PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – West Linn’s Rory Bialostosky made history as the youngest-ever mayor in one of Oregon’s most affluent cities — hoping to restore trust in its police department and mitigate fallout from proposed tolling in the city.
At 23 years old and one of the youngest elected officials in the state, Bialostosky already brought political experience to the table after winning a West Linn City Council election at 21 years old.
“I started off in high school getting involved in some local issues at the city council and saw some things that I kind of disagreed with and just some general dysfunction. So, after watching it in high school for a couple years, going through college, I decided ‘You know what? I kind of want to get involved just to try to help the city,’” Bialostosky explained.
Bialostosky is serving as interim mayor after former Mayor Jules Walters resigned for a state legislature run.
“It just kind of fell into place because Mayor Walters ran for the state legislature, there was a vacancy there, and then I was the Council President, so I just volunteered to step up,” Bialostosky told KOIN 6 News’ AM Extra.
Bialostosky now leads the Clackamas County city of 27,000 people as West Linn faces issues such as police reform as he hopes to restore public trust in the city’s law enforcement.
In 2020, West Linn paid a $600,000 settlement to Michael Fesser, a Black man who was wrongly arrested in 2017 on theft charges as a favor to a friend of then-police chief Terry Timeus, who happened to be Fesser’s boss.
Now, West Linn is accepting applications for a new police review committee.
“I’m hoping that our new police oversight board brings more public trust, helps restore the public trust that was lost as a result of that horrible incident. And I’m just hoping that it helps us have more equitable outcomes when it comes to police investigations, that there’s generally been in policing overall, the internal affairs investigation process has been kind of secretive and I think there’s not a lot of public trust in it,” Bialostosky said.
He added, “I’m hoping that bringing some citizens into the process will help ensure that there’s more public trust and more fair outcomes and I guarantee that folks will have fairness when they have a misconduct complaint.”
He says police officers should also be able to rely on the board.
“Also, for police officers, if they have a whistleblower complaint or issues that they see with another officer, they’ll know that that will be heard by this board,” Bialostosky said adding, the goal is to bring more transparency.
As the city works towards police reform, Bialostosky noted “we had a police chief change, new leadership at the police department and none of the officers that were involved in that horrible incident are not there anymore.”
The city is also facing potential tolling between West Linn and Oregon City and I-205 to the Abernethy Bridge. The project would also impact the city’s water line, which runs under the Abernethy Bridge
“Back in the 60s, the city’s water line was put on the Abernethy Bridge and generally those pipes last around 100 years or so. So, our pipe has many years of life left, decades,” Bialostosky explained. “And as part of the 205 project, we were told by ODOT that we have to pay to have it replaced.”
Bialostosky says the cost was initially $6 million but the price tag has since ballooned to $14 million and that the city’s water fund is only set at a couple million dollars per year for all water maintenance. He says they have also had to cancel almost all water maintenance projects.
“Usually, we do about a mile of water line replacements for maintenance. This year, we’re only doing 500 feet because of this large obligation,” Bialostosky said.
The interim mayor says West Linn took out a loan and is asking the legislature for $6 million to help replace the line.
“As a result of the ODOT project, we weren’t ready to replace our water line for another couple decades,” Bialostosky explained.
In addition to water line concerns, the mayor is also worried about diverted traffic as drivers try to avoid tolls.
“We’re concerned that our business district will be kind of overrun by that kind of traffic. We already have diversion traffic now and the big issue is there’s not really a plan to help cities with mitigation,” Bialsostosky said.
“So, there’s this shortfall. ODOT’s saying ‘We’re going to pay for the project, we’re also going to help you with paying for mitigation projects to help traffic move through,’” Biaslostosky said, stating there’s not enough money.
According to the mayor, the I-205 projects were going to cost around $900 million with tolls expected to bring in between $500 million and $700 million over 30 years.
“We’re calling on ODOT and the state to kind of create a plan to ensure that cities, like West Linn, Oregon City, the county will have funds available to mitigate the impacts and respond to the impacts of tolling,” Bialostosky said adding, “right now, tolls are slated to begin on 205 first in West Linn and nowhere else in the region for a year or two at least. So, we’re calling on folks to shorten the gap and if they’re going to toll, then you can’t turn it on in one city, in one region first. You have to do a comprehensive approach.”
Ahead of an election in May, Biaslostosky says over the next few weeks, he will decide on a mayoral run.