In a wide-ranging "State of the City" address that lasted about 30 minutes at the West Linn Public Library Tuesday, Feb. 28, Mayor Russ Axelrod touched on dozens of items from both past and present.
But the speech, Axelrod's second since he took office midway through 2015, was also guided by a single principle that Axelrod repeated a number of times.
"I chose a theme tonight of 'reaching out' because that is exactly what we are doing now in West Linn, and reaching out is a key component to the success of our future," Axelrod said in the opening minutes of the speech. "Success is not developed through isolation, which is why it is so important that we listen better and engage and support each other — individually and collectively."
Before diving into plans for the year ahead, Axelrod highlighted a series of accomplishments and developments from 2016. Foremost among those, Axelrod said, was the hiring of a new city manager in Eileen Stein.
Axelrod's rapid ascent from planning commissioner to city councilor and then mayor was fueled in large part by a desire to bring change to a city hall that he felt was too insular and resistant to citizen input. Longtime City Manager Chris Jordan departed in August 2015, a few months after Axelrod won a special election to replace outgoing Mayor John Kovash — thus giving Axelrod an opportunity to enact change at the top of the city hierarchy.
"The hiring of Ms. Stein marks a profound cultural shift in our city management toward service to our citizens' desires and aspirations," Axelrod said. "A shift to restore the function of the city's organizational chart, by one large measure — a shift from giving citizens only one option to one more of exploration of alternatives, true outreach and consensus building among the community."
Axelrod also highlighted the hiring of Citizen Engagement Coordinator Courtney Flynn, while noting that 2016 saw important progress made on a variety of fronts — from completing about 80 percent of the new Bolton Reservoir to earning funding for Highway 43 design and construction, creating a new youth council and reviving the Committee for Citizen Involvement (CCI).
Outlook for 2017
As the council sets out to achieve goals in six primary areas — including citizen engagement, economic development and transportation — Axelrod said he expects 2017 to be an exciting year.
"Our council is ambitious and we want to take on so many things," he said. "But we need to realize that some things need to be taken one step at a time, and that we need to pace ourselves so we don't run our new city manager out of town."
With the 2017 State Legislature session in full swing, Axelrod said West Linn will be a persistent voice in Salem.
"We will be spending a lot of time in Salem and Portland and other cities, reaching out to our legislators, stakeholders and regional partners, providing testimony and discussing and negotiating on items and issues important to West Linn," Axelrod said.
Planning for West Linn's waterfront area will take center stage in 2017, alongside an effort to reopen the Willamette Falls Locks, the adoption of a new biennial budget and advocating against urban development in the rural Stafford area. As another mechanism for "reaching out," the City is also planning to host a series of town hall meetings starting in March or April.
"We want to strengthen not just our connections in our community, but to reach out beyond our border to our neighboring friends and communities," Axelrod said.
Robert Moore Award
Before diving into the bulk of his speech Feb. 28, Axelrod also took a moment to present the fourth annual Robert Moore Award for community service to longtime community member and former mayor Larry McIntyre.
The award — named after West Linn's founder — was designed to "recognize individuals who contribute to the quality of life in the community without reward or recognition." To name the award after Moore was fitting; though he founded the city, Moore chose to name it after friend and mentor Dr. Lewis Linn.
Beyond serving as mayor from 1983 to 1986, McIntyre is best known for his tireless work with the West Linn Historical Society and the Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation.
"This year's recipient of the Robert Moore Award truly exemplifies the qualities of our city's founder — so much so that he regularly re-enacts him at historical events," Axelrod said. "(McIntyre) is regularly described as kind, friendly, even-tempered and patient. His love for West Linn is exemplified in many different forms."
Axelrod also referenced a letter written by a resident in support of McIntyre, which stated that "he is an outstanding pillar in our town in too many ways to explain … he is a man to look up to and emulate."
McIntyre joins former winners Dave Kruse, Lisa Clifton and Alexana Kachirisky.
By Patrick Malee
Assistant Editor, West Linn Tidings
Pamplin Media Group
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