By Kim Rosenberg
We are always dealing with history–our personal history, our family’s history, our nation’s history. And when it comes to the city hall in Manzanita, our town’s history.
Whether or not we agree about the path taken for city hall, we’re on it now and we’ve invested a ton of resources. We’ve gone through changes in councilors, the mayor and a couple of city managers along the way.
There wasn’t consensus in 2017 about the necessity of buying the Underhill property in the first place or building a city hall on it after. The debate got real personal, real quick. A bond to finance a new building was voted down and things stopped for a time.
But you know what they say about the past, right? You might be through with it, but the past ain’t through with you.
Back in August 2020, at the behest of council, City Manager Cynthia Alamillo wrote Resolution 20-21 approving the design and construction of a new city hall on the Underhill site. Basically, the resolution makes the City’s case for a new building on a new site and lays out a road map to make it happen.
The resolution was approved by the Council and became effective immediately.
But when Alamillo left her position, things slowed down again. A pro tem city manager was hired. Pro tem managers have to be replaced within 6 months and they typically just keep the lights on until a new manager is hired.
It helps to know who does what in city government. Luckily, in our little town we don’t need a flow chart except for storm water.
Our style of government is the weak mayor form–kind of a crappy name but all it means is that the elected council including the mayor all have an equal vote. The mayor has no formal authority outside council and no veto over council decisions.
A city manager is not like an office manager getting the coffee, ordering glue sticks and making copies, but a highly skilled professional hired, “solely on the basis of administrative qualifications.” (Manzanita City Charter p 4) Managers serve at the pleasure of the council but it takes a majority vote to remove a manager.
The council sets the policy and the city manager makes policy happen. The city manager doesn’t invent policy on their own although, they can and do help shape it by knowing what the rules are and what’s possible. The council, the mayor and the city manager are supposed to work together like a team. The city manager also runs the day-to-day operations of the city and manages the staff that works for the city. There are laws and regulations that apply to just about everything in government. Tons of rules and processes and ways of doing things the right way so we’re legal and that when people leave, there’s a record for the next guy, which hasn’t always been the case.
The Oregon Municipal Handbook says the relationship between the city manager and council (in Manzanita this includes the mayor) is best when council, “respects the manager’s leadership role and responsibility for administration.” (Chapter 3 p 3)
Leila Aman was one of five applicants who applied to be Manzanita’s City Manager. Aman has a Masters degree in Regional Planning and Management/Development from Cornell University. Before Aman came here she worked for the city of Milwaukie, Oregon as Community Development Director leading a staff of 12 and a budget of 3.2 million dollars. She was involved in creating opportunities for affordable housing and managed Milwaukie’s city hall relocation and renovation. She was involved in updating the city’s residential code to reflect their Comp Plan update.
Aman was appointed by unanimous council vote about 20 months ago. For the first six months she got to know us and recognized that the community was deeply divided about City Hall. She came to the Council asking to start fresh by evaluating all the options available including a remodel of the old schoolhouse, which had been off the table. She’s reached out to the community in different ways to gather our ideas about the project.
Good city managers don’t choose which existing policies, ordinances and resolutions they will administer. Whether or not they agree with them, they are supposed to stick to the rules as they are. Aman has. She signed off on a dune grading application because we had nothing legal in place to stop it, but she worked to get our current and real moratorium on the books. When I bitched about the tree ordinance Aman showed me what the rules say. She told me those rules could be changed and what the steps are to do that. When I wanted to understand why the parking ordinance changed, she brought out the boxes of records and found the answers.
Since she was hired, Aman’s been digging Manzanita out of the deep hole of our history–from digitizing records stacked in boxes to updating everything including our archaic financial software. She’s started to gather community input for the update to our Comprehensive Plan. She’s moved staff into roles of greater responsibility and developed a team that is effective and professional.
I may not like that our land use documents and ordinances suck because nothing’s been updated for decades but Aman didn’t write the rules we have and they don’t change magically overnight just because we want them to. There are a lot of steps to everything in government, the rules are complicated and it all takes more time than you think, just like a kitchen remodel.
I know what an ordinance is. But what’s a resolution when it’s for a city and not the one I make yearly on New Years to learn Czechia?
An ordinance is a legislative act. Ordinances are formal documents about single topics with the force of law. They are the long-term rules for a city’s on-going concerns like tree removal, building height and parking requirements.
A resolution is an expression of policy concerning some particular item of business coming before the legislative body. Resolutions are written and they usually deal with something temporary–like building a city hall. A resolution requires a majority vote of council to pass but once it does, it’s effective immediately and it has to be amended or repealed by a majority vote of council.
Resolution 20-21 spells out what the plan for city hall was back in August of 2020 when Cynthia Alamillo was the city manager, but it hasn’t gone anywhere. Aman has slowed the process down and the Council is evaluating options and doing their homework. That’s what they’re supposed to be doing.
On February 15, 2023 Council chose the location for a potential city hall on the Underhill site and made the decision to demo the Q-Hut after learning the estimated cost to fix it up for storage would be 500-600k.
In April there’ll be a public presentation of the City’s financial projections and then in May, they’ll discuss financing options and there’ll be a vote by Council. Some of us will be happy with what they decide, some of us will be unhappy but most of us will be somewhere in the middle.
In a representative democracy we don’t always get our way. If you’re a tree hugging hippie girl like me, you pretty much never get your way. The issues important to some of us don’t matter to others. The people elected weren’t the people we voted for. Bummer. Or the people we voted for turned out not to be who we thought they were. Major bummer.
The good news for us is that in our style of city government each Councilor has an equal vote. We have a City Manager who is working hard at the direction of Council to create policy for the future. There’s no boss. But maybe there’s a team. Team Manzanita. I hope so.