Philomath City Council
The Philomath City Council held its first in-person meeting in several months. Six of the seven councilors were at City Hall with the seventh attending virtually. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath City Council approved an ordinance to grant easements to the Oregon Department of Transportation during its Monday night meeting at City Hall but only after “emergency” status was removed and following a renewed, contentious discussion on the bioswale piece.

The ordinance grants temporary easements at 14th and Main and on South Ninth Street with the permanent easement along Applegate Street in front of City Hall, police station and library.

The permanent easement contains portions of the irrigation system needed for the project. 

Councilor Catherine Biscoe said she wanted to review information on alternatives to the bioswale piece of the project before she could make a decision.

“It seems like the council should have been presented options with recommendations by the engineers and that process apparently didn’t take place,” Biscoe said.

City Manager Chris Workman responded, “The council was presented with an option and the council voted to approve that option.”

Murraysmith civil engineer Sam DeBell gave a presentation to councilors in January, including methods and locations that had been considered, and answered questions.

Biscoe had no motion to introduce on the matter but reiterated that she wanted more detailed information on Murraysmith’s process, options and decision.

“Given the fact that we were not given information to consider as a council and evaluate it, it seems like we jumped ahead of the gun and we’re being asked to approve a decision that was made without our input,” Biscoe said.

Councilor Jessica Andrade said she supported Biscoe’s view and believes that all options for the bioswale should’ve been explored more closely and that the discussion should’ve taken place earlier in the process.

“Part of my job as the city manager is to keep in touch with the engineer and to work with the engineer and to help determine what things I feel are policy-type decisions — like the look and the facade and the theme — and what types of things are engineering-type compromises that the city is going to have to make,” Workman said. “If we’re going to have a streetscape project and we’re going to touch anything on the highway, we have to treat that water and the engineer did a thorough analysis and they presented that analysis to the council on what would need to be done to make that happen.”

Biscoe pushed the point on other options, impacts to Marys River Park and that councilors should be involved with more than the project’s look and feel. Workman explained how he worked with the engineer and received Public Works input to arrive at a viable solution that the city could afford while fulfilling project requirements.

The council had discussed the permanent easement during a March 28 meeting when a draft of the ordinance was presented. Workman said Murraysmith confirmed that a large tree in front of Philomath Community Library would not be removed in conjunction with the project or granting of the easement.

Workman said an added benefit of the permanent easement is that the sidewalk would be completely in ODOT’s right-of-way instead of the current configuration with portions of it on city property.

Workman had added the emergency clause language to avoid any delay with the execution of the easements and keep the project moving along but the council voted to exclude that designation on a 5-2 vote.

The approval of an emergency clause requires a unanimous roll-call vote and it became obvious that would not happen. The amended ordinance later passed on a 5-2 roll-call vote (Andrade, Biscoe nay). Since it was not unanimous, another vote on the ordinance will be scheduled for an April 25 meeting.

In other news out of the April 11 meeting:

• Mayor Chas Jones issued a proclamation in recognition of Arbor Day in Philomath. Earlier this year, the Arbor Day Foundation again recognized Philomath with the Tree City USA designation for its commitment to urban forestry.

• The council voted 5-1-1 (Biscoe nay, Andrade abstained) to modify the official name of Marys River Park to Marys River Park and Natural Area. Biscoe expressed concern about a lack of public input on the proposed name change. The Park Advisory Board had recommended approval.

• The council confirmed on a unanimous vote the mayor’s recommendation that Larry Sleeman be appointed to the Park Advisory Board. Three others submitted applications and Jones said his choice was a random pick with all candidates offering exceptional qualifications.

• Councilor David Low’s request to revisit whether the Inclusivity Committee should continue to be a city-sponsored ad-hoc committee was tabled. Low felt the discussion would be premature until Inclusivity Committee members could be surveyed.

• The council unanimously approved a raise for the city manager, which involves a salary schedule step increase and was based on a recent positive performance evaluation.

• Andrade made a motion requesting a re-vote on the council’s March 14 decision to return to meetings at City Hall. Andrade, who attended the meeting via videoconferencing, said she didn’t realize that she had voted to return to in-person meetings and provided reasons why she believes virtual meetings are safer and should continue. The motion to reconsider the March 14 vote failed by a 5-2 margin (Ruth Causey, Jones, Matt Lehman, Low, Teresa Nielson nay).

• Andrade then made a motion to request that all votes going before councilors be digitally displayed as a way to eliminate confusion and allow for time to process the issue at hand. Biscoe, who seconded the motion, said a digital display would also solve council and public accessibility issues, mentioning “learning styles or preference of communication.” A short discussion followed on how that might be done through technology and there were concerns about how the added step would lead to slowing down meetings that already run long and include many motions. A motion to table the discussion passed on a 4-3 vote (Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Lehman yea; Jones, Low, Nielson nay).

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.