GLADSTONE, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — In baseball, the cleanup hitter is usually the best on the team, responsible for driving in the runs of teammates.
Gladstone has found itself in need of a cleanup hitter after the recall election that kicked out two city councilors, quickly followed by the sudden resignation of its city administrator on June 9.
Asked about playing cleanup for Gladstone, Jacque Betz replied that she prefers the term “steering the ship.” No stranger to controversy — having in 2015 resigned from her job leading the city of Newberg amid anonymous claims against her — Betz took the helm as acting Gladstone city manager in the wake of its recent political drama and has seemed unfazed by threats of another recall.
“How do you turn a city around? You start doing good things,” she said.
Betz acknowledged that Gladstone’s plans for civic buildings have been stalled during the political upheaval. However, on Aug. 8, the City Council approved a plan to build a new City Hall and police station at the current public-works site using about $7.4 million in urban-renewal funds.
Urban-renewal dollars cannot be used for a new library on Portland Avenue, as approved by Gladstone voters. With the city and county in negotiations over $1.5 million for the library, Betz is not sure where the library funding will come from. Even if the city received the $1.5 million it demanded in a lawsuit filed last year against the county, it’s unclear how that would add up for Gladstone’s new library construction. The project was last publicly proposed to be $10.37 million library/replacement City Hall structure.
Betz said that she and County Administrator Don Krupp have been meeting on a weekly basis and discussing potential funding options for a replacement Gladstone library, including asking voters to approve a construction bond or to create a new library taxing district.
“The good thing on the library is that there were some barriers to communication with the county, and now there are not,” Betz said.
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After an executive meeting with city councilors on Aug. 22, Betz said that the city is preparing to approve a letter dropping the lawsuit contigent on continued positive conversations with the county. She said that it was looking likely that Gladstone and Oak Lodge would each rebuild their small libraries rather than combine services in a larger library. A significantly smaller library proposal in Gladstone would mean another public vote, since voters in 2014 approved a 13,000-to-16,000-square-foot library building.
Betz said that she is well aware that the city will have to build back the trust of citizens slowly and carefully. She thanked voters for approving plans for civic buildings and promised to fight tirelessly for the construction of the library, which citizens approved prior to the plans for other civic buildings.
“I don’t have all the history with this library fight, which might be good, because I can just say, ‘Let’s build this,'” Betz said.
Betz has been receiving praise from city councilors and citizens, including at a recent Coffee with a Councilor event. On June 27, the City Council unanimously voted to promote her to acting city administrator and give her a raise to $9,583 a month with a temporary contract that extends through Dec. 19.
Even city councilors who were skeptical of the city’s rushed process to hire on Betz as an assistant city administrator have been impressed by her abilities.
“She’s doing a phenomenal job,” Councilor Neal Reisner said.
Gladstone’s elected officials are limited in talking about how much Eric Swanson, Gladstone’s former administrator, is responsible for the cleanup job now foisted on Betz. The mayor and Swanson co-signed a severance agreement in June saying that neither the City Council nor Swanson would “speak disparagingly” of each other’s “personal or business character.”
What is clear is that since June 2016 Swanson kept promising that the city soon would have a new website using a company called Verve Northwest Communications. Verve already had been contracted to handle communications for the city during the murder trial of former Gladstone Sgt. Lynn Benton, who was convicted in October.
Months after the deadline to complete the website, Swanson announced in an email to city councilors that he had given up on Verve ever completing the website. He indicated that he wanted to keep the information confidential from the public until the city had determined whether it could successfully sue Verve for failing to complete the project.
“I want to get [City Attorney] David [Doughman]’s legal opinion about our chances to recoup $$$ prior to making any final public announcement on how much $$$ the city is out,” Swanson wrote to city councilors in April, about two months before Swanson resigned. “As I stated earlier, we will still be under budget ($25K) but unfortunately the lost time and missed deadlines are disappointing.”
Betz said that she would never try to keep information from the public. In response to public-record requests, she’s been known to just hand over her personal copy of a document without questions or fees to a citizen requesting information; Betz then reprints a copy for herself.
