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New judge elected, charter amendments approved

West Linn elected new judge and made several changes to its city charter during the special election Tuesday.

Out of 16,571 registered voters, just 2,952 ballots, or 17.8 percent, were returned.

With just one choice on the ballot, West Linn residents elected Rhett Bernstein as the new municipal court judge. Bernstein has been serving as the interim judge after Heather Karabeika moved to a spot on the Clackamas County Circuit Court on June 1.

Bernstein had 1,839 votes, or 93 percent, with 138 write-ins for others.

“I’m humbled and honored to take over a position filled by such capable people before me,” Bernstein said. “I will work really hard to do my best to represent the people of West Linn in the capacity of the municipal court.”

Bernstein has been a prosecuting attorney for the city since 2007, grew up in West Linn, having moved back as an adult in 2005. He will serve the remainder of Karabeika’s term, which expires Dec. 31, 2014.

“I care about this community and this is a good place for me to exercise my education and experience,” Bernstein said. “I’m very honored citizens have placed their trust in me.”

“A hearty congratulations to Rhett,” Mayor John Kovash said. “The city council knew he would do a great job as the interim municipal court judge, and the voters clearly agree. I hope Rhett enjoys his new job as our judge, and I look forward to seeing him at city hall.”

There were also four measures up for vote amending the West Linn Charter. The charter defines the local governing system and has been modified 11 times since its adoption in 1995, most recently in May 2012.

The first, Measure 3-428, amends the charter so all annexations outside the urban growth boundary will be approved by the majority of voters. The change deletes an entire paragraph from the charter, which has the caveat that property could be annexed if needed for public facilities, such as schools, road, parks and infrastructure.

The new section reads: “Unless mandated by state, the city of West Linn shall not annex any territory, by delayed annexation or otherwise, without the approval of a majority vote among the city’s electorate.”

This measure received 2,396 votes in favor (82.3 percent) and 517 votes against (17.7 percent).

Kovash said, “Measure 3-428 provides the added clarification that West Linn annexations require voter approval. We know this is a community value, and this charter change protects this value.”

The second, Measure 3-429, gives the city council clear power to hire and fire the city attorney, who, according to the current charter, already reports directly to the council.

The measure adds this to the charter: “The office of city attorney is established as the chief legal officer of the city. The city attorney shall be appointed and removed by a majority of all incumbent members of the council.”

Voters resoundingly approved this measure with 83.5 percent in favor (2,401 votes) and 16.5 percent against (476 votes).

“For too long, there has been confusion over who the city attorney reports to in the city leadership structure,” Kovash said. “Measure 3-429 clearly defines that the city council appoints and removes the city attorney.”

The third, Measure 3-430, changes the date of special elections. This measure amends the charter to fill mayor, city council and judge vacancies that have more than one year left in the term during the more popular May and November elections rather than a September or March special election, as is the current process.

In another strong favor, this measure was approved by 90.1 percent of voters (2,608 votes) with 9.9 percent (285 votes) against it.

“This election is the perfect example of why this charter change was much needed – we went to an added expense to hold this special election. And, the turnout was so low, it was a reminder that general elections yield greater voter participation. Now, with the approval of Measure 3-430, we can wait until general elections to fill vacancies in elected office,” Kovash said.

The fourth, Measure 3-431, establishes the duties of the city council and the city manager. Currently, the city council has power to hire and fire the city manager. In turn, the city manager is charged with appointing, supervising and removing city personnel.

The proposed amendment states that elected officials will not interfere with the city manager’s outlined duties, including handling personnel and awarding contracts. However, some contesting this amendment suggested it gives the city manager too much power.

With more resistance than the other measures, this measure received 2,027 votes (70.6 percent) in favor and 845 against (29.4 percent).

“Approval of Measure 3-428 is a clear indication that the West Linn community supports our council-manager form of government,” Kovash said. “By clarifying that the council will not interfere with administrative matters, we can ensure that our local government is efficiently and effectively managed by professionals.”

The new section states: “No city council member may directly or indirectly, by suggestion, or otherwise, attempt to interfere, influence, or coerce the city manager in the award of a public contract or any personnel decision.”




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  • 21 Dec 2014

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