Coleman named mayor

Benny Westcott

Susan Coleman was named Sweet Home’s mayor – becoming the first woman to hold that top office in nearly four decades and only the third female mayor in the city’s 130-year history – during 2023’s first City Council meeting, held Tuesday, Jan. 10, at City Hall.

Coleman, a council member since 2017, was elected by fellow council members to replace Greg Mahler, who had held the top office since 2017 and will now serve in a pro tem capacity. She was elected on a 7-0 vote over fellow councilor Angelita Sanchez, who was nominated by Councilor Dylan Richards.

Coleman follows a historic precedent established by Lettie Sankey, Sweet Home’s first female mayor from 1929 to 1930. (According to Sankey’s granddaughter, the late Mona Waibel, “She was elected on a fluke when someone added her name to the ballot because the other candidate was unpopular.”) The city wouldn’t see another woman in that position until more than a half-century later, when Ruth V. Ganta occupied the seat from 1983 to 1986.

Coleman has been a liaison to the Chamber of Commerce Board, an appointee to the Library Board and chair of the Sweet Home Capitol Christmas Tree Committee. She has also served on the Linn County Public Safety Committee and the Linn County Compensation Board and has been secretary of the Oregon Sportsmen’s Caucus Foundation.

Professionally, she’s been a third-party pension administrator, the Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce’s office administrator, a legislative assistant to state representative Sherrie Sprenger, executive assistant to the president of Corban University and the executive assistant to the CEO of BiblicalTraining.org.

Coleman graduated from Centerville High School in Ohio in 1990, then from Simpson University in Redding, Calif., in 1994, with a bachelor’s degree in Christian education. She would later earn a master of arts degree in intercultural/multicultural and diversity studies from Alliance Theological Seminary in New York, obtaining that distinction in 2003.

Councilor Lisa Gourley called the 13-year Sweet Home resident “amazing,” adding, “She has served us well. Never been any controversy, never any harsh words. She has worked at our Capitol and knows legislators well, and the ins-and-outs of the committees. She knows the parliamentary process and Robert’s Rules of Order (a guide to parliamentary procedure).

“She does her homework and asks questions in meetings. I have had the privilege of watching this person know and understand what’s going on, ask the questions and serve on committees well. She is a person with a family and a life that loves our community.”

“I think that this is a very historic opportunity for Sweet Home, to have a female city manager, a female mayor, and a woman of color nominated for mayor,” Sanchez said. “I do fully support Mayor Coleman in her position. I thank her for everything that she’s done for our city, and I’m really looking forward to working with her.”

Coleman said she was “blown away” by the support.

“I just am humbled and honored that you all will trust me in leading these meetings and these proceedings.

“I am a big proponent of honoring every person,” she continued. “I will shut down any attempt to shame or dishonor anybody in these proceedings. We’ve had some tough times in the past and a lot of tensions. I think a lot of (those) have to do with emotions being raw from a lot of stuff that’s happened – COVID, wildfires – but also transitions.

“I’d like us to just move forward. Let’s all agree to leave the past in the past and as we begin this new year, let us just choose to move forward with our different world views and perspectives that we all have.

“Let’s come around this table and share our varied beliefs and ideas, so that we can come to some solid solutions for Sweet Home and the betterment of our community and hometown.

“I would like to be sure to hear from every councilor. I think it’s important that each councilor is able to express their voice. Everyone here has been elected by a different group of people, even though there’s some overlap.

“You represent those people here and are their voices here. I hope that you can speak up and share what you think your constituent base would want us to hear.”

The departing Mahler also received his share of praise.

“He has been on the fire department for 25 years serving this community and has served our community on the council for 16, as a businessman, a family man, a church man, and a good person that has social obligations of their own,” Gourley said. “He was part of the council that saved the money in their budget, even in hard times, to pay cash for this building (City Hall).

