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Mayor Holston’s 2022 State of the City Address

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Good evening, everyone and thank you for attending the first meeting of the new year of the Oakridge City Council.

It’s been a tumultuous year for many reasons.  Leading those reasons, of course, is the new norm of living with COVID. Here in Oakridge, it has impacted all of us.  I don’t have to list them all because we all know what has happened.  But I do want to acknowledge the impact that it has had on the businesses in our community.  Some have struggled, some new ones have opened up. But it is the employees and owners themselves who have borne the brunt of this.

We thank all of the business owners who work so hard to follow the guidelines from our health authorities to keep our community healthy. And to the community members that have lost loved ones, my deepest sympathy. I want to also acknowledge Orchid Clinic and the Oakridge Pharmacy for their efforts, that are ongoing, in providing vaccinations, boosters and testing to the community.

And a huge thanks to our Oakridge Fire Department and our city administration and the volunteers that assisted in organizing the initial vaccination clinics.

So, where are we as a community? Well, depending upon what lens you’re using, the answer will be different. Some of you will concentrate on the weather, with the promise of a heavy snowpack and how that might help our fire season. Some of you will look through the lens of healthcare and worry about a clinic that has left our community as well as needed needs that we have as far as physical therapy and chiropractic and mental health.

There will be others for whom the lens will be recreation. And they are seeing improvements in recreational opportunities in our community. The growth of our Old Mill Disc Golf Course and potentially an addition. Westfir is seeing an addition of a disc golf course which will only benefit us. Also, Oakridge Air has been doing a great job. They are the interface for the community for the woodstove change outs and the ductless heat pump installations. And this is crucial to our health and our ability to be attractive to new businesses and to new residents.

It is wonderful, also, to see the amount of grant writing that has taken place this year. This can only help our community. Grants, as you may know, is a numbers game. It’s like applying for a job. You have to apply everywhere. You have to put in lots of grants everywhere to get one or two. You can only hope. But they are an essential tool for a community of our size, as we have very slow growth in our property tax base.

We have used grants to install a bike washing station at Greenwaters and a partnership with Westfir. Our signage and wayfinding is finally coming into being because of a grant.

We are doing a housing needs assessment and an accompanying review of our codes, because of a grant. Our housing shortage is critical in our community. Identifying what our needs are and how to expand our choices should be the focus of this next year.

Using part of the ARPA funds from the Feds as seed money to demolish condemned derelict buildings and then sell the lots and to roll those profits back into the next property to be condemned and demolished. It is a positive step to improve our housing needs, and one that I hope the council will consider taking up.

I want to look solely through the lens of the city government for now. With the imminent departure of our city administrator and our city finance director, as mayor, I have a great deal of concern about where we are headed and the solvency of our community.

Fortunately, we know exactly where we are with our finances. While some on the council may disagree with the numbers in which columns and on what line, the bottom line is agreed upon. We have greater expenses than we have income. Our task as last year, and again this year, is to allocate what we have fairly and appropriately to ensure the continuation of services for the city and the protection of our assets.

The essential services are basic… water, sewer, roads. Other assets are our city’s buildings, our parks, our physical plants… the wastewater treatment, our well fields. No less important are the departments that manage our money, pay our bills, pay our taxes, and bill our water. Without these, we will not have employees to run our other services. Additionally, our police, fire, and ambulance services are essential to our community. But you all know this.

Council has struggled with the question of financing and distribution of funds to all of these services. And, in the midst of that struggle, we have not kept our eye on the ball, but rather have allowed ourselves to become adversaries rather than team members. Disagreements over expenditures and allocations are to be expected. But we should not attack the experts that are giving us the figures we need to allocate. They are not the enemy. They are not the cause of the lack of funds.

Our lack of income to offset expenses is not the result of years of mismanagement of funds, or some illegal act of theft or misappropriation. We must absolutely stop the painting of each other as villains. The problem is that expenditures are continually rising at an astronomical rate.

Unfortunately, this council is not adept at making decisions. Whether because of inexperience or fear, we haven’t become a team. Nor have we even acknowledged that we are in gridlock. But we are in crisis, and we are in gridlock.

Oakridge has always been on the cusp of greatness. But it doesn’t seem to step into the arena. Communities do move forward, and they do so because they look past their individual agendas. They work together. They create teams and they pursue goals. They look forward, not back. They embrace change rather than fight against it. They imagine a better community, and then pursue that using the tools available to them: experts, grants, initiative, leadership. They doggedly pursue the strategic goals that their communities identify. This is what you, community, should expect from your city council.

