New King City council appointments are not without controversy

Applicants for seats on the King City City City Council filled the audience at the May 15 council meeting. The four applicants who were chosen are Gary Wallesen (far left in red plaid shirt), Smart Ocholi (sitting next to Wallesen), Dennis Gelfand (in green shirt in last row) and Randall Olsen (in gray shirt on the right). Barbara Sherman/Tigard Life
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The twisted turns of the King City City Council saga took yet another fork in the road at the May 15 meeting, when the three remaining councilors chose four city residents – one of them controversial – from a group of 10 applicants to fill a quartet of empty council seats.

Following a lengthy discussion about how to make the appointments while complying with the city charter, the council decided to make the appointments effective at the end of the meeting but delay swearing in the new councilors until the June meeting.

Councilor Marc Manelis made a motion to appoint Dennis Gelfand to Position 2, Smart Ocholi, who was recalled, to Position 4, Gary Wallesen to Position 6 and Vincent Arditi to Position 7.

“I’m impressed by the entire slate of candidates,” said Councilor Jan Tysoe. “Smart Ocholi was one of the recalled councilors but just barely… I think we need the constitutional memory, and so for that reason, I think Smart Ocholi is a ‘smart’ choice.”

Manelis added, “He gives a voice to the marginalized community in King City… and there are minority groups who may feel more comfortable coming to us.”

But Mayor Shawna Thompson noted that Ocholi’s appointment would be controversial. “I want to remind people that if we go ahead and reappoint Smart (to remember) that he was one of the only councilors willing to meet with the recall petitioners to try to come up with a solution. I applaud him for that because it was a tough situation we were all put in…

“I was hoping that we could maybe be discussing appointing Randy Olsen or Steve Gearhart (two leaders in the recall movement) tonight… I see them as really smart choices to represent the other side, so I would like to see at least one of the spots on the council filled by one of them.”

The councilors expressed concerns over Arditi’s lack of commitment to parks and recreation opportunities, including leading the effort to prevent a recreation center from being built in Tigard.

“I would move that we remove Vincent’s name from the slate,” Thompson said. “I would like to see Randy Olsen in place of Vincent Arditi,” and Manelis amended his motion to that effect.

Thompson said she liked Wallesen because “he doesn’t come here with a bias, and he doesn’t feel strongly one way or another… I think that he would bring a lot of value to the City Council because we need some neutrality, although we need some differing voices and differing opinions as well, so that is why Gary Wallesen definitely has my vote.”

Manelis added, “Dennis brings experience. He has served on the Planning Commission and has served on the council, so I am supportive of Dennis as well.”

After the three councilors voted unanimously in favor of the revised slate of applicants, Thompson said, “Congratulations to those of you who applied and were not selected. I just want to say thank you so much from the bottom of all our hearts and everyone’s in this room.”

Thompson added, “In November, two of those four seats (Wallesen and Olsen’s) are going to be up for election as well as my seat, so there will be three seats on the November ballot. So any of those who applied and were not selected tonight, please, I’m encouraging you, to please apply and run in November for those three seats, OK?”

After congratulating them again, the audience applauded, and Thompson reminded everyone that the new councilors would be sworn in at the June meeting, which has been rescheduled from the 19th to the 26th.

The appointment of Ocholi and the fact that his term doesn’t expire until the end of 2026 did not sit well with people involved in the effort to recall four councilors after they approved a development plan for Kingston Terrace that would make Fischer Road the main entry into the area from the east. (Six councilors were originally up for recall, but one resigned from the council and moved out of town, and the other, Manelis, agreed to work with the petitioners and revisit his vote to extend Fischer Road.)

Karl Swanson, who worked on the recall campaign, said via email, “They had 10 highly qualified applicants to choose from. Yet, with an abundance of highly qualified applicants they did the unthinkable. Deciding to reappoint Smart Ocholi after citizens recalled him, and unbelievably appointing him to an 18- month term when he was recalled from a six-month term was a slap in the face to all citizens. He should have run for reelection this November. Citizens should have decided.

“Mayor Thompson admitted it was ‘controversial.’ Ya think? No, it was unacceptable and destroys council credibility at a critical time they need to be rebuilding trust after the recall. A single token person was appointed to a six-month term from those who were associated with the recall…

“Running for reelection and convincing the citizens who recalled you that you have changed and will address their concerns by getting the TSP (Transportation System Plan) changed would have been courageous. Ocholi has a chance to win citizen support by his actions now on council. I hope he now shows some courage.”

Debbie Walk added via email, “I am still shocked that the King City Council felt it was appropriate to fill a recalled councilor’s seat with one of the ‘recalled councilors.’ With all the current ongoing questions about the integrity of how King City is managed, the perceived impropriety of that one council appointment is a blatant disregard for the legislative process and the people that cared enough to get involved.

“After the last few years I shouldn’t be shocked, it’s just a continuation of how the City Manager and Council ignore the concerns of the citizens they claim to represent.”

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