“He carried us through coming into this building and has worked with three different city managers,” she continued. “He’s managed to help us maintain a good budget, a good city, and through the COVID crises, helped our city continue on, with all the craziness going on in the world at that time.”

“During the fires, when smoke was filling our own lungs – they were evacuating Crawfordsville, and I believe the Calapooia (River) was on fire – it is my understanding that there were 52 fires in our own city, and we didn’t lose a building.”

Gourley continued: “We have been through a lot, and we owe this man a lot, because of the nights, the weekends, and all of the craziness that nobody will ever know that goes on in the background of running any city. Sweet Home is no exception.

“As I make my motion tonight (to nominate Coleman as mayor), I do it with the deepest gratitude for the work and the years and the service that our mayor has dedicated in his life to our community.

“It is a great honor to have worked with him and know him, and I will enjoy and love working with him as we continue. But I also believe his family, his business and his life deserve a break.”

After thanking Gourley, Mahler said, “It’s been an honor to be your mayor. I feel that Mayor Coleman is going to do a phenomenal job for the city.”

Gourley nominated Mahler for mayor pro tem.

“I believe we need continuity,” she explained. “We have a new city manager and city staff. We have a lot of things in the mix and a lot of things going on, and we need somebody to assist (Coleman) in a way that helps our citizenry the best that they can. Someone who knows the developers that are in the mix of wanting to invest in our community, and who understands some of the things that have been going on in the background as we move forward within our city.”

Richards nominated Sanchez for mayor pro tem, but Mahler won the vote 4-3, bolstered by Gourley, Coleman, Councilor Dave Trask and Mahler himself. Richards and Sanchez backed Sanchez, as did new, first-time councilor Josh Thorstad, who was also sworn in at the meeting.

Coleman, Richards and Thorstad all took four-year council terms as the top vote-getters in November’s election. Mahler was sworn in for two years.

In other meeting action:

— City Manager Kelcey Young discussed the Lebanon-based Family Assistance and Resource Center’s new facility for Sweet Home’s homeless population currently under way on a land parcel east of Bi-Mart.

Work continues following an oversight committee’s initially targeted opening date of Dec. 15, 2022.

“FAC has been working hard on trying to move forward,” she said. “I don’t think they would be even close to as far as they are if it wasn’t for the help of our community. We’ve had quite a few community members out there.”

“Once it’s open, we’re hoping to start taking back the rest of the community.

“We are going to be moving those that aren’t able to get into the FAC facility, because there aren’t enough beds, to the police station parking lot. There’s a back area that we’ve already prepared. We have some gravel down there, and there’s going to be another dumpster and a Port-a-Potty going there for now.”

“This is just for overflow,” she stressed. “The idea is that FAC is going to be providing the beds. Provided that there are enough beds, we shouldn’t see any tents in that area. If there aren’t beds left in the FAC facility, then this would be an area for the homeless to be, hopefully in the short term while FAC prepares additional huts.”

— The council voted unanimously to move to a third and final reading by title only, to be conducted at the Jan. 24 meeting, an ordinance regulating the parking of travel trailers and recreational vehicles within the city.

The proposed ordinance decreed that no one could park or place any recreational vehicle on any public street or alley for any period of time, although RVs may be parked up to two hours anywhere on Main Street or on Long Street between Holley Road and 18th Avenue to allow tourists to patronize local businesses.

Uninhabited RVs may be parked, stored or left on a public street for up to five cumulative days in a 30-day period, but only if they’re parked in front of the owner’s property, allowing a resident to pack, unpack or otherwise maintain their vehicles at home. RVs owned by public agencies would be exempt from the prohibition.

The ordinance comes about as the city has experienced a sharp increase in travel trailers and RVs parking within public rights-of-way in recent years.

The city currently has no ordinance prohibiting the parking of travel trailers and RVs in available on-street spaces – they need only comply with rules, which typically allow parking for up to two days.

However, if an RV or trailer is moved a minor distance every two days, it can be parked in the right-of-way indefinitely.

