From the Left Bank
Lake Oswego Mayor’s Power Move Stirring Criticism

By Peter Toll

Todd Prager

Todd Prager

Lake Oswego is known for its beauty, schools, and high income residents. These folks didn’t achieve their high income by quietly earning Brownie points or Cub Scout badges. Many got it through power.

It is the public exercise of power, ironically, which has Lake Oswego Mayor Kent Studebaker under public criticism and Clackamas County’s northwestern-most community stirred up.

Folks are upset that Mayor Studebaker boldly overrode his own advisory committee’s recommendation and did not reappoint Todd Prager to the city’s Planning Commission.

City councilors Jon Gustafson and Joe Buck went public with their criticism. Not only do they feel Prager was immensely well qualified, but they also think Studebaker was exercising raw power in a retaliatory move against Prager, who has filed suit against the city asking for public access to Lake Oswego waters.

That exercise in itself riled up a bunch of the good lakesiders who own the privately-held lake and feel it is rightfully theirs and theirs alone. No riff-raff allowed on our lake!

And it also divided the city, especially when the Department of State Lands determined the lake was a “navigable waterway” and thereby a public waterway. But that’s another story, still in progress.

Right now the issue is Prager’s rebuff because Studebaker, according to the local paper, said Prager’s views and actions didn’t reflect the “best interests of Lake Oswego.” Yes, it can be said that if someone sues the city, they probably don’t have the city’s interests at heart, especially if they contradict the mayor’s own views. There’s a thought-provoking notion.

Gustafson went on social media and accused Studebaker of a raw power play. Buck, a newcomer to the council with family roots deep in Lake Oswego, agreed. Buck said Studebaker’s heavy handedness would cast a pall over anyone else being appointed to any city board or commission.

Would every such aspirant have to be personally vetted by the mayor to make sure their personal interests jibe with the city’s interests? Is he looking for a monolithic culture? My way or the highway?

Studebaker is not one to shrink from power. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon Law School and a former US Marine. His late son-in-law is Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL sniper recently explored in a Clint Eastwood-directed movie.

It could be said that dividing the city now is not a good idea for the mayor from a political standpoint. Studebaker beat former legislator Greg McPherson for the open mayor’s seat in 2012 by 243 votes out of some 18,000 cast. He may seek re-election next year.

The city’s controversial decision to rebuild the Wizer block in downtown Lake Oswego has residents taking the issue to court after losing an appeal at the Land Use Board of Appeals.

In another testy area, the city agreed that the historic Carman House, considered the oldest in the city and reflective of the Carman Drive name, be destroyed so a builder can put in condos. That one’s in court, too.

Too, Studebaker’s scheme with the City of Tigard to pull water from the Clackamas River and run it through West Linn has folks there incensed, not to mention the project is 16 months — yes, almost a year and a half — behind schedule.

One of the things about power is that it can turn around and bite one on the backside. Sort of like the old adage about living by the sword and dying by it, too.

Mayor Studebaker has a lot of fence-mending to do if he wants another term in office. Flexing political muscle is not a step in the right direction.

 

Peter Toll has lived in Clackamas County more than 25 years, all the while active in Clackamas and Oregon Democratic activities. He is an independent financial advisor with a progressive perspective. You can reach him at ptoll@hevanet.com.