Philomath City Council
The Philomath City Council meets Monday night at City Hall with four members at the table and three others joining via videoconferencing. Also in attendance were the city attorney and city manager. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

With the hour growing late and the Philomath City Council again unable to get through its latest meeting agenda, the contingent appeared to be on the verge of adjourning. The group had been talking for four hours, beginning with a 90-minute work session prior to the regular meeting.

However, City Attorney Jim Brewer wanted to keep going for a bit longer to discuss a proposal for intervention designed to help improve City Council effectiveness, saying, “The goal is to try to help you function and work together better.”

City Council meetings have been an arduous process for those involved with long discussions on most agenda items — even the routine approval of meeting minutes. The atmosphere can become tense and unanimous votes do not occur as frequently with this council compared to others in recent years.

“Based on the last few meetings, it seems pretty clear to me that these are business meetings that are a challenge for all of you — both in terms of your interpersonal relations with each other and advancing your agendas,” Brewer said.

Brewer offered two intervention options — consulting through the city’s insurer, CityCounty Insurance Services (CIS), or through the League of Oregon Cities (LOC).

Brewer stressed to the councilors that effectiveness challenges are not unique to Philomath. For example, he said League of Oregon Cities consultant Patty Mulvihill has had more than 20 calls this year from councils that need help.

“You’re not alone that people work differently, think differently, communicate differently and that can cause friction — it’s not unusual,” Brewer said.

The difference between the two entities offering counseling services, Brewer said, comes down to timing and cost. CIS does not charge for the service with the city already paying insurance premiums and consultant Sharon Harris would be able to get started as soon as this month. The LOC solution would not be available until September or October and it carries a charge of $5,000.

Brewer talked about the CIS as a big value in terms of the time factor and that it would be free, but for the most part, he made an effort to remain neutral on which direction he believes the council should take. Brewer did say that any decision needs to be unanimous and offered the observation that if city government becomes more functional, the community will be the beneficiary.

“Sharon would want, as would Patty if the League were to do this work, they would want a commitment that everybody wants to participate and sees some value in getting some help,” Brewer said. “I think that’s the initial step.”

Catherine Biscoe, a councilor who is one of the most vocal with the sharing of viewpoints and analyses on any given matter of city business, shared concerns.

“One is that I don’t think our ability to maneuver through a meeting is hobbled,” she said. “I think our expectations and our equitable opportunities for participation is really where we’ve fallen short; as in, we never had a conversation as a whole council — what do we want, what are our goals, how do we want to have our work sessions laid out and that has continued to perpetuate.”

Brewer suggested that the city could initially go the CIS route, which is more immediate and free, but that the LOC option with its cost could remain on the table if issues were not resolved.

“I’m concerned about that ask of time and if we invest that time with the CIS individual first and then we find ourselves going back and revisting it with somebody from the League of Oregon Cities, that is a tremendous amount of personal time out of our personal lives,” Biscoe said.

Councilor Teresa Nielson felt that it would be more responsible to jump on the free option first before making the leap to a $5,000 expense. But either way, she felt that an intervention from an outside source could be beneficial.

Mayor Chas Jones said that he has been struggling all year with relationship conflicts on all levels — staff as well as other councilors — along with the length and number of meetings. Jones also preferred the CIS option.

“I am not happy with the way things have been going; I’d certainly like it to become much better,” Jones said. “I just never felt it was like this in the past and I don’t feel like it needs to be this way, so I’m more than interested with moving forward with CIS and Patty (at LOC) if necessary, but I would proably go with the cheaper option first.”

Councilor Jessica Andrade said she agreed with Biscoe on concerns over time issues and added that she believes the $5,000 investment would be acceptable.

An initial show of hands showed that Ruth Causey, Matt Lehman, Nielson, David Low and Jones wanted to ask for consulting from CIS while Andrade and Biscoe preferred hiring LOC. For a moment, it appeared that the councilors were going to move forward with the majority’s wishes, however, Brewer stepped in.

“I really think we need to have everyone agree or it’s a process that’s going to fail,” he said. “Part of this is everybody’s got to be willing to play and if people don’t think that it’s going to help, then let’s not do that. So maybe that does get us to … let’s talk to the League. I think that pushes it out another month and there’s a cost for it, but that would be a necessary cost. I can’t tell you that having CIS doing it first, you still wouldn’t have that cost.”

Causey said, “Personally, I don’t feel good about spending the taxpayer’s money because we can’t do our jobs.”

