Beaverton mulls weakening its mayor in charter review
When Beaverton city councilors resume their discussion of city charter changes Dec. 3, they will be considering a shift from an elected mayor to an appointed manager as the chief executive of city government.
At least three of the five councilors said at a Nov. 5 session they want to propose that change as part of a revision of the 1980 charter, which established Beaverton as Oregon's only city with a mayor who is the elected chief executive.
"It gives the chance for the community to tell us, yes or no, what type of government they want," said Councilor Mark Fagin, the leading advocate for a change.
Other proposed changes are increasing the council to six members, giving the mayor a vote — the mayor now votes only if there is a tie — and limiting councilors to three terms. Councilors rejected the idea of election by districts.
Fagin said he was trying to avoid being critical of Denny Doyle, who has been mayor since 2009 and is seeking another four-year term in the May 19 election.
"The past is the past and the city is in a good place," said Fagin, who was elected in 2012 on his second try for the council.
"I'm looking at where we are going as a city, not where we were… I think going forward, to make sure we have the right organization set up so that priorities are carried out right and the council can function at its optimum, I lean toward the council-manager form."
Beaverton city government employs 600 people and has an annual budget topping $300 million.
Like city managers, Beaverton's mayor prepares the city budget, hires and fires department heads — except for the city attorney and municipal judge — and oversees city government operations. The charter does require the mayor to hire a professional manager, who has almost equal authority when the mayor is away, except for presiding over council meetings.
Unique in Oregon
Although the mayor-council form of city government is common in the United States, Beaverton is the only one of 240 Oregon cities that has it. It stemmed from a dispute in the late 1970s, when the city council declined to dismiss a city manager who ran afoul of some citizens.
Councilor Cate Arnold, elected in 2004, said Beaverton has been fortunate in its elections of mayors since 1980.
But under a council-manager form, she said, "You can interview people from around the country. You are not limited to whoever gets elected."
Councilor Marc San Soucie said the council can act as a check on an appointed manager.
"It is a risk with the strong-mayor form of government that the executive can do a lot without interacting, consulting or respecting the views of the legislative branch," said San Soucie, who's been on the council 11 years.
But Councilor Lacey Beaty, who is challenging Doyle in the 2020 election, said she thinks a strong-mayor system has much to recommend it.
"When people talk about Beaverton, it's because we are excelling in a lot of areas," said Beaty, who is in the middle of her second term. "A lot of that has to do with (a mayor) being present at things and making sure we have representation. If we lose our strong mayor ... I think it's not the way to go."
Councilor Laura Mitchell, the newest member, said: "We have to separate Mayor Denny from the mayor's position."
Doyle has said little publicly about the proposed shift. When he announced for re-election Sept. 11, he said voters will have the final say May 19 about him and the current system.
While the council has made no secret of its discussions, one citizen activist says the public has been kept largely in the dark.
"That is concerning to me," said Amy Johnson, who has pressed for city action on its climate-change plan. "I am curious if you want to hear from all the people of Beaverton on what our form of government will be like in the future… This seems like a spur-of-the-moment thing that could be politically motivated."
Without a broader public discussion before changes go to voters, she said, "we could end up in the same system (prior to 1980) … where the person who has the most authority in the city will not be directly elected by the people."
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