July 22, 2024

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Councilor Syrett, colleagues say farewell

11 min read
On Monday night, colleagues honored departing City Councilor Claire Syrett.

On Monday night, colleagues honored departing City Councilor Claire Syrett.

[00:00:06] Mayor Lucy Vinis: We are wanting to take a few moments to show our appreciation and recognize the work of our colleague, Councilor Claire Syrett who was facing a recall and we are saddened, and wanting to take a few moments to thank her for her work. So I’ll open the floor.

[00:00:28] Councilor Emily Semple: Thank you, Claire. We’ve worked together almost six years right along the middle of 7th Avenue (laughter). Ward 1 and (Ward) 7 are right next to each other, and the wards tend to go right down the middle of a street. So I get one side and she gets the other.

[00:00:45] During these almost six years, sometimes we have disagreed vehemently. Quite honestly, vehemently. Other times, we’ve been right on the money, and it’s been really easy to let Councilor Syrett articulately discuss something and I can just say, ‘Yeah, what she said.’ And often we’re in the middle, which is how council works. If we always agreed, we wouldn’t be doing our job.

[00:01:14] Councilor Syrett, I appreciate your insights, your comments, the good conversation that you bring to this table, so we truly delve into the subjects. You’re a dedicated councilor. I admire you and I’m really going to miss you. I’m grateful that for the years we worked together, and I look forward to you coming back and telling us how to do things. Whatever silver lining comes from this surprisingly quick departure, I hope it’s truly glorious. You’ve earned it. Thanks.

[00:01:49] Councilor Alan Zelenka: Claire, we worked together for about 10 years and I found you to be one of the smartest and hardest-working councilors that I’ve had the pleasure to work with over my 15 years on the council and 10 years on the budget committee.

[00:02:02] And I think you’re balanced, you’re principled, open-minded but action-oriented, and you always did your homework and found time to meet with your constituents, and I think you’ve represented your ward well. That’s why I supported you and found that the recall was appalling! Recalls are supposed to be used to remove people for malfeasance or, or dereliction of duty, and, and not because you disagree with them on an issue.

[00:02:29] I think that was an abuse of the recall process. But I wanted to thank you, Claire, for your years of hard work and the effect of representation you gave.  I enjoyed working with you on many issues, agreeing on almost most, and disagreeing on some, but I really enjoyed working with you.

[00:02:48] Probably most importantly was the Paid Sick Leave, which eventually, our template became the state law. And I think working with you and Kitty Piercy on that was one of the highlights of my career, and hopefully you share that view. So I’m glad to have worked with you. I’m glad to consider you a friend.

[00:03:07] I’ll miss you. One of the metrics about being a councilor is, Did you leave the city in a better place than when you started? And I think the answer to that for you is a resounding yes. So thank you.

[00:03:21] Councilor Greg Evans: Claire, I’m not one who necessarily endorses recalls for elected officials, although that’s the people’s right and people’s option. As you know, I, I lived in Ward 7 for about seven years and moved to Ward 6 22 years ago. So I’m very proud to have served with you, to have shared the boundary of Ward 6 and Ward 7, and I will say this. My dad was an amateur and for a short time, a professional boxer. And I really didn’t know him ‘cause he died when I was four. But my mother always told me, she said my dad would say, ‘You’re not defined by the times you get knocked down, but by the times you get up.’ And I know you’re going to get up and you’re going to continue on, and you’re going to continue to serve this community as admirably as you have these last 10 years. You came in just before I did, and I’m sad to see you go, and you have done a yeoman’s job of representing your constituents and the entire city of Eugene, so thank you.

[00:04:47] Councilor Jennifer Yeh: Claire, what impressed me right away about you is the way that you do your work. You always model an approach that combines intelligence and curiosity and compassion and empathy and strength, and you balance taking bold action with considering new information and diverse perspectives, which I think can be hard. And above all, you have this really strong moral compass that helps you to consistently put people first when you’re making decisions and talking about things that I’ve tried to model in my own decision making. I’ve always appreciated how, you clearly remind us that very real people can benefit or suffer from the decisions we make.

[00:05:37] And in many issues, but particularly I think about in our middle housing discussions, how you reminded us constantly about the real people and the real lives that were behind these codes that can sometimes be a little technical or sterile. You made that extra effort to put a human face right, a human perspective on that, which I really appreciated.

[00:05:59] There are countless visible and invisible ways that you have touched this community and the people here probably more than you’ll ever know or that any of us will ever know. I feel so fortunate to have had time to be with you in this space and to learn from you and listen to your perspectives.

[00:06:23] I wrote this thing and it feels very inadequate now, but: I know that wherever you land after this, whatever team you end up on will be lucky to have you, and will benefit from you being there.

[00:06:38] Councilor Mike Clark: Claire, when it comes to issues and policy, you and I almost never agree. But what most people don’t know is how many moments of personal contact exist when you sit at this table. And I can count dozens of times where you and I might get down to it when it comes to policy questions and I’ll be infuriated by what I hear.