The use of RVs typically generates wastewater and garbage, much like a residential home. Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen wrote in a request for council action (RCA) that they’re typically quite large and dangerously block drivers’ line of sight.

He noted that it was often difficult for drivers to see children or even adults between parked passenger cars, so it was nearly impossible with RVs and travel trailers. He added that because of their size, they typically occupy three or even four regular parking spaces.

— The council voted unanimously to move to a third and final reading by title only an ordinance regulating vehicle camping within the city, after a recent influx of vehicle camping in Sweet Home resulted in increased complaints and safety concerns, leading city staff to research options for improving the current situation.

The city currently has no ordinance prohibiting vehicle camping, which is permitted on public property or within public rights-of-way if it complies with parking regulations.

The city is constrained by recent 9th Circuit Court decisions (Martin v. Boise and Blake v. Grants Pass) that protect the right of homeless individuals to occupy public places.

At the same time, vehicle camping inherently impacts public health and safety, according to an RCA submitted by Larsen. The city cannot prohibit anyone from vehicle camping; however, it can pass time, place and manner restrictions on the practice.

The proposed ordinance outlines would prohibit vehicle camping within the city when a motor vehicle was parked within a publicly owned parking area or within any public right-of-way.

Motor vehicle camping would be permitted at the Sweet Home Police Department between the hours of 9 p.m. and 8 a.m., provided that the vehicle is operational and capable of moving under its own power, is parked within a marked space, is not a recreational vehicle and that any associated personal property were stored within it.

The ordinance also outlined that the designation of the Sweet Home Police Department as an acceptable location could be changed to another as determined by City Council resolution.

n The council voted unanimously to move to a third and final reading by title only an ordinance designating more areas as “parking zones” in the city, or spaces where the city manager was authorized to dictate the duration of parking and order Public Works to mark parking spaces.

Currently, these zones are in place on Main Street from Highway 228 to 18th Ave., Long St. from Ames Creek Bridge to 18th Ave. and portions of 9th, 10th, 12th, 13th, and 15th avenues.

After the city “received a few complaints about parking in the downtown area,” Larsen explained, the new proposed ordinance amends the city code and adds several new parking zones downtown.

The changes include making the rest of Main and Long streets parking zones, as well as 43rd Ave. between Long Street and Airport Road, Airport between 43rd and 49th avenues, 49th Ave. between Airport Road and Main St., 15th Ave. between Long and Main streets, and the north side of Kalmia St., between its western end (at the Sweet Home Fire District Main Station) and 15th Ave.

— The council unanimously approved an engineering contract with Civil West Engineer Services for a pedestrian crossing with rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRFB) at the intersection of Highway 228 and 2nd Ave.

In late 2020, the city applied for and received a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) grant for the construction of a pedestrian crossing with rectangular rapid-flashing beacons (RRFB) at that location. Soon after the city received grant approval, the Oregon Department of Transportation began its ongoing American with Disabilities Act-compliant ramp project throughout the city.

Since concrete work would be completed as part of the ramp project, staff decided to wait until the ramps at this intersection were completed before proceeding with the SRTS project.

Using the city’s engineer-of-record procurement, staff have now arranged for Civil West to complete the engineering for the RRFBs. After Civil West finishes, staff will issue a request for proposal for the procurement and installation of equipment.

Staff believes that the remaining project could amount to nearly $100,000, 80% of which would be funded by ODOT, with the city providing the remaining 20%. However, additional ODOT funds may be tapped to cover that percentage, so the project’s financial impact on the city could be between $0 or $20,000.

Trask raised questions about whether the intersection should receive improvements at the expense of others that could receive funding for upgrades.

“I have lived on 2nd Avenue since 1974,” he said. “When I was employed, I don’t remember having to stop at a crosswalk there forever. Maybe 10 times in 50 years. I am for this; don’t get me wrong. But on the other side of that, I think we have other places that are necessary, too.

