Editor’s note: This past week, local government representatives traveled to Salem to attend, “City Day at the Capitol.” Highlights included presentations from the League of Oregon Cities government relations team on legislative priorities, and briefings from Oregon’s new governor and legislative leadership about their priorities for the 2023 session. Members of the Springfield and Cottage Grove city council attended to advocate for local interests at the state level.
On Wednesday, Jan. 25, mayors, councilors, and all sorts of city officials descended on Salem for, “City Day at the Capitol.” It was a massive lobbying effort organized by the League of Oregon Cities.
Delegations from the four corners of Oregon filled the upper level of the Salem Convention Center to hear from Gov. Tina Kotek, Senate president Rob Wagner, House majority leader Julie Fahey, Republican Senate leader Tim Knopp, and Republican House leader Vikki Breese-Iverson.
While the delivery varied from speaker to speaker, the message came through loud and clear, “We hear you, municipal governments!” Each official acknowledged that housing, homelessness, and mental health (among others) are huge issues across the state and that cities and towns are on the front lines, asked to do much with little.
Without promising solid relief there was an optimistic tone of cooperation across party lines to work together to try and ease some of the unfunded mandates weighing down local governments even in the face of projected state budget shortfalls.
“We’re in this together!” Gov. Kotek said as she wrapped up. House leader Fahey pointed out that over a third of the seats in the Senate and House had changed and that all six Legislative Leadership roles are in new hands.
Cottage Grove’s contingent comprised of councilors Mike Fleck, Chalice Savage, myself, City Manager Richard Meyers, and Assistant City Manager Jake Boone. There were many chances to network and bump into our colleagues from Creswell, Dexter, Veneta, Oakridge, and Springfield as the participants shuttled between the Capitol, workshops, and walking tours. While the Capitol building is in somewhat of disarray due to an upgrade and legislators moving into new offices, the Grove crew took the opportunity to meet with elected officials and bring our concerns and requests to them.
Freshman Rep. Charlie Conrad was welcoming to his new digs where boxes still were waiting to be unpacked. Old friend Cedric Hayden had moved to a new wing as our State Senator and was equally warm amidst his moving chaos. While the district lines have been redrawn, Sen. Floyd Prozanski still serves the area north of the city limits, including Saginaw. We encouraged all three to visit together and examine our efforts with the unhoused. They all seemed onboard as well as listened to our pitches for assistance in extending those services in the future.
Our delegation got to tour one of Salem’s efforts in providing a managed, low-barrier shelter just around the corner from the Oregon State Supreme Court building. The temporary village is completely mobile and houses 80 residents. Church at the Park is the nonprofit managing the effort and the mayor of Salem – along with case managers – accompanied us on the walking tour.
While initially receiving a lot of pushback from the surrounding neighborhood, including threatened lawsuits, the local residents are now some of the biggest supporters of the camp, crediting it with cleaning up the area and increasing safety and security for everyone.
It was a full day and a long one but the Grovers returned tired, happy and hopeful that a new sense of cooperation will help all Oregonians rise to challenges we face.
Dana Merryday is a Cottage Grove City Councilor. He wrote this for The Chronicle.