Allen would’ve been first unhoused person to serve on council; Kent elected to fill her seat
CRESWELL – A newly discovered conflict of interest has left the Creswell City Council to reverse on last week’s decision to appoint unhoused woman Christina Allen, leaving one sole candidate to fill the seat.
After the Council’s selection of Allen for its vacant seat on Dec. 11, the council became aware of a potential conflict of interest issue: Allen’s mother-in-law works for the City of Creswell, which would pose an issue when the council votes on the annual budget next spring.
This is the same potential conflict of interest that candidate Kevin Prociw disclosed and addressed last Monday – that his daughter is an employee for the City – which was the biggest point of concern among the council members who opted for Allen over Prociw.
That left councilor-elect Clark Kent to be the sole candidate without a potential conflict of interest.
A music aficionado and animal lover, he is currently the systems administrator for the library catalog and patron database for the City of Eugene Public Library, which is a hybrid, paid position. Beyond that, he is part of a couple local organizations: Irving Grange #377 and Eugene Trek Theater; and for fun, Kent said he enjoys playing board games.
According to mayor Dave Stram, on Dec. 12, the council became aware of Allen’s potential conflict of interest; on Dec. 14, Stram announced there would be a special meeting on Dec. 18 for the council to discuss reconsidering Allen’s appointment.
Stram was excused from the meeting due to an unexpected death in the family, leaving Alonzo Costilla, council president, to run the meeting.
Even though there was no public forum, there were about 40 citizens in attendance, which caused an extra row of chairs to be set out. Since news broke of Allen’s appointment, community members took to social media and the City’s email inbox to voice their concerns over having an unhoused woman serving the City, including Tammy Sue Schuck, who resigned in September. It was her seat the council was filling with this appointment.
Schuck said in an email to council that, in addition to the conflict of interest, it is an issue that, with no address, Allen does not technically live in the city limits — a requirement of serving on council.
“No permanent address equals no city bill, which equals not paying for city services,” she stated bluntly, adding that Allen would be taking part in making decisions that impact residents’ lives financially that would not affect her own.
A motion was quickly made and seconded by councilors Nick Smith and Staci Holt “to reconsider the appointment of Christina Allen based on the conflict of interest that was not disclosed.”
“With all the comments and concern surrounding Mr. Prociw’s own potential conflict of interest, I find it disheartening that nobody in the room thought to mention the one concerning Mrs. Allen, including herself,” Holt said.
Allen said she would like to apologize to each member of the council for not disclosing her familial relationship. She cited two reasons as to why she did not share about her mother-in-law, the first being her lack of understanding City lingo.
“(Last week), I heard something about the budget, and I’m like, ‘Huh?’ It made no sense to me. I had no idea what they were talking about,” she said. “It wasn’t until the next day when I saw Alonzo on the bus (that I realized what the conversation centering conflicts of interest was about). You guys are speaking in code. I needed it explained to me.
“I just didn’t understand the politics of it, so I got upset, and I didn’t think it was fair at all. If I had known their code, the secret ways they talk, I would have stood up right then and there. It’s not like I intentionally thought, ‘Oh, don’t tell anybody,’” she said.
She said that she doesn’t have a relationship with her mother-in-law, which means she wouldn’t care about what happens to her more than any other City staff member.
“We won’t have a problem because I don’t consider her to be family,” Allen said. “Why is it now that when my job is at stake, so to speak, that now it matters?”
Councilor Shelly Clark spoke highly of Kent, recollecting on why she nominated him for the position during the first vote last week – when he received zero votes and was taken out of the running. Councilor Norma Jean Osborn agreed.
Clark mentioned Kent’s five years on the budget committee and how he “has demonstrated commitment to the community.” Kent said that work will translate well to his new role as a city councilor because it has shown he is detail-oriented.
“I was like, ‘Gosh, if I have this degree of looking for missing periods, annotating, and highlighting, I’m probably a good guy to be a city councilor,’” Kent said.
“I believe in good government service, and I want to be an effective person in government. I want to be able to represent the citizens and what they’d like – and to do things that are good for the community,” Kent said. “Sometimes these things might not be easy, so I wanted to find out how to be most effective since I’m only going to be here for one year instead of a four-year term.”
Costilla said his position has not changed over the last week: “Whether it’s the most qualified person in the room or the least qualified person in the room, I hold value to every councilor being able to have a non-biased opinion – especially when it comes to discussions and votes in regards to employee salaries.”
There were two options which the council could have made, and they opted for both: to withdraw the nomination and amend the nomination.
“I believe the reconsideration negates the previous actions of the city council, and I think that can be stated very clearly in the minutes – what the intention of the city council is – and then you can vote on it,” city manager Michelle Amberg said.
There was a unanimous vote in favor of reconsidering Allen’s nomination, followed by a unanimous vote in favor of Smith’s motion to withdraw his original nomination of Allen last week, which resulted in applause.
“I’m a little upset. I really don’t feel that (Kent) can address the homeless situation in this job as best as I could because they have more of a liability to talk to him than me, but if he can pull it off and succeed, right on,” Allen said. “If he needs me for anything, of course (I would help him). He was willing to do the same for me, and I would do the same for him.”
Allen said she hopes to work on a committee and will absolutely be attending all future city council meetings so her perspective is not lost.
Kent said, while he is “happy and excited about getting to work,” he also feels sad for Allen.
“She’s had her name on social media, and it has to be hard. When Mayor Stram raised his hand for her in the vote, and she exclaimed, ‘Oh my God!’ – that was a goosebump-type moment,” Kent said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is historic.’ So that is a loss.”
Before the meeting’s final vote – to nominate Kent for the open city councilor position – Holt asked if she may ask Kent a question: “Mr. Kent, do you have any relatives working for the City of Creswell?”
The room erupted in laughter as Kent replied, “I do not.”
Last week, Kent listed his priorities with the acronym LIESSH, which stands for Livability, Infrastructure, Economic development, Safety, Security, and Housing. This past Monday, he said housing is his top priority.
“We need low-income housing here in the community. There is a divide that has been revealed between the housed citizens and the unhoused citizens of Creswell; we need to make this town good for all of our citizens,” he said.
“We want to be The Friendly City. I love coming in off the I-5 and seeing that sign,” he added. “I grew up in Chicago where if you smiled at a stranger, they would cozy up to their children or their significant others because obviously I was trying to sell them something (or was suspicious for being friendly). Nobody could be friendly for real. I want to retain that small-town feel.”
In 1998, Kent moved to Eugene because he “wanted nature.”
“From a natural point of view, I just felt cut off,” he said. “There was a part of my spirit that was missing that I couldn’t get with the speed of Chicago and, at the time, the lack of a lot of trees, a lot of parks.”
Kent moved to Creswell in 2015. He said he’s looking forward to serving the community. Although he can’t fly like his namesake, Kent hopes to be a city councilor who citizens can trust to represent them.
“My name is a big thing,” he said. “Having grown up as ‘Clark Kent,’ I really feel the importance of truth, the importance of justice, and the dream of the American way.”