“For example, Hawthorne (Elementary School). It’s horrible there. And the school knows. They can’t do anything about it. It’s a mess. It’s a total mess.”

“My kids were on that street (2nd Avenue),” he continued. “We were fortunate enough that we didn’t have to take them up there and walk across. Sometimes they did. And there’s still kids on that street, but I don’t see them coming across that crosswalk. But it’s a good thing. I’m not saying it’s not a good thing. But I think we need to research some of that other stuff, too, because there’s lots of these things that could be done.”

“We put in an application typically every time the application period is open for SRTS,” Larsen replied. “It’s a great program and we always have a need. Our most recent application was for improvements next to the junior high on Mountain View Road, which is also a huge problem, and, unfortunately, we were not successful in that application.

“But we will continue to apply, and we will add Hawthorne to the mix. We do have funding for sidewalk improvements which we have not been spending as much as we could. I believe there are lots of projects that we’d like to work into that fund.”

Trask asked about the city’s grant application for a pedestrian crossing at Highway 228 and 2nd Ave.

“The schools have tried to promote children walking to school,” Coleman replied. “And as a parent of small children, I did not want them crossing 228 without something there. And at some point in time, a bus got rear-ended by a log truck that couldn’t slow down coming off the hill. It wasn’t speeding, it was just heavy.”

— Young addressed what she called a recent crime increase in parts of the city.

“We’ve had a very challenging past few weeks and actually even longer than that,” she said. “We’ve seen an uptick in crime in certain areas, particularly in our downtown and in some houses.”

She said that the Sweet Home Police Department has increased its watch and patrols.

“We also want to call on the community and those that would be interested in bringing back neighborhood watch,” she continued. “We’re going to have more information on that coming out, on what we can and cannot do. We’re going to try to support that as best we can. We have had daily conversations about ways we can improve the safety of our community.

“So we’re going to be coming back with some additional ideas. We’re talking about things like lighting and possibly some additional security cameras. We also may be asking the council to add another officer.

“This is something that we cannot do alone, so we do want to ask citizens to also step forward as they can to try to do neighborhood watch, and to bring forward their ideas.”

— Sixth Avenue resident Nancy White complained to the council about a household in what she otherwise described as her “nice neighborhood.”

“This one house has been a problem for over two years,” she explained. “There have been complaints of rats in the neighborhood. This house has trash piled to the roof in the garage, bags of garbage that spill out into the driveway.

“They have wrecked, dismantled vehicles that they work on. They spill out into the front yard and into the driveway. Quite often, kids have to walk out into the street to go around this mess. The house right now looks worse than the landfill. Code Enforcement has been working on it and working on it and working on it. They get it partially cleared up and it looks halfway decent, and then it deteriorates again.”

She asked the councilors, “Can you go over the codes and rules and regulations and do something to strengthen them so that it doesn’t get to this point?”

“We would be happy to review the codes and potentially bring back something to the council,” Young replied. “We have some that we would like to discuss as early as the next council meeting. But we also would like to discuss a little bit more internally and look at what our current codes are as well.”

— The council voted unanimously to renew a contract between Municipal Court Judge Larry Blake and the city. Blake has been employed by the city since 2006. Under the contract, he will be paid a monthly salary of $4,285.42. The terms of the agreement commenced Jan. 11 and extend to January 31, 2025.

— The council voted unanimously to enter into a contract with Matt Brown Consulting for finance services. Following last summer’s resignation of previous Finance Director Brandon Neish, then-City Manager Pro Tem Christy Wurster determined that the city needed financial administration assistance until another director could be hired. So the council authorized the city manager to execute a contract with Matt Brown Consulting in July 2022 with an expiration date of Dec. 31.

Staff determined that the city still needs consulting until the finance-director position is filled. The contract outlines that Matt Brown’s services will cost the city $100 per hour.

— The council unanimously approved a contract between the city and Merina and Company for finance services. According to the contract, the firm will perform reconciliations of the city’s main operating account for October through June of the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2022, for $45,000.

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