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Picard resigns from Hood River city council over STR issue

Recusal matter also affects Councilor Becky Brun,

Passage by City Council of a moratorium on new applications for short term rentals was just one development on Monday in this long-simmering controversy in the City of Hood River.

Council Member Laurent Picard resigned from Council at the end of the meeting, citing the current “severe deadlock” on Council regarding the adoption of short term rentals regulations, also known as Strategy 2.

“I realize that my presence on this board, as a member with a conflict of interest, makes it more difficult for council to work its way through these issues,” Picard said. “Now that we are finally in a position to make progress on housing, my presence is hindering that progress. For these reasons, I am hereby resigning from City Council, effective tonight.”

This raises the need to appoint someone to fill out Picard’s term, which ends Dec. 31. The city should have a selection process by the end of the week, according to Mayor Paul Blackburn.

STRs

Details on the moratorium in May 28 edition

Councilors Peter Cornelison, Susan Johnson, Kate McBride and Mark Zanmiller, and Mayor Paul Blackburn voted Monday to approve the moratorium, which means no new applications will be accepted until STR regulations are adopted; the action does not affect current rentals or recently-received applications.

The city received 10 new ones in the past two weeks.

In resigning, Picard referred to the ongoing requirement that he recuse himself from hearing any testimony or deliberating on the subject of short term rentals, because of conflict of interest on the matter.

Picard owns property he rents on a short term basis, and by contract must continue to do so through late 2016.

“If a decision cannot be made on Strategy 2, that issue will loom over and color any deliberations in which Council engages on the other two strategies (zoning and land acquisition),” he said. “This is not a recipe for success in addressing our city’s housing and livability crisis.”

Council Member Becky Brun has recused herself along with Picard for the same reason. (She and her husband, Jonathan, rent out part of their home).

Recusal is when a judge or elected official disqualifies himself or herself from participating in a specific case or public process. Picard and Brun have for months recused themselves from hearing the STR issue, or voting on it, which leaves five voting council members including the mayor, and the requirement by city statute of a minimum of four “yes” votes for anything to pass.

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Laurent Picard

In the May 9 council meeting on proposed STR regulations, the council voted 3-2, thus postponing the matter.

“This deadlock has occurred due to an odd provision in our city charter which makes it difficult to deal with controversial issues without the participation of the full seven members of council,” he said. “As things stand, there will be only five members of council involved in these crucial decisions; Councilor Brun and myself learned on Friday that we are not subject to a class exemption from the Oregon Government Ethics Commission and therefore must continue to recuse ourselves whenever the subject of short term rentals comes up — which will be often if Strategy 2 is not decided before work begins on the other 2 strategies.”

“It was a shock. He’s been there 11 years,” Mayor Paul Blackburn said Monday. “He obviously feels very strongly about this issue and feels his recusal is getting in the way, so he’s making a move to try to accomplish what is best for the city. I’m sorry to lose him. He will be missed. He has done great service for the community.”

Brun said Tuesday morning, “I’m passionate about a lot of things, and I’m making a lot of headway on a lot of the other reasons I ran for office and other areas I’m involved, and I have no plans to resign,” she said, citing her work on waste management, clean energy, and stormwater management.

“I’m happy with how other issues are moving forward, and I do feel like I will still be able to contribute to various other policy decisions relating to housing, and will work with the city attorney to figure out where and when I would need to recuse myself.”

Brun said of Picard, “He did a lot for the city and it was a pleasure working with him. It took a lot of courage to stay as engaged in this process and continue to stand up for what he strongly believes in and go back in time and hearing his information about the original interview and the platform. It was a good reminder for everyone that the affordable housing issue has always been a big deal for him and it was hard to have to set out and on the sidelines and be less effective on the issue.”

Blackburn said that the council began the discussion of how to appoint someone to replace Picard. “We have some leeway with the charter,” Blackburn said. He will meet with City Manager Steve Wheeler and said he expects they will know by Thursday how to proceed.

Several other council positions are up for election in November, and the first day to apply is June 1. Blackburn said, “A window is opening to apply. I think we’ll be moving forward.”

