Washington D.C. trip ‘flap’ shouldn’t be issue

By Dave Holley

It should come as no surprise to those who know me, that I have an opinion.

This time it concerns the recent flap about how many city councilors go on the trip to Washington, D.C. for the lighting of the National Christmas Tree, this year being supplied from the Sweet Home National Forest.

It goes without saying that this is a very big deal for Sweet Home. The uniqueness of our name is one thing that will make for some very good pubicity. Over the years, when I said I was from Sweet Home, I was asked, “Is that really the name of the town?” I guarantee this will be an item of discussion.

The problem, if indeed there is one, is that apparently more than three councilors want to make the trip.

Under our charter, as well as state regulations concerning public meeting laws, a majority of our council – in our case, four – would be considered a quorum and technically any city business discussed would be a violation of the public meetings law even though no action could be taken on anything discussed.

All boards and councils throughout the state are well aware of the law and take care not to be in violation. It becomes a real problem in the case of social gatherings. The Linn County Board of Commissioners consist of three members. If they interpret the law literally it would mean that only one could attend the Veterans Parade in Albany,

It would mean that only three Sweet Home Council members could attend the Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet, or go to the Annual Health Fair or watch the Sportsman Holiday Parade.

When I was mayor, I tried to make a point of reminding councilors of events in the city and encourage them to go and support the people who put them in office. I still think this is a good idea.

Of course, I had the pleasure of serving with people like Bob Whitfield, Mona Waibel, Granville Hopkins, Sherman Weld as well as Walt Volkers, Craig Fentiman and Jim Gourley. We had plenty to do without being concerned about having meetings that would be in violation.

It was during this time frame that the Sweet Home Economic Development Group was formed, and several levies were passed to provide police and library services. In the not-too-distant past the city had been operating with a four-man police department.

We also dealt with water lines in east Sweet Home that were falling apart. In short, we had the same problems that the current council faces and that other councils have been plagued with, just on a different scale.

Being a councilor or mayor requires more than attending a couple of meetings a month. It takes leadership, commitment and a willingness to do more than is expected. It does not take away your rights as an individual.

The law is intended to keep a majority of any board to meet outside regular meetings to discuss business. No getting together in a local restaurant or someone’s home, or in a setting that permits them to come to any agreement. In my view, it is not intended to apply to social situations where council members are in the same general area, but not together. We are simply overthinking this and reading something into it that isn’t there.

During budget meetings this past year, which I was a part of, money was included in the budget for expenses related to the Christmas Tree event. The City Council, as is their right, voted to send three of their body to attend the event. They decided on three to keep the number less than the four needed for a quorum and stay within the guidelines of the law and not send a majority of the council.

Councilor Lisa Gourley, who was not one of the three selected, told the council that she would be attending the event on her own dime, as it was something she supported and wanted to see. From reporting of their meeting, I have seen she was basically told by the rest of the council that since she wasn’t part of the official delegation, that she shouldn’t go on her own as it would send the wrong “appearance.”

Lisa, to her credit, has been fairly measured in her response, but has said she is still going. I hope she sticks to her guns and makes the trip.

When we agree to be councilors or to be serve on other committees, we don’t give up our rights to be an independent member of society. I can truthfully say that if I were in her position I would be a lot more forthcoming in my response and would leave no doubt in anyone’s mind as to how I felt.

The selection of the National Christmas Tree from the Sweet Home National Forest is a big deal to our community and will give us national exposure. It would be nice if we could have a delegation of 500 or so attend although this is not possible. Let’s celebrate the fact of our opportunity and not get caught up in creating a problem of “appearance” that’s just not there.

Let’s not overthink this!

– Dave Holley, a former Sweet Home mayor, serves on the city’s Budget Committee.