If the Council and Mayor don’t get their act together Eugene is in trouble. by Pat Farr

 

Eugene’s City Council has ever been a hotbed for clashes of ideological differences.  If you look at the map of the Council wards and compare the voting patterns in general elections you will find distinctive differences in how west and north Eugene votes in comparison to how south and east Eugene casts its ballots.

Take two elections that are litmus tests for voting patterns:  Jim Torrey vs. Kitty Piercy in the 2008 mayoral election and placing a flag on Skinner Butte in 1998.  The first is a candidate race and the second an issue race.  Both, of course, evoked strong emotions and public interest.

If you color west and north precincts, for instance, green, and south and east precincts, let’s say, yellow, (or color them red and blue, whatever) you will see a divide that is just about the same in both elections.

The representation from the two zones matches the voting patterns of the constituents.  So it’s fair to expect clashes on a regular basis between what can be considered the two factions on the Council.

During six of my first eight years on the Council Jim Torrey was mayor, and thus the deciding vote on split issues.  Now Kitty Piercy is mayor and fills that role.  Look again at the voting pattern of the city.  They come from opposite voting zones and split the vote exactly oppositely.

It has been common for the split on the Council to be 4-4 with a mayoral decision on the outcome.  A glaring result of that Council split/mayoral decision was the demise of the West Eugene Parkway.

(ODOT in July 2006 suspended work on the West Eugene Parkway after determining the project lacked the sustained local political support to succeed.)

Councilors from wards four, five, six and eight (green zone) wanted to keep the Parkway while those from wards one, two, three and seven (yellow zone) voted to kill it.  Mayor Piercy made the deciding vote to kill it.  It’s more than mere  speculation to suggest that had the mayor been Jim Torrey the decision would have been to keep the Parkway.

All of that being said, however, the Council often votes 8-0 on issues, the most significant being the passage of the annual budget.

This year will be an opportunity for the Council to see how well it can come together on what will be a very tight budget.  One that will call for further cuts in services and programs and city staff.  It will be a time for Council to demonstrate what the essential government provisions for the community will be, in each Councilor’s mind and by the collective will of the Council,

The Council has to reconcile ideological differences and work together to build a budget that most efficiently and effectively serves the men and women and children who make Eugene their home and workplace.

I have suggested to the City Manager that Councilors be divided in working pairs as the budget is being prepared and presented.  The pairs in this system would consist of one Councilor from the Green Zone and one from the Yellow Zone.  A chance to lay ideological differences first on the table and then, as much as possible, lay them aside.  And to build a budget on ever more constrained resources that will begin to reverse the bad rating in public confidence that the Council is receiving.

When serious breaches in inter-council/mayor support surface, as has been the case recently surrounding Occupy Eugene’s extracurricular behavior, the Council and Mayor must strive even more than ever to work together on the issues that shape our community.  Without betraying those who elected them.

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