“I’ve found that people here in Gladstone want to know what’s going on, and I just give it to them,” Betz said. “Working in the public sector, we have no secrets.”
As for the Verve debacle, Betz said that the city attorney has determined that it would cost more in legal fees than the city potentially could get back of the $9,166 it spent on Verve’s failed website.
“I don’t want to cover for my predecessor, but we weren’t able to recover much of what Verve did, just some of the photos of staff and city councilors,” Betz said.
Betz ended up contracting $14,700 with Aha Consulting to complete the website and stay under the $25,000 that Gladstone budgeted for the project. After all the consideration Verve put into switching website addresses, Aha took just a couple of months to rebuild Gladstone’s website at the same address, ci.gladstone.or.us. On Aug. 15, Gladstone’s new website went live, and it has many of the same features as the website for the city of Milwaukie, which Aha also built.
Betz’s management style
After Newberg, Betz moved to Springfield to take care of her ailing 97-year-old grandmother. Betz’s grandmother recently had died when the assistant administrator position opened up in Gladstone, and Betz now is a resident of Tigard.
Betz said her style of city management is to help citizens make informed decisions.
“Gladstone has got so much good potential,” Betz said. “I’m a different type of government employee.”
Betz often is recognized for a strong work ethic. Saying “I wouldn’t ask any of them to do anything I wouldn’t do,” she wants to inspire Gladstone department heads to work similarly hard.
“As for the direction of Gladstone, it’s not about what I want,” Betz said. “I believe in strategic organization through a process in which you engage community input.”
Betz also has been in the unique position to field complaints from a recalled city councilor who now is re-evaluating his council votes and criticizing the mayor and her firefighter-captain husband.
“I won’t tolerate inappropriate or false information made by citizens to the media, especially regarding city staff,” Betz said. “We have a very professional and competent fire chief, and I am very proud of the comprehensive recruitment process he completed with the captain positions.”
A former Gladstone councilor, recalled in a May special election, questioned the need for more fire-captain positions in a town whose population isn’t growing.
On Aug. 15, Betz said the need for more leadership positions in the fire department became clear: Gladstone accepted a $489,948 FEMA grant for three firefighting positions over three years, and the city stood to save $157,000 by having three positions and being eligible for the FEMA grant, versus the cost of the city funding two fire captains without the FEMA funding.
On June 13, Mayor Tammy Stempel, Councilor Neal Reisner, and Councilor Linda Neace recused themselves from adopting the fire department budget, because with relatives in the fire department, they all had a potential conflict of interest.
Two of the city’s seven city councilors already had been recalled, so the three of them were the majority of the remaining five members of City Council.
Oregon law has provisions for being able to vote when a majority of city councilors have potential conflicts of interest, so the city attorney guided them through a highly unusual process of legally getting a quorum to adopt the budget. After the three City Council members recused themselves, they drew straws to see who would come back to the dais for the fire-budget vote.
“The city did more than its due diligence to assure that we were not putting any one of our elected officials in a position to vote on something that they should recuse themselves from,” Betz said. “We wanted to be very clear and prepared on the process. Where else have you seen a small town have a successful recall that reduces your council of seven down to five and at the same meeting attempt to adopt a budget where three of the remaining council members had a potential conflict with the fire-department budget?
“This was a pretty inordinate situation, one I had never seen in the state before, and, quite honestly, I am impressed with the preparation and care we put into this process.”
In addition to the new firefighter positions, Gladstone’s new budget takes into account a new $5 monthly stormwater fee charged to all households in the city. In June, City Council took action to become the region’s last municipality in the region to impose a stormwater fee, which will increase to $10 monthly starting in July 2018.
Gladstone plans to use the new fee to pay for separating stormwater and sewage pipes so that sewage doesn’t overflow into local rivers and city streets during winter storms. Gladstone public-works officials will hold an open house to discuss the new stormwater program from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 30, at the Gladstone Senior Center, 1050 Portland Ave.
A busy agenda at the Gladstone City Council meeting on Sept. 12 will include proposed System Development Charge increases for developers to help pay for new water and sewer pipes. Gladstone has scheduled a town hall for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, at the Gladstone High School auditorium.