In fall 2020, Mayor Cathy Clark called for a councilor work group to consider revisions of the Keizer City Council’s rules and policies, a document that dictates everything from what appears on an agenda to what councilors can discuss via email.
The group, which included councilors Laura Reid, Dan Kohler and Elizabeth Smith, reviewed a draft of the proposed changes at a work session Monday, Feb. 22.
Among the changes under consideration is one that would repeal a longstanding tradition among Keizer city councilors: who is selected as the council president.
Since 1995, the council has largely, but not always, selected the councilor with the longest continuous service on the council who had not yet served as council president. At a meeting of the work group on Jan. 6, two days after passing over Councilor Roland Herrera for the role of council president, Clark criticized what became known as “The McGee Rule,” after former city councilor Jerry McGee.
“The automatic nomination (of a long-serving councilor) has created more hard feelings and angst and broken relationships than I can begin to recount,” said Clark.
Clark recounted her own ascension to the role over another councilor at the time, David McKane. Clark did not identify McKane by name, but said the councilor later ran against the mayor. McKane was the only former councilor to challenge a sitting mayor since Clark began serving on the council.
“There were a number of difficult relationships, but if there are things going on when there is no trust or there are not strong relationships, the automatic nomination sets up a false expectation,” Clark told the work group.
The McGee Rule was adopted in the wake of a contested “race” for the role that included McGee himself. McGee nominated himself and another councilor nominated himself. McGee won in a 3-2 vote. Nominating the longest continuous serving councilor was later adopted to avoid harming future relationships on the council.
Clark said the city was still in its early days at that point and the rule had outlived its purpose.
“We should look at [the council president] as the job description so that people understand it is more than ceremonial. It is a working and responsible position and people need to understand that,” Clark said in January. “It’s about assuring that the person can assume the center seat with as little hubbub as possible.”
Clark’s testimony came on the heels of council members passing over Roland Herrera for the council president role.
Herrera fell out of favor for the position as discussions about an inclusivity statement grew heated in 2020. Herrera vehemently called for a bold statement while other councilors remained reticent.
Herrera expressed his regret and apologized for his passion during the discussions on numerous occasions. Kohler nominated Herrera as part of the process on Jan. 4, but Herrera declined. Smith was selected as president in a unanimous vote shortly thereafter.
When Keizertimes’ story on the selection of the council president appeared on Facebook, Clark recast the decision to pick Smith, writing, “Congratulations to Council President Elizabeth Smith, the youngest Council President in recent history who has the lived experience of a teen mom who now is a leading producer in a male-dominated industry.”
Herrera is the city’s first and only Hispanic city councilor.