Convincing Baker City residents to run for a seat on the City Council has sometimes proved a major challenge.
But not in 2020.
In a few elections in the past couple decades there were more openings on the City Council than candidates seeking to fill them, forcing city officials to solicit interest from people who received write-in votes.
But this year city voters will have a robust roster of people to choose from when they sit down with their ballot.
Voters will decide who will occupy six of the seven seats on the Council; Lynette Perry is the only incumbent whose term doesn’t end Dec. 31.
And voters will have 13 candidates to consider.
It’s gratifying to see so many people willing to represent their friends, family and neighbors.
Serving as an elected official is a noble pursuit any time. But the Baker City Council will have some vital decisions to make, and likely challenges to confront, over the next couple years.
City Manager Fred Warner Jr. plans to retire at the end of the year. Although newly elected councilors — as few as two and as many as six, depending on the election results — won’t be sworn in until January, they could, and should, at least be involved in interviewing candidates.
Perry has advocated for putting off the hiring of Warner’s replacement until early next year so the newly constituted City Council, which will have to work with the new manager, can also make the hire. Perry’s idea is a good one.
In the council-manager form of government Baker City follows, the city manager is in effect the city’s CEO, responsible for overseeing the daily operations and hiring and firing department heads and other administrators.
Besides potentially choosing the city’s next chief administrator, the new Council will deal with the continuing effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Thus far those effects haven’t been dramatic at City Hall, at least in a financial sense, since the city’s main sources of local revenue are property taxes, water and sewer service and ambulance runs. But issues are likely to arise, including potentially additional federal COVID-19 aid, that will require councilors to make decisions.
And the financial crisis related to Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System — PERS — will continue to loom.
With PERS likely to take a larger share of the city’s revenues over the next few years, councilors might face tough choices such as either raising fees or reducing services, potentially in the police and fire departments.
It’s not likely to be a tranquil term for new councilors. It’s a credit to those who are willing to sacrifice their time on the public’s behalf.
— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor