An interesting read … Congratulations Vanessa Ogier!
With all the serious, gut-wrenching problems the Grants Pass City Council is facing right now, picking a new Council president should have been a piece of cake. However, deep divides among Council members surfaced during the usually routine process of rotating the responsibility at the beginning of the year.
In the city’s governance structure, with eight Councilors and an elected Mayor, the Council president’s job is mainly organizational, leading the Council only in the Mayor’s absence. The Mayor is the face of the Council, attending civic events and welcoming new businesses. The Council president’s job is more organizational, setting the agenda after gathering discussion and action items from other Councilors and staff and being available to answer questions accurately and knowledgably.
Most Councils just hand the nameplate “president” to the next person in line for the job, usually based on how long they’ve served. However, in Grants Pass, Council members were asked to apply for the job because the city charter says the president is “chosen by ballot.”
There were two formal applicants at the first meeting of the year, on Monday January 8. Councilor Vannessa Ogier applied, as did Councilor Rick Ryker. Councilor DJ (Dwight) Faszer was nominated by Councilor Dwayne Yunker who said he didn’t like the two applicants. No one nominated Yunker.
In the Mayor’s absence, current Council President Valarie Lovelace opened the process by setting out what she looks for in a Council president. The main characteristics, she said, should be working with the Mayor and City manager to set the agenda and promote good communication and good relationships among Council members. Lovelace emphasized the president needs a lot of time to be involved in the community as well as on Council committees.
However, the Grants Pass City Charter says the duties of the president are basically to preside when the mayor is absent: Chapter IV, Section 5, PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL. At first regular meeting of the common Council in January of each year, or as soon thereafter as practicable, the Council shall choose by ballot one of its members to preside over the Council and perform the duties of Mayor in the absence of the Mayor from the City, or if the Mayor be, from any cause, unable to act as Mayor, the president of the Council shall preside over the Council meetings and shall have and exercise the power and perform all the duties of the Mayor.
Ogier’s outlined why she wanted to be president:
“I would be honored to serve as Council president for this year. I think over the last few years I have taken the time to learn the ins and outs of not only being a Councilor but what it takes to be a Council president as well by observing for three years of that position. I’m confident, not only the organizational skills that I have would be a huge benefit to help the Mayor and City Manager keep agenda scheduling on track with the direction given by Council. I’m confident I would be able to step in for the Mayor in the event that she’s absent. I feel strongly committed to working with everyone, albeit when anyone has concerns or they have policy ideas. I think that my ability to locate and recall information from past meetings and direction given by Council could be an asset. I understand the importance of representing the Council’s majority decisions when going out to the public or when speaking with interest groups. I would be devoted to being a conduit of information for anyone that needed it, if that’s the city manager, if that’s the mayor, if that’s any of the Councilors we work alongside. I also think it’s equally important that the president is someone who is well aware of the material within our packets and the material needed to make decisions. I’m confident that I do have that ability and that I have shown myself to be well-prepared for every meeting. And equally important I think the Council president is someone who holds themselves to a high standard and those around them. I think that provides the opportunity for professional growth, not only personally but as the group as well. I’m confident in my ability to handle difficult situations and see a positive outcome. With all of that considered, I would be honored to serve the role, thank you.”
Riker was next, simply saying he’s been on two city committees, has lots of experience and thinks he can improve relationships on the Council.
Councilors, with Dwayne Yunker present by phone, were asked to fill out their ballots and hand them to Lovelace. Two voted for Faszer, three voted for Ogier and three voted for Ryker.
Lovelace announced a tie.
Then the swords came out. DeLaGrange said he favored Ogier because of her organization skills and how well-prepared she is for each meeting. Councilor Rob Pell said Ogier is well prepared on every issue, not just those of interest to her, she has no affinity toward any interest group and she’s assertive enough to speak up when appropriate.
“I don’t want to embarrass anyone but I know Rick is not particularly well prepared. He even said on the radio he doesn’t look at all the issues in a packet,” said Pell.
Councilor Joel King said he voted for Riker because he gets along with everyone. Lovelace said the next president would need to establish a good relationship with Josephine County Commissioners and she hinted that Ogier would not be able to pull that off. Pell said if Lovelace, who had established connections with the Commissioners, couldn’t get anywhere with them, maybe it isn’t a lack of city representatives trying, but maybe the bad relationship is coming from the Commissioners themselves. Yunker said he had issues with both Ogier and Ryker. Ryker “always wants me to speak for him and Vanessa definitely has issues with me so I don’t see how she could represent me. If she says it would be different if she’s president, why not now?”
Councilor Brian DeLaGrange nominated Ogier, observing that there is a divide on the Council but making Ogier president would be a “low risk” way of bridging the rift and a show of good faith by those on the opposite side. He said Councilors talk about bridging their divide and maybe this is a way of doing that. Pell said the Council is subject to tribalism and thought selecting Ogier president might overcome that. Lovelace agreed there is a divide and said a recent survey of employees indicated a lot of problems come from the Council’s internal bickering. Dwayne and Vanessa have an issue. I don’t know where it comes from but that’s why I’m supporting Rick. Lovelace also said she heard Ogier say she was “uncomfortable” meeting with the City Manager one-on-one. Ogier straightened that out by saying she wasn’t “uncomfortable” meeting with the manager, she was uncomfortable with the idea the Council was wasting his time by having eight people meet with him one-on-one. She said it would be more efficient if two or three people met with him at one time.
Ricker was then nominated for president and Ogier surprised everyone by voting for him to break the stalemate. The vote remained a tie, however because four people voted yes and four no.
After another vote it was still a tie with Faszer and Yunker going back to voting for Faszer, City Manager Aaron Cubic intervened with a suggestion. He said after discussing it with the city’s Legal Counsel, Augustus Ogu, the Council could vote for both candidates by making one a vice-president. They could discuss among themselves what duties they would take. Faszer and Yunker said that would be a terrible idea. Faszer said “it’s a way to skirt a difficult issue were having right now and I’m an adamant no on that.” Yunker said he’s a no because it isn’t in the charter to have a vice-president.
Ryker said he saw electing two as an opportunity for teamwork. “I see an opportunity. I don’t see a fight occurring as to who’s going to do what or go to what meeting. I just see it being a backup and helping to communicate.”
Faszer asked if the Mayor might break the tie by phoning in. Lovelace wasn’t having that but she was in favor of the vice president concept. DeLaGrange then made a motion to elect Ogier president and Ryker vice president. Pell pointed to Ogier’s earlier vote for Ryker, attempting to break the stalemate, and said her character in doing that for the good of the Council instead of herself was all the proof he needed that she should be president.
The vote was 5-3 in favor of the president/vice-president concept with Ogier as president. The vote was: Ogier – yes, Lovelace – yes, Pell – yes, DeLaGrange – yes, King – no, Ryker – yes. Faszer and Yunker voted no.
Lovelace wasn’t ready to give up her seat though, saying she started the meeting so she might as well carry it through. DeLaGrange said it’s typical to let the new president preside over the rest of the meeting, given the Mayor’s absence. Then they went back to the issue of public safety finance with Ogier presiding without incident.