City Council member Ruth Causey shares her perspective on an issue during the Nov. 14 meeting. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Back during a December 2016 City Council meeting, a local resident expressed a feeling among some community members that they didn’t feel like they were in the loop when it came to city issues and decisions. In fact, a group of locals had been talking about forming some sort of citizens advisory group.

The next month, City Manager Chris Workman suggested to the City Council that Philomath establish a citizens’ academy “to grow that volunteer base and help people understand how local government works.”

Council OKs conceptual design for new veterans memorial park

A veterans memorial park coming soon to a Philomath neighborhood took a step forward Monday night with the City Council’s approval of its conceptual design. Paul J. Cochran Veterans Memorial Park, to be constructed on the corner of North 16th and College streets, will be approximately one-eighth of an acre in size. If the process…

The idea sparked interest among the councilors and during the summer of 2017, the inaugural Philomath Citizens Academy attracted an average of 12 to 15 people per session with eight qualifying for certificates of completion.

Five years later, locals still have an interest in participating in the informative sessions, which include the participation of several partners, such as the school district, library, police department, municipal court, fire department and various service organizations.

The Philomath Citizens Academy sessions occurred on Wednesday nights from Sept. 15 through Nov. 3. Topics covered many aspects of city government, including public safety, infrastructure and finances.

Workman said 19 individuals registered to participate and 15 that attended enough sessions to earn their certificates of completion. Most were in attendance at Monday night’s City Council meeting.

“I appreciate the group that’s here; this has been one of my favorite cohorts to go through,” Workman said. “We just had a lot of good times, a lot of good conversation.”

The Philomath Citizens Academy participants that earned certificates of completion gather for a photo with City Manager Chris Workman and Mayor Chas Jones during the Nov. 14 City Council meeting. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Those earning certificates of completion included Abel Ahumada, Nicole Carter, Candy Garcia, Alexander Jason Hanson, Sandi Hering, Katie Isacksen, Brent Kaseman, William Kramer, Trudy Larsen, Tara Larson, Jonathan Mattson, Jessica Mattson, Nicole Patterson, Darlene Rose and Jane Sherwood.

Workman said he sees the group as a “very lush and ripe field” of future volunteers and advocates.

“This won’t be the last you see of them; these are future leaders of our community for sure,” he said. “They’re going to find a way to be involved in the city and in our community going forward.”

Since its inception in 2017 — the pandemic led to the program not happening in 2020 — there have been 80 participants and 48 graduates with several going on to apply for appointed or election positions.

Mayor Chas Jones acknowledged the citizens’ academy participants for their effort and interest in city government.

“I first got involved in city government through the citizens’ academy and I think it’s a really wonderful opportunity that exists,” Jones said.

The mayor also applauded the commitment by city staff and other local partners to make the Philomath Citizens Academy happen.

“I recognize that a lot of you put in a lot of effort and time into the training effort and a lot of community partners that did also,” Jones said, a sentiment also shared by Workman. “A lot of folks put time into it.”

Also from the Nov. 14 meeting, the council unanimously approved two ordinances following public hearings.

First, municipal code on material standards for industrial buildings within heavy industrial zones was amended to provide flexibility when the city finds it to be appropriate. During the public hearing, the council heard from Thomas Van Denend, founder and president of Philomath-based ShelterWorks, which manufactures a green building material called Faswall.

ShelterWorks, which is currently leasing its site, had reached out to the city with the desire to install a temporary industrial structure to provide the option of taking it down and rebuilding on another property in the future, if necessary.

The amendment applies to industrial buildings within the heavy industrial zone outside the view of the public by way of a variance.

The other public hearing was related to amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan chapter on urbanization. The urbanization policies are designed to fit the city’s vision for future growth and how certain zoning classifications are assigned when brought into the urban growth boundary.

There was no public testimony during the second hearing.

All votes on the two issues related to the amendments and ordinances passed unanimously.

In other news out of the Nov. 14 meeting:

• The mayor made a motion to not allow personal video recording at City Council meetings after councilor Jessica Andrade had wanted to test such a system for accessibility purposes. The motion passed on a 4-2-1 vote (Andrade, Catherine Biscoe nay; Matt Lehman abstained).

• Julie Jackson, municipal and community relations manager at Republic Services, provided an annual report with information on a 4% rate adjustment based on an industry index. The end result for residential customers will be an average increase of $1.14.

• The council unanimously approved an ordinance to grant a nonexclusive fiber internet services franchise to Alyrica Networks. The franchise agreement’s fee section was updated and language revised from a previous version.

• The council unanimously approved of the conceptual design of the Paul J. Cochran Veterans Memorial Park. See separate story.

• The council directed the Public Works Committee to review the use of nonremonstrance agreements and provide recommendations to the council on how to best ensure developments help pay for public improvements while not overly burdening property owners. The results of that discussion will be reviewed by the City Council at a future work session. Staff was also directed to not accept any future nonremonstrance agreements as practicable until a resolution on the issue has been reached.

• The council adopted an ordinance to update development code in the area of flood damage prevention based on recommendations from the city planner and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

• The council met in executive session for about 90 minutes prior to the regular meeting to perform public officer and employee evaluations. The council also met for about 40 minutes in executive session after the regular meeting to discuss “real property transactions” and “consultation with legal counsel concerning legal rights and duties regarding current litigation or litigation likely to be filed.”

• The council plans to meet next at 6 p.m. Nov. 28 to take a look at bids for the city’s construction of a new reservoir and possibly vote on an ordinance on the psilocybin facility moratorium measure that voters approved. The council plans to go into executive session as allowed under state statute.

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.