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West Linn voters may see another legal services initiative on November ballot

PMG FILE PHOTO - The West Linn City Council will decide on language for a charter amendment ballot measure July 8. The West Linn City Council is on course to again ask the citizens of West Linn if they wish to adjust the section of the city charter concerning the City's legal services, a course that will cost the City at least $10,000, according to City Manager Eileen Stein.

After defining the structure of the City's legal services early in June, the city council discussed a potential ballot measure to amend charter language regarding how these services are managed at its meeting July 1.

At the meeting, City Attorney Tim Ramis presented to the council a potential ballot measure his law firm drafted based on the desires of councilors Teri Cummings and Richard Sakelik.

The change proposed in the ballot would amend the city manager section of the charter to include, "The city Manager has no authority over the Council, the Municipal Judge or persons employed in the office of the City Attorney or any other legal advisors."

Stein noticed a similarity in the revised charter language proposed in the ballot draft to the charter of the City of Mt. Angel, a town of about 3,000 people northeast of Salem where she served as city manager before coming to West Linn.

Cummings said the similarities were coincidental.

"I read a lot of different city charters and some of them are really specific about certain things (while) some of them are silent. I just happened to stumble across that one," Cummings said.

Mayor Russ Axelrod and Councilors Bill Relyea and Jules Walters took issue with the last words of the proposal: "or any other legal advisers." The mayor said the words were not included in the Mt. Angel charter which states, "The City Manager has no authority over the Council, the City Attorney, or over the judicial functions of the Municipal Judge."

"Even though the city attorney is spelled out in the city charter as being a report of the city council, it's my understanding that other legal advisors do work for the city manager and that council has not really addressed those," Relyea said.

"I think it's overstepping our authority, telling the city manager how they need to carry out their obligation in legal areas that don't fall under us. I'm really uncomfortable with that language," Axelrod added.

The council directed Ramis to revise the language and present another draft of the ballot measure during the July 8 council meeting, where the council must adopt a measure if it is to meet the deadlines for the November election.

Stein advised the council that aiming to place this measure on the ballot for the 2019 election will cost the City $10,000-$12,000, whereas waiting for the November 2020 election will cost nothing.

The difference in cost comes from the fact that the City already has plans to put measures on the 2020 ballot, so they would not need to pay extra to include a measure amending the charter. This cost was one of the reasons Walters opposed the measure.

"Because the legal structure we voted on at the beginning of June doesn't need a charter change, also because the voters have already voted clearly 'yes' twice that they're comfortable with this language and because of the cost associated with putting this measure on the ballot in November, I recommend that we not do it," Walters said.

Walters was referring to ballots for charter changes in 2013 and 2017.

In 2013, citizens passed a measure altering the legal services language. In 2017, some council members were against the charter's new language, which they thought gave city staff too much authority over the City's legal services. They drafted another measure to change the language, which was ultimately turned down by voters.

Sakelik and Cummings want the proposed charter language stronger than what was proposed on the 2017 ballot, which they did not support because it gave the city manager some authority over legal services.

Council will further discuss the ballot measure at the July 8 meeting. Public testimony is welcome.


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