In his statement, Picard recounted his selection to council in October of 2005 for a recently vacated seat on City Council, based in part on his “strong interest in the creation of more affordable housing opportunities for citizens.” He cited an Oct. 15 Hood River News article that stated, “Recently, the city has initiated steps to address a growing concern in the community about the rising cost of homes.” Picard told the council during his Oct. 11 interview that he wanted to be actively involved in that effort.

“Picard said without some type of government intervention, many lower- and middle-income citizens could be forced to find housing in other locations.

“If working people are priced out of the community, it will become more and more homogenous, and that’s not good for its character,” he said. “I think affordable housing is absolutely crucial and needs to be addressed.”

Picard said Monday, “Of course I’ve learned in the time since that article was written that there is a lot more to the housing issue than maintaining a community’s character and that this discussion is not just about affordable housing but also attainable housing. Housing and livability were some of the primary issues — along with controversial waterfront issues, the potential of a Gorge casino, and the city’s budget problems — that motivated me to interview for City Council in 2005 and to seek election two times after that.

“And now, over 10 years later, we have a waterfront bustling with activity and a stunning waterfront park, the Gorge casino is no longer a threat, and the city has gone from a budget deficit to a healthy surplus. I am very proud of the great progress we have made together on these issues.

“However, our housing and livability crisis remains unaddressed and addressing this crisis is the top goal of the current City Council. It is my belief that housing is the most important issue we have worked on in the last decade, one that will decide what kind of town we become over the next two decades. And we now have a historic opportunity to address this housing crisis with a three-prong Housing Strategy based on the results of our Housing Needs Analysis.”

The remainder of Picard’s statement:

But before Council takes on Strategies 1 and 3, Councilors wisely decided that Strategy 2 needed to be addressed first. And at this time, Council is deadlocked on Strategy 2 and seems unlikely to make significant forward progress. If a decision cannot be made on Strategy 2, that issue will loom over and color any deliberations in which Council engages on the other two strategies. This is not a recipe for success in addressing our city’s housing and livability crisis.

This deadlock has occurred due to an odd provision in our city charter which makes it difficult to deal with controversial issues without the participation of the full seven members of council. As things stand, there will be only five members of council involved in these crucial decisions; Councilor Brun and myself learned on Friday that we are not subject to a class exemption from the Oregon Government Ethics Commission and therefore must continue to recuse ourselves whenever the subject of short term rentals comes up — which will be often if Strategy 2 is not decided before work begins on the other two strategies.

Since my term is up at the end of the year, I realize my contributions in the remaining months of my term will be limited — especially if I have to recuse myself from discussion on housing Strategies 1 and 3 every time there is even a tangential relationship between these strategies and Strategy 2. Because of this, I realize that my presence on this board, as a member with a conflict of interest, makes it more difficult for council to work its way through these issues. Now that we are finally in a position to make progress on housing, my presence is hindering that progress. For these reasons, I am hereby resigning from City Council, effective tonight.

I still intend to participate in this housing discussion as a private citizen, but I believe that stepping aside is in the best interest of this city that I love and will leave the City Council room to appoint someone who can participate in this discussion and help you all move forward in the next six months.

I acknowledge that it is possible that the City Council would have worked through its deadlock without my resignation, but this is hard work, Council does not need that added level of difficulty, and I believe that something this important to the future of our city deserves to be heard by as many councilors as possible. In the end, I have no idea how City Council will resolve this deadlock, but it is my hope that the process will be made easier with the participation of six of the seven councilors. This is why I believe it is important that I get out of the way so that you can complete your important work.

I suggest that when your schedule allows, that Council conducts a charter review (since the current charter has been unrevised since 1991) — during this review it would be worth considering why the city charter has this odd provision requiring four affirmative votes rather than a simply majority, which bites us every few year when the city is wrestling with the hardest and most divisive issues (Walmart was the last time this came up).

This charter needs to function well even when some members have conflicts of interest or illnesses or for other reasons the number of council members present drops below seven. To me this is a broken system — Council needs to be able to come decisions on important issues like this or you can’t do the work that you were elected to do. So I think it’s worth a discussion when the time is right.

It has been a wonderful privilege to serve on Council for the last 10 and a half years. I want to thank our talented, dedicated staff for all your assistance and hard work for our city and my fellow councilors who continue to serve our amazing community. I leave this position with great pride in what we have accomplished and with great hope for the future with the super competent staff and council in place today that serve our city so well.



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