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Irony runs deep in Milwaukie city-manager measure

No city manager of Milwaukie has lived within the city’s limits for 25 years — at least that’s how far reliable records go back. It probably has been longer since Milwaukie’s top administrator has been required to move to the city after being hired.

But due to the agitations of former downtown business owner Ed Parecki, the City Council felt it was time to clarify how the location of a city manager’s home could affect his or her employment, referring the “housekeeping” measure to this month’s ballot. Following the appointment of a city manager, current city law states that the appointee “shall take up legal residency in the city of Milwaukie within six months of the date of hire, or within such time as is agreeable to the council.”

This clause in the City Charter is left over from Milwaukie’s well-intentioned founding fathers at the turn of the century when it was still illegal to walk your donkey across a street or dance with a member of the opposite sex within city limits.

Since it was a chore for past city leaders to remove these types of regulations, it was easier for current city councilors to decide that “within such time as is agreeable” actually means “never.”

When it came time to negotiate a four-year contract with current City Manager Bill Monahan, City Council agreed to include a provision saying he would not be required to live in the city. Council President Dave Hedges, however, said that he would now only vote for a contract that would require the city manager to live within the city. That requirement doesn’t sit well with Mayor Jeremy Ferguson, who nevertheless sees why city fathers originally wrote the provision.

“The spirit of the clause in the charter is that they wanted someone who lives in the community and understands local customs to oversee city operations,” Ferguson said.

As this debate has occurred, Monahan started looking for other city-manager posts.

Milwaukie’s city managers during the first half of the 20th century often were local residents who had some experience in running a business or directing a public-agency department, but times have changed, Ferguson argued. Now thousands (including Monahan) are members of the International City Managers Association, which provides professional development classes and publications on up-to-date best practices for running a city. The organization also selected Monahan and Ferguson to travel to China this week to participate in a leadership summit.

But now some of those same councilors who voted for Monahan’s contract are saying that it’s time to enforce the provision. They argue a city manager should ideally engage more frequently in city events and meet more citizens, such as at his or her own neighborhood association. They ask, has the city’s leadership really been satisfactory for the past 25 years?

“Best interests of the city of Milwaukie are served when the city manager resides in the city, and demonstrates his/her commitment and desire to be a part of the community,” three city councilors wrote in a surprise opposition argument in this month’s Voters’ Pamphlet.

The statement also says that if city managers prefer to “hire planners over police officers, they do not have to live with the lack of adequate police staffing to protect our citizens.” However, it’s not the city manager who decides whether to fund police or planning departments. That’s the decision of the 10-member Milwaukie Budget Committee, and the City Council has the final say in developing the budget and directing city policy.

“We used that as an example because it’s something that people can see for themselves,” Hedges said.

Monahan only has been able to use his discretion in leaving police officer positions open for a few months or in hiring a temporary planning consultant.

“He has left positions open for periods in almost every department, and he does it very cleverly so it’s not a big impact on the city,” said Councilor Mark Gamba.

What would city do in emergency?

Three city councilors go on to argue in the Voters’ Pamphlet that a city manager trapped outside the city by impassable infrastructure would not be able to fulfill a “vital” role in a local emergency operations center. Thankfully, Milwaukie has developed a number of contingency plans that don’t rely on a city manager. Police leadership also hasn’t been required to live within city limits, and an initiative in Portland recently failed to require police officers to live within city limits. Neither Milwaukie’s current nor its former police chief has lived within city limits; neither of the city’s police captains live in the city.

Instead, Milwaukie has an active Community Emergency Response Team of volunteers committed to helping neighbors following a disaster. By completing a 15-hour online course and a one-day hands-on test, the citizens are ready to help at emergency shelters, provide damage assessment, and participate in light search-and-rescue operations.

Saying that Milwaukie’s “planning goes pretty deep in the emergency management category,” Ferguson and Monahan attended the opening of the Bureau of Emergency Communication’s new facility near Southeast Powell Boulevard and 99th Avenue, where they had discussions with officials from the city of Portland, PGE and other jurisdictions about helping one another during major events. In addition, there always are professional firefighters and police officers on duty in emergency-response leadership roles within city limits.

Monahan is a volunteer emergency responder for the city of Tigard, and the city of Tigard employs an emergency response coordinator who lives on Lake Road in Milwaukie, Mike Lueck. Although they’ve worked together in Tigard, Lueck and Monahan never have seriously discussed “switching places” if a major disaster occurred to isolate them in their respective city of residence.

“If an emergency were to happen, it would be ironic that Mike works in Tigard and lives in Milwaukie, and vice versa for Bill,” Ferguson said.

Regardless of its complexities, the other city councilors’ argument in opposition has coincided with Monahan seeking work elsewhere. Monahan this year was a finalist to lead city staff in Burien, Wash., and Newberg, although neither city offered him the position.

Ferguson and Gamba argue that hiring a city manager from outside of the region can sometimes make sense. But the disadvantage of an outside hire would be the longer learning curve as Milwaukie’s new manager comes to understand metro-area structures and processes, creating a greater interruption in the handling of city business.

“While I don’t think it’s a bad idea for a city manager to live in the city he or she is administering, requiring it would limit the small cities in the metro region to hiring from out of state or at least from well outside of the metro region,” Gamba said. “Few people who live in, say, Tigard for 28 years for example, are likely to pull up stakes and move across the river.”

Ferguson and Gamba, who would rather not have to start a search for a new city manager, point out that Monahan can leave the city anytime as long as he gives a 30-day notice. They argue the ballot-measure opposition is pointless, since whichever way the vote goes, it will not legally affect Monahan, as his contract trumps the charter. Hedges and two other city councilors recognize that Monahan’s contract supersedes for now but would like to keep the city’s ability to require city-manager residency in future contracts.