But Brewer made the point, “There’s a value to the taxpayers if it helps you do your jobs.”

Biscoe shared her enthusiasm for hiring LOC for the task.

“They’ve been around for decades, they have proven their expertise, it’s why we partner with them on so many things,” she said. “Absent any contacts with CIS, which I don’t have, my vote would still be to go with the League of Oregon Cities. They’re actually partners with us very specifically, we’re not clients of theirs per se, and I think that they’re going to come with a better understanding and a better set of resources for us to move forward.”

Biscoe has a history in past meetings of scrutinizing budget issues, but she explained her stance.

“I am very sensitive to budget issues — for those of you that have argued with me on the budget committee items, you would know that, so it’s not that I take this expenditure lightly,” Biscoe said. “But I think we have some fundamental flaws that this didn’t develop overnight. This is a process and challenges that have developed by not addressing issues from the very beginning and that goes to the willingness of the leadership to do that. It’s only perpetuated to where we are sitting today.”

Low said he hopes that everybody would be willing to commit to the process.

“I would just ask if we are all willing to commit 100%, even though it may challenge our viewpoints and personal agendas and ways of thinking to reach an accord?” he said. “I am, but I think we all have to be.”

Nielson stressed the need for open-mindedness to interact more effectively and to also become more reflective listeners as well as speakers.

The group voted over again to go with the LOC option and the vote was unanimous.

In other news out of the Aug. 9 meeting:

• The council conducted a public hearing to receive comments on an Economic Opportunity Analysis report, which was created to serve as a support document for future updates to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. There was no testimony from the public. The council plans to deliberate the issue further at a future meeting.

• During a vote on a consent agenda that included meeting minutes, councilors had a debate over content, primarily including reasons in the record for why a councilor may have voted in a certain way.

• Following a lengthy discussion, the council voted on a motion to allow members of the Planning Commission and various committees to be included in the city manager evaluation process. The motion failed on a 5-2 vote. Later, the council passed on a 7-0 vote to approve the city manager evaluation document with amendments, including a 360-degree review to occur every three years.

• On the matter of reviewing Park Advisory Board duties, the council voted 5-2 against a motion to refer it to the Public Works Committee for a work session. The council tabled the discussion until the council’s Sept. 13 meeting.

• The council approved on a 5-2 vote a Main Street Plan with direction that city staff prepare an amending ordinance to add the document to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which would begin the process of adopting new policies related to downtown development.

• The council approved an ordinance on a 7-0 roll-call vote to establish zoning for the Northernwood property on North 19th Street that was recently annexed.

• The council did not get to the following items that had been on the agenda: Comprehensive Plan Housing Needs Analysis deliberation and decision; state historical marker requested letter of support in honor of Reuben and Mary Jane Shipley and Mount Union Cemetery; discussion and possible approval of a Philomath Connection fare-free bus service program that involves a possible grant from the State Transportation Improvement Fund; and a resolution to update system development charge rates.

Following is a list of votes taken by the Philomath City Council on agenda items for its Aug. 9 meeting. Not included in the list of votes below are numerous proposed amendments that occured during discussion.
• To approve a consent agenda that included the June 30 City Council minutes, July 12 City Council work session notes and meeting minutes, and July 26 joint City Council and Park Advisory Board listening session notes with approved amendments. Motion: Low. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To allow community members on the Park Advisory Board, Inclusivity and ad hoc committees, and Planning Commission the opportunity to fill out and submit an evaluation for the city manager. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Andrade. Vote: Fails 5-2 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe; No—Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To approve the draft city manager evaluation document with approved amendments, including a 360-degree evaluation every three years. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To refer the Park Advisory Board duties review matter to the Public Works Committee for further development and as a work session opportunity. Motion: Biscoe. Seconded: Andrade. Vote: Fails 5-2 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe; No—Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To table the Park Advisory Board duties review matter to be further discussed at the council’s Sept. 13 meeting. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 6-1 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Jones).
• To adopt the findings in the staff report for the adoption of the Main Street Plan as amended in File No. PC21-06 and direct staff to prepare an ordinance to add the Main Street Plan as an official appendix and support document to the Comprehensive Plan. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 5-2 (Yes—Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Andrade, Biscoe).
• To approve Ordinance No. 852 amending the Comprehensive Plan map and
zoning map to establish zoning for the newly annexed Northernwood LLC property. Roll-call Vote: Passes 7-0 (Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).