Annual State of the City speech focuses on development and outreach

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - In his fifth State of the City speech as mayor of West Linn, John Kovash said the government was 'stable, secure and productive.'Before beginning his fifth “State of the City” address Feb. 12 at the West Linn Public Library, Mayor John Kovash took a moment to reflect.

During his first speech in 2010, when he was still an interim mayor, Kovash had acknowledged the city’s “dysfunctional” state and promised to stabilize the local government.

“And now, less than four years later, it is widely understood that we have regained West Linn’s reputation,” Kovash said. “The government is stable, secure and productive.”

The bulk of this year’s speech aimed to prove that point, as Kovash cited the success of recent development and repair projects, as well as a number of new partnerships and grants.

Within the last year, the city oversaw additions and remodels at the library, broke ground on a new police station, entered into a new agreement with Lake Oswego and Tigard for emergency water and received a $220,000 Metro grant for the area around the arch bridge.

“This staff is working to build community,” Kovash said.

He also noted that the city’s tax rate, at $2.12 per $1,000 of assessed value, is the lowest in the area, in large part due to the efforts of city staff.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - In his speech, Mayor John Kovash said upgrading the city's aging water pipes would be a priority in the near future.

“(City Manager) Chris Jordan and his staff are constantly looking for the most efficient and effective way to provide essential services and infrastructure, as our financial situation continues to be somewhat challenging,” Kovash said.

Indeed, the city’s adopted 2014-15 budget featured a number of cuts in funding and full-time employees, as West Linn took on a “Costco” mindset as opposed to the plush “Nordstrom” mentality of years past.

“We have a good balance sheet and low debt,” Kovash said. “But we do have a level of income that puts pressure on staffing levels and limits some services.”

Financial challenges aside, an array of projects will continue through 2014 and beyond. Kovash cited the replacement of West Linn’s 100-year-old Bolton Reservoir as a top priority.

“Last year, while we were celebrating the centennial of West Linn, we were also celebrating the centennial of the Bolton Reservoir,” Kovash said. “It is old, it is deteriorating and it needs to be replaced — and we will do that.”

At a more personal level, Kovash emphasized an effort to better connect with citizens through the long-term project “Citizen Engagement 2020.”

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Kovash said another focus for 2014 would be improving citizen outreach methods.

“Being informed and engaged should not be a privilege reserved for those with the time or resources to attend nightly meetings,” Kovash said. “Having your voice heard should not be a privilege reserved for those who yell the loudest or bully those with a different point of view.”

Kovash referred briefly to a report that a number of local businesses had been bullied and threatened by a group protesting the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership.

“We know that some people have not come to city council meetings to voice their opinions because of repercussions from their fellow citizens,” Kovash said. “I hope you all find this unacceptable.”

In the end, Kovash said West Linn was “one of the best places to live in the country,” with positive opportunities for growth in its near future.

Greg DiLoreto, a resident for the past 29 years, agreed with that assessment.

“We were dysfunctional a few years ago, and we’ve turned that around,” DiLoreto said. “We’re making progress on our infrastructure — we’re doing good things in this town, and you can be proud of it again.”

With a background in infrastructure and public works, DiLoreto said he was particularly excited to hear about the street repair and water programs.

Another resident, Carole White, praised Kovash for addressing the water partnership controversy directly, but she said she had hoped to hear more about the city’s future.

“I was expecting a list of, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’” White said. “It was more a list of, ‘This is what we have done.’”

The speech also came in the midst of an effort to recall Kovash and three city councilors - Jenni Tan, Mike Jones and Jody Carson. Two petitioners stood outside the library as attendees filed in, holding signs that read “Recall: Sign Here” and “West Linn First.”

The petitions were filed by four West Linn residents, Karie Oakes, Curtis Sommer, Reena Heijdeman and E. Marie Horvath, each alleging that the city council members broke their oaths of office by violating public meetings laws, “failing to represent the best interests of West Linn citizens,” “ignoring recommendations from city advisory boards and commissions” and “failing to assert proper control and direction over the city manager and city attorney.”

The library hosted this year’s speech for the first time, replacing the West Linn Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event at the Oregon Golf Club. In another change from previous years, Kovash opted to speak in the evening rather than the afternoon to allow more flexibility for residents who work during the day.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - The speech was held at the West Linn Public Library for the first time, and Kovash also scheduled the speech in the evening so that more residents could attend.

By Patrick Malee
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