City council struggling to fill empty seats

DEPOE BAY — A city councilor has resigned, 15 seats on city boards are unfilled and the last man standing on a formerly prominent commission called for its shutdown this week.

The Depoe Bay City Council voted Tuesday to accept the Jan. 3 resignation of Charles Bates, 67, who had missed two months of meetings and was deemed by City Recorder Barbara Chestler to be in violation of the city charter. With one year left of a four-year term, the decision to advertise the opening comes amid widespread shortages of resident volunteers to run city hall.

John O’Brien, a longtime head of the five-member Depoe Bay Traffic Safety Commission, told city councilors Jan. 7 the board no longer has a quorum — or any members at all, since he has resigned, too.

“I don’t know how many people I’ve asked to step up,” he reported, saying he was still willing to occasionally set up the radar trailer the commission bought to encourage speed limits in town.

The traffic commission is just one of five citizen boards with vacant seats that failed to attract interest during applicant interviews at Tuesday’s meeting. Just one citizen stepped forward. Judy Faucett applied for a second term on the planning commission, earning a grateful, 5-0 endorsement from councilors.

“I really enjoyed it a lot, and I hope I contributed,” said Faucett, a retired insurance actuarial with a degree in mathematics from Oregon State University. “It taught me ways of looking at things I hadn’t thought about.”

City officials are troubled by the lack of interest in key boards, which usually meet once a month and make policy and spending recommendations to the city council.

“I can’t fathom what the reasons are,” lamented Mayor Robert Gambino after the meeting. “Politics can be nasty, but the good outweighs the bad. In the past, it’s always been that people would step up and we could usually get folks. It’s worth it, knowing that you can help your community.”

Barbara Leff, a city councilor and member of the fire board, said the lack of citizen engagement is widespread, but not surprising.

“It’s not a new issue, and it’s not confined to Depoe Bay,” she said. “It’s a statewide and national crisis. People don’t have the time or the money, and if they’ve got it they don’t want to use it that way.”

Not everyone is worried about the paucity of applicants, however. There are 10 boards, including the city council, listed on a directory of city officials, with 65 appointed and elected seats. Councilman Jerome Grant thinks the city should whittle down the number of committees and boards.

“I like it that way,” stated Grant, who said he is leery of unelected officials wielding too much power. “At least we should think about reducing the size of the committees to three members.”

Former councilman Charlie Bates, who served four years on the council as an appointee who was later elected, offered his own point of view when contacted by the News-Times.

“I guess I just quit because it wasn’t fun anymore,” reflected Bates, who expressed his disappointment over unresolved bookkeeping problems at city hall. “I tried to vote the right way, and sometimes you’re right and other times not so right. I just don’t want to be there no more.”


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