Oregon Cities

Baker County commissioners turn to experience as they reassemble City Council

city hall
A stone, turn-of-the-century city hall looms under a clear blue sky.

Baker City Hall sits in the historic downtown area of Baker City, Ore., in 2023.

Antonio Sierra / OPB

Baker City councilors shut down the Council and now their predecessors are responsible for reviving it.

Tasked with reforming a City Council where every member had resigned, the Baker County Board of Commissioners appointed four new councilors and swore them in immediately at a meeting Wednesday. All four — Doni Bruland, Roger Coles, Randy Daugherty and Larry Pearson — served on the City Council well before the last council dissolved.

Related: Baker City Council starts over this week after September collapse

Commissioners narrowed down a field of 17 applicants to eight finalists. Many of those finalists used the short presentation time they had in front of the board to pinpoint where the last Council went wrong.

“The Baker City Council needs to get back to basics and keep things simple,” Daugherty told commissioners. “The new Council needs to bring calmness to the process. The confrontation and divisiveness must end. The personal agendas need to be left at home.”

This year started with a full seven-member Council, but soon crept down to five after a couple of resignations. Interim city manager Jon France said a public safety fee divided both the Council and the community.

Two more councilors resigned in September, pushing the council below the threshold for a quorum, the minimum number of officials needed to conduct business. When the remaining councilors tried to make appointments to fill the vacant seats, a group of residents sued the Council to block the move. The last three councilors resigned after a judge ruled that they indeed didn’t have authority to make the appointments without a quorum.

The Council collapsed at a critical time for the community, a point stressed by Bruland on Wednesday.

“Right now, Baker City is failing miserably,” she said. “The community has lost a sense of security without the infrastructure and the funds to provide for it. (Without) at least the basic necessities, we are a community on the brink of further collapse.”

While the city has taken steps to shore up an understaffed fire department, France said there are growing needs for road repair, equipment replacement and parks upkeep. Even with a temporary Council rebuilt, the city government is still faced with revenue problems that led to a $1 million shortfall at the start of the current budget cycle.

Commissioners said they valued government and business experience in the appointment process. After unanimously agreeing on which candidates they should appoint, County Commissioner Christina Witham left them with some parting advice.

“Do not forget your ideas and promises written in your applications and spoken today,” she told the new slate of city leaders. “Be wary of the trap into chaos, politics and disconcerting behavior, especially relating to social media and negative personal agendas. Do what is best for Baker City in a nonpartisan cohesive and respectful manner.”

The new council will be tested right away. Members need to appoint a new mayor among themselves and select three more councilors to fill all the vacancies. France remains on an interim contract as city manager, and councilors will have to decide whether to promote him to the permanent job or hire someone else by the end of the year.

With every member appointed rather than elected, every seat on the City Council will be up for election in 2024.


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