To a casual observer it may seem evident that the City of Eugene’s government and that of Lane County have irreconcilable differences. Such an observation is likely boosted by the current clash regarding the City of Eugene’s proposed sick leave ordinance. The City has published a draft ordinance (click here, then select Council Bill 5125) that Lane County officials believe may be costly to the county’s weakened general fund budget.
So Lane County Commissioners responded by drafting three ordinances (click here for Forum Lane links to the ordinances) that would intervene, ahead of the passage of the Eugene ordinance, to preclude the city from placing regulations on public bodies and private businesses in their human resource practices.
It seems like a battle is brewing, in fact may have already begun. But it does not have to be so. In the The Art of War, Sun Tzu says that the best way to win a battle is without fighting. He also implies that, “Where the army is, prices are high; when prices rise the wealth of the people is exhausted…”
By fighting a battle on any front the City of Eugene and Lane County will exhaust both their resources and their credibility with the people they serve.
The Eugene City Council moved very quickly to its action point regarding passing a sick leave ordinance. Little or no contact was made with other overlapping and adjacent jurisdictions to coordinate efforts or to work out compromise in a way that could result in no battle being fought. In seeming disregard for its stated desire for exhaustive public process and input the Council has ignored both.
The Council deadline, a work session and possible action set for July 21, caused a quickly crafted response from the county in order to fulfill its public hearing requirements before considering action prior to the Council’s work session. Unlike the city, Lane County requires a 13-day period between first reading and passage of any ordinance, thus allowing for increased public input. In order to pass any precluding ordinance prior to the city’s July 21 meeting, the County’s first reading had to take place on July 8. County Commissioners were seizing the high ground in the upcoming battle, and the stakes are high.
This hasty back-and-forth action/reaction is not evidence of good government. The city and the county must work together, today and for the future. We have too many mutual concerns and overlapping duties to not do so. We have too few resources to not consolidate all we have and serve in the best way possible.
The list of current and pressing issues that are being worked on together is long. An abundance of issues are swirling that cannot be resolved without great coordination and great mutual respect. The battle lines that are currently being drawn are dimming to the point of possibly extinguishing the shoulder-to-shoulder efforts we are involved in.
Here are but a few current reasons that it is important to keep the city and the county on the highest level of working terms:
1. Poverty and Homelessness Commission. This newly-formed work group has replaced other separate committees to consolidate its efforts and resources to maximize available funds and staff. This will further our needed ability to care for the working poor and the indigent in our community. Four elected officials are a part of this group, including Mayor Kitty Piercy, Mayor Christine Lundberg, Representative Val Hoyle and me (chair of the Lane County Board of Commissioners). There is no room for tension.
2. Downtown Farmers’ Market. It is widely considered to be an invaluable addition to Eugene’s downtown vitality to facilitate a year-round farmers’ market some place near the government center and the court house. Conditions exist that will take great coordination between the city and the county if the market’s potential is to be realized. There is no room for tension.
3. Envision Eugene: residential and industrial land use. The city and county are currently working on a long-studied expansion of Eugene’s urban growth boundary. This will require cooperation and coordination to add residential land and industrial land in the most appropriate places. There is no room for tension.
Eugene and Lane County have a long list of other cooperative efforts that have been fostered and nurtured for years. We work together on the Human Services Commission; Lane Area Commission on Transportation; the Metropolitan Policy Commission; Lane Council of Governments and a plethora of other committees, commissions and joint efforts that also have no room for tension.
Additionally, the City of Eugene is currently using part of Lane County’s Public Service Building and Harris Hall meeting chamber as a temporary city hall. The contract is due for reinstatement and/or renegotiation. There is no room for tension.
In short, the city and county have to work together starting now to resolve what could turn into a tense and nonproductive episode in our relationship. The city should put the brakes on passage of its sick leave ordinance until details have been worked out in the actual language of the ordinance. Details that more closely satisfy the needs (and wants) of staff, elected officials and most importantly the people we serve.
If the Eugene City Council can provide more time to answer outstanding questions, I have to believe that satisfactory resolutions can be achieved.