Langrell: Drop mayor title, stay on as councilor

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board February 05, 2014 09:33 am

Baker City Mayor Richard Langrell, who is demanding the city reimburse him almost $15,000 in water and sewer bills he paid over the past nine years, should give up his title.

But he also should continue to serve as a city councilor, representing the people who elected him in November 2012.

In the council-manager form of government that Baker City adopted more than half a century ago, the title of mayor carries no special powers. The mayor can’t, for instance, veto a decision by his colleagues.

Basically, the mayor’s duties, beyond that of a regular councilor, are to preside over meetings and sign ordinances and other documents.

However, the title of mayor, which is given not by voters but by the councilors themselves, confers on its holder a certain elevated position, making him or her in effect the face of the city. The mayor often represents Baker City and its citizens on boards and at public events.

Langrell’s demand for compensation, which dates to 2005, when the city annexed the Always Welcome Inn, the eastside motel that he and his wife, Lynne, own, creates a conflict of interest for Richard Langrell. So far the City Council has discussed his claim for reimbursement only once, during an executive session preceding the public portion of its Jan. 28 meeting. Langrell, as was proper, did not attend that session.

He needs to publicly declare his conflict if the Council in the future either specifically discusses his request for repayment or talks about any issues related to that request, such as annexations.

The written record, from city documents as well as stories in this newspaper from 2004, makes it clear that Langrell understood the terms of his deal with the city before he signed a consent to annexation agreement on Feb. 3, 2005.

That deal, which the city originally offered to the Gyllenberg family for its property that was also annexed, was later extended to the Langrells, at their request. The terms are simple: In exchanging for continuing to pay double the regular rates for water and sewer service after annexation (the city’s normal practice for properties that are outside the city limits), the Langrells would not have to pay city taxes, which would normally be required once their property was annexed into the city limits.

But here’s the rub: That annexation agreement that the Langrells signed in 2005 makes no mention of their water and sewer rates.

A letter from then City Attorney Tim Collins does refer to the Langrells having to continue to pay double rates while their property taxes are waived.

But the agreement itself, the document that the Langrells signed, is silent on the matter.

This is an unfortunate mistake for the city to make.

Although it’s clear that the Langrells knew they would have to continue paying double water and sewer rates in exchange for the property tax exemption — indeed, that they demanded that option after the city approved those terms for the Gyllenbergs — it also seems to be true that the Langrells never signed any document that called for them to pay the higher rates.

Had city officials simply made sure that Collins’ 2005 letter that accompanied the annexation agreement was accurate — that the agreement actually spelled out the requirement that the Langrells continue to pay the higher water and sewer rates even after annexation — then the city would have removed any basis by which the Langrells could later argue that they never agreed to pay those rates.