Change the Charter
Replace Unelected City Manager with Democratic Accountability
"Democracy is coming to the USA"
-- Leonard Cohen
Eugene's City Manager is not a servant of the people and their elected leaders faithfully implementing the will of the City Council. Instead, Jon Ruiz, Eugene's unelected (and overpaid) City Manager, is the real Mayor of Eugene.
Eugene's "City Manager" is paid about TWICE the total salary of all eight City Councilors - combined.
Calling the Mayor's office is first routed through the Manager's office (the phone number for the Mayor listed in the phone book rings in the Manager's office).
Some cities have Managers, others have oversight by the City Council and Mayor. Portland, Oregon, for example, does not have a manager -- oversight of the various City departments is done by the elected officials. This is not a perfect system, but it has more democracy than Eugene's City Charter, which forbids the elected officials from having much interaction with the sprawling City bureaucracy.
For many years, democracy advocates have demanded that the City stop paying millions of dollars to Harrang, Long, a law firm that represents many of the region's biggest developers, as its alleged attorney. Most cities of Eugene's size have their own in-house lawyer, which reduces the potential for conflicts of interest. In March 2009, City Manager Ruiz -- not the City Council -- created the position of an in house attorney but chose the previously outside attorney as the new City attorney. In other words, the same conflict of interest ridden lawyer for the law firm that simultaneously represents the City Manager AND developers with interests at the City is now the new alleged in house attorney. To add insult to injury, the Manager also extended for four years additional contracts with Harrang Long, further compromising this process.
If the City Council and Mayor have any shame, they will vote to fire the Manager and work toward changing Eugene's City structure toward a more democratic (small "D") system. The money currently spent on the City Manager's exorbitant salary would be better directed to increasing the salaries for the City Councilors so they could dedicate themselves full time toward oversight of the City departments. This would not be a perfect solution, but it would probably be considerably better than the status quo. Unfortunately, the current Council probably lacks much political courage to make any substantive improvements, and the Mayor is unlikely to make any needed shifts.
links for background about the lack of democratic process at City Hall:
Bonny Bettman interview - Eugene Weekly
Bonny Bettman's City Club speech, as aired on KLCC-FM -- perhaps one of the most important things broadcast in Eugene, ever.
Bonny Bettman: There's No Place Like Home
Former Eugene City Councilor Bonny Bettman no longer on line
City Manager Creates In-House Office of City Attorney
Submitted by Alan Pittman on Wed, 03/25/2009 - 15:10.
After decades of complaints about spiraling legal costs and potential conflicts of interest, Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz has decided to hire an in-house attorney rather than having all the city's legal work done by a private law firm.
Ruiz announced in a press release today that Eugene will have at least one in house lawyer starting July 1 and could expand to three attorneys working as city employees. City managers have given the private law firm of Harrang Long Gary Rudnick, P.C. exclusive contracts for almost all the city's legal work for the past three decades.