PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The Canby City Council got down to business for the new year, swearing in elected officials to council seats and the mayor’s chair and then struggling to formalize its council president post in a way that “flabbergasted” Mayor Brian Hodson.
At the Jan. 6 council meeting, Hodson was sworn in, as well as councilors Christopher Bangs, Traci Hensley, Sarah Spoon and Jordan Tibbals. And with that, the first meeting of the 2021 calendar year was off and running with a full council in place.
Mayor Hodson offered some advice to those who are new to the council – Tibbals and Bangs – as well as those returning.
“We have had the luxury as a council to be executing some tremendous plans put forth by previous mayors and councils. It is our time to do those same kinds of things, the same kind of planning, the same kind of conversations, to be prepared for what a future Oregon and a future Canby would look like,” Hodson said. “To the new councilors – learn, ask lots of questions. There are not stupid answers and there are no stupid questions. Be students of the city. You have a ton of resources in city staff, you have a ton of resources on the council, and you have tons of resources just here on the screen in people that are willing to help and support us and what we need to accomplish. We do have some big things to tackle and plan for and I’m looking forward to it, so thank you.”
That’s when things got severely stuck in the mud.
With Tim Dale leaving the council, a new council president needed to be selected. Prior to voting and discussion, Hodson expressed some worry about how the role of council president was perceived and carried out, prompting a review of what the job entails.
Hodson also noted that three councilors expressed interest in the job – councilors Hensley, Greg Parker and Shawn Varwig.
“I would like to think that this is not going to go along political ideological lines in our conversation this evening, so that’s why I did the review. It is about the ability to run a meeting in my absence,” said Hodson, who was clearly apprehensive about ideological influences within the council.
Turns out, he was right to be concerned.
After the trio offered thoughts on why they’d like to serve as council president, nominations and discussions ensued. Councilor Parker was nominated, but a 3-3 voting deadlock led Hodson to ask why those who voted nay – Tibbals, Varwig and Hensley – did so.
“The reason I got into city council, and you can tell right now Councilor Spoon is shaking her head at me and she’s not happy with me, wasn’t to make friends,” Varwig said. “It was to do the right thing for the city of Canby. There comes a time when we have to make hard decisions and we have decide whether we are going to make a decision based on friendships or because it’s the right decision. I have an immense amount of respect for Councilor Parker. I also feel that there is an agenda and for that reason, it’s my personal feeling, you can scowl at me or shake your head at me all you want, that’s fine. But It’s my personal feeling. At the end of the day, I have to go to sleep at night knowing I made the right decision. And in my gut, I don’t feel that Councilor Parker is the right decision for council president.”
Hensley had an issue with the mayor asking for explanation.
“I do have to say that in my many, many years of running meeting, it’s unprecedented to make a vote explanation happen; it’s usually voluntary,” Hensley said.
The mayor’s frustration was apparent, and it would grow as the night wore on. It should be noted, Hodson could have ended what would become a series of stalemated 3-3 votes throughout the evening, but he said he didn’t want to be the tie-breaking vote. He wanted the six councilors to come to a decision on their own. In the end, they couldn’t – or simply wouldn’t.
“So, we’ve gone down ideological lines, which I was afraid of,” said Hodson, before asking for another motion.
At that point, Hensley was put forth as a candidate for the presidency. And there was no second for that motion, which left it dead.
Spoon again nominated Parker for the role as council president. And once again, the vote was tied 3-3.
“I’m flabbergasted here, gang,” said Hodson, clearly frustrated with what he saw as votes down political ideological lines. “How are we going to get anything accomplished or work together as a team if you are going to relinquish control to me every time?”
Varwig then made a motion to nominate himself as council president, which is allowable. His motion died for lack of a second.
Hensley then made a motion to move the vote to the next city council meeting, and that was seconded. Spoon noted that the city charter states that the council “shall” select a council president at the first meeting, and the mayor agreed with that interpretation.
Spoon then nominated Bangs for council president, and it was seconded. Once again, based on what Hodson noted were ideological lines, the vote was again 3-3, which left Hodson able to break the tie, but he chose not to.
“I’m really at a loss here, guys,” Hodson said, clearly struggling with not wanting to be the tie-breaker. “There’s a real lack of…real lack of something. I’m flabbergasted at this piece that we are 3-3 on a council president like this.”
Hensley then nominated Varwig once again for the council president’s post.
That’s when things got a lot more intense. Spoon said she didn’t want to have to revisit an incident she had with Varwig at a League of Oregon Cities conference in 2019. Spoon said she and Varwig were staying at the same hotel, and Spoon said he asked her to attend a strip club with him. After she declined, she said he then went alone in the city van. That left her uncomfortable with his nomination for the post.
Varwig denied this, saying “That’s a false accusation. That’s a 100% false accusation.”
Tibbals wasn’t a fan of Spoon’s choice of time and place to air the grievance.
“I just think that was uncalled for, frankly. I hope we don’t do it moving forward,” he said. “I think we are all here stepping up to serve the community and airing out, or making false statements, whichever one it is because I obviously don’t know, I just don’t think this is the format for that.”
Bangs noted that the council was getting nowhere.
“Frankly, we’re playing a game of chicken and I don’t want to play that game anymore.”
In the end, Varwig’s nomination ended in a 3-3 tie once again, forcing the council to continue looking for options.
Varwig then nominated Hensley for the council president post. And once again, the vote was 3-3.
“Well, this is unfortunate,” Hodson said, noting they’d gone through seven motions and five votes. “Gang, this is really disheartening that we are at this stage and at this point.”
Though he’d said he didn’t want to cast the tie-breaking vote, Hodson said he couldn’t let this stalemate go on as it appeared no one was willing to move off of their respective stances. And with that, he cast his vote for Hensley, placing her in the role of Canby City Council president, while also letting her know she’d be under a fair amount of scrutiny in how she handled the job.
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