Members of the Keizer City Council faced the city’s own version of a citizenship question at a work session Monday, July 8.
Councilors decided to clarify who can serve in volunteer capacities on city committees after tensions rose over the word “elector” at a Volunteer Coordinating Committee (VCC) in June. In the end, the council leaned toward casting a wide net for volunteers and open up most city committees to residents rather than electors.
Trouble stirred at June meeting
In May, the council voted to form a Charter Review Committee with seven members, five electors in Keizer and two councilors appointed by Mayor Cathy Clark. Electors are defined as residents of the city who have registered to vote and therefore must be citizens, either by birth or naturalization.
When a Keizer resident who is not yet a U.S. citizen applied to serve on the committee, she was denied by the members of the Volunteer Coordinating Committee despite being “the most prepared … very articulate, and who has a unique perspective of being in the process of obtaining U.S. citizenship.” That assessment was included in an email from Mayor Cathy Clark, who heard about what transpired through her appointee to the VCC, Daisy Hickman.
Councilor Marlene Parsons, who was present at the VCC June meeting, said the non-citizen applicant “was the only one that had read the charter.” The city received 14 applications for the five elector seats on the committee and most were in attendance at the June meeting.
Given the confusion, the council set out to answer the larger question of who should serve on city committees and then plotted a course forward for dealing with the Charter Review Committee. The council cannot formally vote on city matters during work sessions, but directed City Attorney Shannon Johnson to bring back revisions to city policy allowing any city resident to serve on city advisory groups. In regard to the Charter Review Committee, the council wanted further discussion on two options: expanding the committee to eight members with the council making a citizen appointment directly; and adding two “resident” positions to the committee and asking the Volunteer Coordinating Committee to fill those through the normal recommendation-appointment process.
‘Everyone … has a stake’
The council first determined whether any resident or only registered voters should be allowed to serve on city committees.
The only committee that has specific guidelines regarding composition is the Keizer Planning Commission and those come from state authorities. The city council has discretion when it comes to other committees.
Parsons said she reviewed the volunteer application given out to those interested and applicants it does not ask if they are citizens of the U.S.
“I want people to understand that everyone in the city of Keizer has a stake in this charter. It represents our city views and city rules,” Parsons said. Given that the final decisions will be left to councilors, she said, there was no need to restrict who serves on committees.
“There are many residents that chose Keizer as their home and they need to have a voice and be at the table,” said Councilor Kim Freeman. Freeman also questioned why the citizenship requirement was suddenly at the forefront of the discussion when it never arose during her 12 years on the Volunteer Coordinating Committee.
Councilor Elizabeth Smith said, as a business owner, “If people want to work for me, I would hate to have a job description that eliminated highly qualified applicant.”
Councilor Dan Kohler, who also attended the June VCC meeting, said he felt bad for the applicant in question and said that the council shared some of the onus for creating the situation in which it arose.
Still, he said, he’d talked with some constituents on both sides of the issue and reported back on what they said.
“As I visited with a number of people, some of the comments I got were what if one of us went to France and asked to be involved in making their laws. Electors have skin in the game, and that was something I heard from a lot of people,” Kohler said.
Others, he contacted Kohler said, felt that non-citizens should make the commitment to become citizens before serving in municipal decision-making. Kohler did not say whether he agreed with the sentiments, but wanted the council to take it under consideration as it moves forward. Kohler was one of the most vocal councilors backing the creation of the committee with the intent of asking voters to remove anti-LGBTQ language from the city charter.
Councilor Roland Herrera rebuked the analogy of visiting France and seeking to rewrite its laws.
“Visiting some place isn’t the same as being brought to a new country as a child, it’s not the same as going to the schools there, it’s not the same as owning a business in the community. Visiting is a poor analogy. Residents and non-residents have skin in the game, the only difference is voting,” Herrera said.
Charter committee size TBD
The council is expected to take up the issue of how to rework the charter committee at its meeting Monday, July 15. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Keizer Civic Center.
While city staff were directed to bring back two options – a direct appointment by the council of one person or a reopening of the entire process to add two more positions open to any residents regardless of citizenship status – councilors leaned toward expanding the committee by two additional seats.
Clark was reticent to add only one person because it would bring the total to eight members with the potential of deadlocked votes. Adding two members would bring the total to nine and avoid deadlocking.
The council consensus was that it wanted to keep the five applicants the committee already recommended for seats.
Even settling on those five candidates out of the pool of applicants proved difficult. It took three votes of VCC committee members to break ties and identify the top five. Currently, Broderick Pack, Garry Whalen, Pat Fisher, Kathy Lincoln and Rick Kuehn are being forwarded by the VCC for appointment to the committee.
“I think because the VCC and applicants have done so much work that we accept the current recommendations and streamline this as much as possible,” said Councilor Laura Reid.
Freeman said she would start from scratch if it wouldn’t create delays, but “we should send it back to [the VCC] keep the process as transparent as possible. I think we will have more pushback if we don’t and the whole point of this is correcting things that are not fair.”
Clark said that the council can use this situation as an opportunity to clarify the appointment process for members of the VCC. The VCC is comprised of seven people appointed by individual city councilors and the mayor.
“We have to do some additional training,” she said.