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Umatilla creates new department to focus on livability, economic development

Meeting starts with request for review of Mayor Dave Trott
By Jade McDowell

Staff Writer

Published on February 8, 2017 5:22PM

The Umatilla city council on Tuesday voted to create a community development department to focus on livability and economic development.

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The Umatilla city council on Tuesday voted to create a community development department to focus on livability and economic development.

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Umatilla’s city council meeting on Tuesday night started with a request by councilor Mel Ray to add an executive session to the agenda discussing Mayor Dave Trott’s performance.

Under ORS 192.660(i) a city council can meet in closed session “to review and evaluate the employment-related performance of the chief executive officer of any public body, a public officer, employee or staff member who does not request an open hearing.”

Trott said he could not add an executive session to Tuesday’s agenda at the last minute without giving the public proper notice, but requested the city recorder put it on the agenda for the council’s next regular meeting on March 7. He also requested an open hearing.

The request by Ray marked a turning of the tables for Trott, who requested a special executive session to review city manager Russ Pelleberg’s performance on Jan. 25. The city council did not take any action after the meeting that night. Pelleberg’s annual review is scheduled for an executive session on Feb. 21.

Without the requested executive session, the council still had a full agenda Tuesday night, including the approval of a new community development department at city hall that will be focused on livability and economic development.

The city plans to hire a community development director to run the new department starting March 1, and to add an administrative assistant/accounting clerk for support sometime after.

Pelleberg said adding the new positions will allow city hall to move forward more quickly with new projects to improve the city.

“I think this is truly an investment in our community,” he said.

The city’s personnel committee recommended the council adopt the resolution that would add the new director to the city’s pay scale on the same level as the finance director, public works director and police chief. Councilor Roak TenEyck, who sits on the committee, said finance director Melissa Ince told them the city has the money to go ahead with hiring the new positions, and the committee “recognized the need for more help around the city.”

On Tuesday the council also approved a resolution creating a low income sewer rate, mirroring the low income water rate the council has used for a few years. Both programs allow homeowners to apply to receive a monthly 10 percent reduction in their utility bill by showing proof of low income through their tax returns.

Pelleberg said there “hasn’t been a great interest” in the water program, with only eight residents currently receiving the lower rate, so he expected similar numbers on the sewer side and did not think there would be more than a $500 per year impact on the city’s budget.

The council meeting was more full than usual thanks to the attendance of several teenagers on the city’s new youth advisory committee. The committee, made up of two Umatilla High School students from each grade, will set its own agenda and operate with the guidance of former city manager Bob Ward. It is chaired by UHS senior Cameron Sipe and will make recommendations to the city council.

Councilor Mark Ribich said he believes the youth advisory committee is an important step for the city, because the council wants to make decisions that will help the community’s youth feel like Umatilla is a place where they would want to build their future.

“Thank you all for joining this team, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to have you,” he said.

Governor Kate Brown’s proposed budget would close the Oregon State Police crime lab in Pendleton and cut funding that pays for detectives on the Blue Mountain Enforcement Narcotics Team (BENT). At the request of Pelleberg and Umatilla Police Chief Darla Huxel, the council approved two letters in support of continued funding for both. Councilors and audience members were also encouraged to attend the legislature’s Ways and Means Committee meeting on Feb. 17 at 5 p.m. at Hermiston High School to make their voices heard on those and other funding issues.

Pelleberg told the council that he has agreed with the city managers of Hermiston, Stanfield and Echo to pursue state funding or other grant money to plan a river trail that would follow the Umatilla River from its mouth at the Columbia River all the way up to Echo.

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.



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