With the Roseburg City Council in the midst of what appears from the outside to resemble a game of musical chairs, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at how councilors are elected and appointed.
Ken Averett was the second city councilor to resign this year, leaving one of two Ward I (Northeast Roseburg) seats on the eight-member council empty with three-plus years remaining on his term. Averett ran unopposed for re-election just seven months ago. Melissa Smith resigned from the council in January and moved to Texas. Four residents applied to replace her on the Ward 4 seat and the council selected Lew Marks.
The other three residents who sought appointment to the council — former Councilor Mike Baker, ex-tavern owner Josh Tibbetts and local contractor Ron Looman — won’t be able to apply for Averett’s seat because they don’t live in his ward, and that’s the problem.
Roseburg is divided into four wards, with two council members from each ward. The mayor, who presides over the council meeting, is elected at large for a two-year term.
With a city of just 21,000 residents living within nine square miles, we question the need for eight councilors from four defined neighborhoods, plus a mayor and a chief executive to help govern it. Most of the council decisions affect the entire city, not just a particular ward or neighborhood.
Douglas County — with 107,000 residents and 5,000 square miles — is governed by just three at-large elected commissioners and there is no county manager, or chief executive officer.
We have no idea how many Ward I residents will raise their hands to replace Averett, 35, who said he was stepping down to spend more time with his family and new positions at work and with his church. The fact that there were no challengers in the last election isn’t a good sign.
We do know there were at least three citizens who recently wanted to serve Roseburg and can’t until their ward seat reopens, or until the next election. It seems to us the city could use the experience Baker could bring to the city. He vacated his council seat to run for mayor, losing to incumbent Larry Rich.
It would seem much more efficient to reduce the council size to five at-large councilors, plus a mayor. That way if one of them steps down just months into his term, the city could draw from a larger pool of potential candidates. It would also encourage a more global approach to governing a city the size of Roseburg, rather than from four isolated wards.
We understand, of course, that a change to Roseburg’s governmental structure would require an amendment to the city’s charter and approval by its residents. But we think it’s at least worth considering.
Until then, we hope there is sufficient interest in the vacant Ward I council seat.