Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Who creates policy in Lake Oswego?

It has been recognized by many that the staff in City Hall (not all) has been following their own agenda for quite awhile.  Up Sucker Creek believes that this was not as much of a concern with prior City Councils when their philosophy was more in sync with the staff's, but as the Council changes, so must the staff.  Citizens elect representatives to lead according to a belief system they expressed during their campaigns.  It is these elected representatives of the people who make policy that runs city government - our government gets its authority from the consent of the governed.

It is tough to be in a job where one's bosses change their mind about what their goals are every few years, but unless one is self-employed, it comes with the territory, as does following one's boss' rules at all.  What's so great about our country is that people are free to change jobs when they cannot tolerate a new boss's decisions.  In the meantime, personal integrity and professional ethics demand compliance with current City Council policies and directives.

The City Council should expect follow-through on their directives from the City Manager who is responsible for understanding city policy and requiring the staff's compliance.  It starts from the top down, and the City Council is at the top.  It's incredible that employees need to be reminded of that!

Staff should implement policy, not create it
The Lake Oswego Review, May 22, 2014  By Jim Bolland

On May 13 the Lake Oswego City Council held a study session to discuss a report to Oregon DEQ updating the city’s compliance with Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirements for water temperature in the Tualatin and Willamette Rivers. The evening’s events were a bit of a stunner for me because they raised serious questions about the roles and responsibilities between city management and staff and the City Council regarding policy making and implementation.
Some background is important. Councilor Lauren Hughes has been working for several months with city staff to improve the city’s Sensitive Lands program. The Sensitive Lands overlays were created in the late 1990’s as one of the ways the city complies with state and federal environmental laws. Sensitive Lands designations have proved to be burdensome for property owners with an overlay, including property devaluation. In fact, many property owners have contended that they were never notified that their property had been restricted in the first place. The purpose of this Citizen’s View is not, however, to debate the pros and cons of Sensitive Lands program.
The original purpose for the May 13 council meeting was to talk about landslides and stormwater. However, the subject of the meeting was changed to a discussion of the TMDL report after Councilor Hughes uncovered the existence of the report. The council had not been informed that the TMDL report was being prepared by engineering staff although city planning staff working on the Sensitive Lands tech team with Councilor Hughes were aware of the report.
What is so disturbing is that the TMDL report told DEQ that the city would expand existing stream buffers to increase tree canopy and thereby lower water temperatures. Staff told council that the city was not in compliance with water temperature TMDLs. However, Councilor Hughes produced the actual data from the TMDL report indicating the City was completely in compliance with temperature requirements. Confused yet?
In Lake Oswego’s form of municipal government, it is the city council’s responsibility to make policy and it is city management’s job to implement those policies. Certainly, city staff makes policy recommendations to the council, but the staff does not get to set policy on their own without council approval. But, that is exactly what would have happened if the TMDL report had gone to DEQ. The council has consistently given clear direction to staff that they intend to reform the Sensitive Lands program. It is one of the council’s top goals for 2014. Council has told staff that they wish to stop or limit further Sensitive Lands mapping. One aspect of environmental regulations is the “no degradation” rule. If Lake Oswego sends a report to DEQ stating that the city will increase stream buffers, then that is what DEQ will require. The city will not then be able to reduce the buffers in the future. The city would need to expand the sensitive lands overlays to accommodate expanded stream buffers in direct contradiction to council policy.
It appears that some city staff doesn’t fully understand their role as policy implementers. While they may disagree with Council direction, they may not ignore or undermine it. Staff salaries are paid by Lake Oswego, not Metro nor the State. In the real world, we know what happens to employees who ignore or undermine management direction.

Jim Bolland is co-chair of the Lake Oswego Neighborhood Action Coalition


  1. Well said!
    This problem is likely much broader than just engineering (why was engineering doing this report on its own anyway?).
    Why hasn't the City Council directed the City Manager to take action to prevent such things in the future?
    Is the City Manager really in charge of the staff or is he complicit in this happening?
    Or is it the "first I heard of this was in the newspaper problem"?

    1. When Councilor Hughes found out about the TMDL report and asked staffer Anne Robinson not to send it to DEQ until the Council could discuss it she refused and said she was sending the report. When Hughes replied that she would speak with City Manager Scott Lazenby about the issue Ms. Robinson told her that Lazenby had greenlighted sending the report. Also, curiously, during the study session, their was a spirited discussion about the "no degradation" rule after which Lazenby recommended that the report be forwarded to DEQ and the City could resolve any issues later. Huh?

    2. Correction: The LO Storm Water Quality Manager's name is Anne MacDonald, not Anne Robinson.