So let me be blunt and to the point. This council’s behavior has been abhorrent and meaningless. You have allowed yourselves to be led down a path of minutia in the guise of following Robert’s Rules of Order.

Community, don’t be fooled by thinking that only those who know the rules can be a Councilor. And I was asked/told that today. A councilor makes decisions and allows the rules to help when they get stuck. To center around these rules repeatedly and make no decisions is ridiculous and serves to distract from the important matters at hand.

Council is adept at avoiding decisions and this is the reason why they are afraid and do not understand that they have been elected to make decisions, not to say, “let’s poll the community”.

This is a representative form of government. We do not send emails to each other that are unkind and cruel. But that has happened. Having to report that to our city attorney was probably the low point in my service as mayor.

Having to tell councilors that you do not interfere with public works directors, public works employees, is ridiculous, and shouldn’t even have to be said. Declaring a conflict of interest in council but then going outside of council and continuing to talk about it is absolutely unprofessional. I do not understand where this action comes from.

I don’t know why, as a community, we want to tear ourselves down, rather than build ourselves up. But, as a council, we are an example of that, and we should be ashamed of ourselves. I would ask, strongly ask, councilors – do your homework, read your packets, ask questions ahead of the meeting, be prepared, and willing to make decisions. And councilors, stop acting as if the administration is an adversary. We are partners.

When I was elected as mayor, I made it clear that I was not a politician. I sincerely only wanted to bring this city to an even playing field: knowing exactly where our budget is, having a clear picture of our future trends, correcting inaccurate accounting methods, establishing a trust within the community, giving our community a confidence that our council and our city is moving forward with some common sense in accordance with our community chosen strategical goals.

I believe I did that. And the proof was in what I call the dream team: Bryan Cutchen and Eric Kytola. Excellent professionals with experience equal to the best. We have a balanced budget, an accurate reflection of where our assets are, where we can and cannot spend money.

Confidence established with the community has brought economic interest in development, grant money coming in to complete projects, and community members who are taking on new endeavors for the good of the community.

Our CA has diligently pursued finding answers to our most difficult questions, while bringing stability to our departments, spending the last 15 months meeting with agencies throughout the county to try to craft a solution to our emergency services problem, all the while keeping the cost to the city as low as possible. The goal is always, and has always been, to give Oakridge the best possible service at the least possible cost.

As an elected official and as a volunteer, and as a person, I have always believed it is important to assess what you are involve in regularly. I can only conclude that being mayor is a waste of my time. I spend hours preparing for meetings and attending meetings. I worked to educate myself in matters so I can make our community better. But it is a slap in the face to our community to attend council meetings where it is obvious the majority of councilors are unprepared and have barely looked at their agendas and packets. They have not taken the time to inform or educate themselves. They are eager to jump onto a band wagon, rather than to do the hard work of thinking for themselves.

This became extremely evident concerning our last meeting that resulted in the council moving TRT funds to cover the expense of a dance class in a community building, even when it was pointed out that that was an incorrect use of TRT funds. The next day, I immediately asked the CA to put this back on the agenda for review and to not transfer any funds. It is illegal to ask him to transfer funds for something we know is an improper use. I was appalled.

But this leads me to believe that with the departure of our CA and or finance director, that this block council will continue to make decisions contrary to, not only common sense, but possibly illegal, thereby placing themselves in jeopardy, and our city in peril. And I choose not to be a part of that.

It is important to value and respect leadership; professional expertise and cooperation and this council does not do that. While I remain committed to the progress of my community and will continue to volunteer at the warming center and other areas, I cannot, with good conscience be a party to a council that is self-serving, narrow-minded, and unwilling to do their job. As a group, they have, in my opinion, abdicated their responsibility as elected officials.

Look no further than tonight’s agenda. Three additions were made. Do they address upcoming departure of the finance director? No. Do they address what steps we should do to pay our employees when they leave.? No.  But they do address “gotcha” attitudes.

I am very grateful, and I want to thank the members of the community who have quietly supported me, encouraged me, thanked me for putting in a professional face to our community once again and representing them with dignity and professionalism. I am forever in your debt.

Perhaps now the council wants to stop with the negativity and turn a 180, face the future, and make some decisions that are positive for our community. But I can no longer be a party to the irresponsible behavior of this council. I believe Oakridge deserves better. I, therefore, formally resign as mayor effective immediately.

My resignation is on the CA’s desk, and a transfer of office document will be mailed to you by email after this meeting so that you can see the outstanding things that will be occurring.

I appreciate all of your service, as always and I respectfully turn the meeting over to Councilor Hollett.

Good night.

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