Giana Bernardini vacated her seat on the Planning Commission in favor of a position on the Tree Advisory Board, a group that operates under the Public Works Committee. The Tree Advisory Board will be responsible for reviewing applications for the newly-established Heritage Tree Program.

Bernardini was described by one councilor as the driving force behind the establishment of the Heritage Tree program. 

“I moved to this area because I love the forests and I love this town because of the trees,” Bernardini wrote in her application to the Tree Advisory Board. “I am a strong believer in the ability of an urban forest to improve livability, benefit the environment and increase overall joy in a community.”

Bernardini’s Planning Commission term was set to expire at the end of 2023. The city will now advertise for applicants to fill out the remainder of her term.

Earlier in the meeting, the council had approved two newcomers to serve on the Planning Commission — John Barlow and Timothy Melott.

As for the Tree Advisory Board, the council confirmed Mayor Chas Jones’s appointment of Graham Seaders along with Bernardini. Four individuals applied for the two available positions. Councilor Diane Crocker made a motion to appoint Seaders and Rick Flacco because they are both certified arborists but it failed without a second.

The Park Advisory Board had two vacancies and the council approved of the mayor’s appointment of Scott Austin and Tyler Pellett to those positions. The council approved Brent Kaseman and former councilor David Low to serve three-year terms on the Budget Committee. A third seat remains vacant.

The Inclusivity Ad Hoc Committee had four open seats and two of those were filled with the appointments of Jane Sherwood and Nora Smith.

Besides the various boards and committees, the council also had business to take care of involving their own assignments. Ruth Causey, who is now the senior member of the City Council, was re-elected to the position of council president on a unanimous vote. Causey will be in charge of meetings when the mayor is not in attendance.

The mayor announced appointments to three standing committees with himself, Matt Lehman and Teresa Nielson on the Finance and Administration Committee; Causey, Crocker and Nielson on the Police Committee; and Causey, Lehman and Christopher McMorran on the Public Works Committee.

The mayor appointed Jessica Andrade, Crocker and McMorran to the Inclusivity Ad Hoc Committee and Causey to continue in the role of a nonvoting council representative to the Planning Commission.

Councilors were also assigned to the following:

• Cascades West Area Commission on Transportation — Lehman.

• Corvallis Area Metropolitan Planning Organization — Lehman.

• Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments — Jones.

• Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce — Jones, McMorran.

• Philomath Community Foundation — Crocker.

• Philomath Community Services — Nielson.

• Philomath Frolic & Rodeo — Causey.

• Philomath School District — Nielson.

• Philomath Youth Activities Club — Lehman.

• Willamette Criminal Justice Council — Crocker.

McMorran suggested that the city establish a formal liaison with the Philomath Fire & Rescue District. City Manager Chris Workman said he would reach out to the fire district’s board of directors to see if there would be interest.

The mayor recognized several volunteers who at the end of 2022 completed their terms of service. The list included Joseph Sullivan and Peggy Yoder on the Planning Commission; Sandy Heath and Carol Leach on the Park Advisory Board; Julie Conner and Chris Kastella on the Budget Committee; and Flacco on the Tree Advisory Board. Out of those volunteers, Leach had been serving on the park board for seven years.

In other news out of the Jan. 9 meeting:

• The evening got started an hour earlier with a swearing-in ceremony for the seven-member council, which includes the mayor.

• The council nominated various individuals to be honored at the Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce’s Samaritan Awards on Feb. 15.

• The council approved on a 4-3 vote to allocate $2,000 to Philomath Frolic & Rodeo and $500 to the chamber of commerce out of Transient Lodging Tax funding. The Finance and Administration Committee’s recommendation had been to give $1,500 to the Frolic and $1,000 to the chamber but Causey made an argument in favor of the allocations that were ultimately approved on the closest vote of the evening.

• The council unanimously approved a resolution to establish the city’s 2023 system development charge rates. SDCs are fees collected by the city to offset costs of public improvements associated with new development. The SDCs for water, sewer, transportation, storm drainage and parks saw a 5.56% rate increase based on established methodologies. 

• Finance Director Mike Murzynsky reported that Grove, Mueller & Swank out of Salem completed the city’s audit on Dec. 27. An audit report will go to the council on Feb. 13.

• Assistant City Manager Chelsea Starner reported that the Philomath Connection bus service will add two stops — Ninth and Main and 12th and Applegate.

• Workman gave an update on the Millpond Crossing housing development with details on a stop work order that went into effect in November. (A separate story on developments related to the project will be published later this week).

• Police Chief Ken Rueben reported that three officers have been hired — recruits Erik Salazar and Scott Andrade and transfer Jim Weikel, who retired from the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.

• Public Works Director Kevin Fear said the water reservoir project is scheduled to begin next week. There have been some delays related to plans on building an access bridge.

• The council met in executive session for nearly an hour to consult with legal counsel regarding litigation or litigation likely to be filed and real property transactions. The council did not make any statements or take any votes when it returned to the regular meeting.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.

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