[00:07:07] But there are dozens of times when after a meeting I’ll get a text from you. Or, you know, a comment that happens during a meeting where you’re very personally kind to me in those moments. And it’s always meant a lot to me that we had that dynamic, even though the the policy question stuff is different. On a very human level, I’ve always appreciated your kindness, so thank you.

[00:07:37] Councilor Randy Groves: Councilor Syrett, Claire. Thank you for your years of service. I met you long before I was a councilor when I was still fire chief here in this city, and I always appreciated your insight and your work. And although there’s things that we agreed on, things we disagreed on, I always felt you treated me respectfully, and I know that you try to treat everyone respectfully and sometimes in the heat of the battle, tensions get high.

[00:08:09] I mean, as a community we don’t always agree either, but it’s that common purpose that we’re all working together to try and make this a better community, a safer community.

[00:08:20] And I have especially enjoyed working with you in these last eight months or so, nine months, a year, working on the dioxin contaminations in the Bethel area of Ward 8, which is my council ward, and trying to find solutions for people who have had their yards basically made unusable by this condition, and I appreciated the way you attacked that issue.

[00:08:47] And in that place you were compassionate towards the people, but you were hard on the issue and it needed to be dealt with in that way. And so I’ve learned from you and I appreciate that. I’m still trying to figure out the policy arena. I’m still used to just going and getting things done, and that’s really not what we do as a council (laughing).

[00:09:09] So, anyway, I wish you well as you go into your next adventure, your new challenges. I agree with what I’ve heard from our colleagues, that you will be an asset wherever you go, and I’m sure you will find your path, keeping your north star in view. So, best wishes, good luck. Thank you.

[00:09:35] Councilor Matt Keating: Labor leader, nurse, political gadfly, nurses’ representative, political gadfly (inside joke), climate champion. There are a host of descriptors that paint a picture of Councilor Claire Syrett. As a community member, I thank you for your decade of dedicated public service to our city.

[00:09:59] Plastic bag ban, paid family sick leave, fair contracts, women’s rights, workers’ rights, standing up against hate and bigotry—that’s Claire Syrett.  And on Jan. 6, 2021 (of all days), I was fortunate enough to be sworn in to join Claire and our colleagues as Eugene city councilor. The events on that day will forever be seared into our memories, but it was a meeting about a week or two after, where I recognized the true character of Claire Syrett.

[00:10:32] One of our colleagues made a false equivalency to the Black Lives Matter protest over the summer of 2020 and the attack, the insurrection, the coup on our capital. And folks came out of the woodworks for recall of that sitting city councilor who is here tonight, and I thank our colleagues for having a full complement. It was Claire Syrett who put an end to that conversation, recognizing that elections are where that debate needs to take place.

[00:11:02] It’s not council’s role, nor is it the appropriate recall lever to penalize someone for having an opinion that we may vehemently disagree. That, Councilor Syrett, is character.

[00:11:14] ‘When you got skin in the game,’ Alexander Hamilton says, ‘you stay in the game. But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game. Oh, you get love for it. You get hate for it. You get nothing if—Wait, wait, wait for it. (Quietly) Wait.’

[00:11:33] Claire Syrett doesn’t wait, Councilor Claire Syrett takes action. And you have dutifully and honorably served our community. And it’s an honor to serve with you.

[00:11:46] Mayor Lucy Vinis: Claire Syrett was one of the first people I talked to when I was considering running for mayor, and I looked to her for insight and her advice, and I have turned to Claire ever since, as I have served as mayor. And I will say that Claire, even through this recall process, has continued to be all-in as a city councilor. You show up in every way with your full resources, your full commitment, your experience, your intelligence, your commitment to making changes in this community, nothing has stopped you.

[00:12:22] Claire, you are true to your name. You seek clarity. You seek to bring clarity through candid, authentic— searing sometimes— commentary on what’s important, and you have always stood for your deepest values. Everyone on this council has said the same that, that we always know exactly where you stand because it’s your core value and you stand there again and again and again. Whether it’s homelessness or climate or social justice or reproductive rights or uh, public safety, you are there.

[00:12:56] You have been and will continue to be a force for good in this community, and I feel honored and grateful to have served by your side. Thank you.

[00:13:07] John Q: At the close of the meeting, the farewell address by Councilor Claire Syrett.

[00:13:11] Councilor Claire Syrett: I really want to thank you, Mayor, for allowing me the privilege of taking this time tonight. This will be my last opportunity to address the community in this way, in my role as Eugene City Councilor. So first I want to thank, start with some thank-yous. Thank you to Mayor Vinis for your support, mentorship, and friendship. Thank you to the six council colleagues who went out of their way to express their concern and regret over the recall and who contributed to my campaign to defeat it.

[00:13:43] Thank you Councilor Yeh, Councilor Keating, Councilor Zelenka, Councilor Semple, Councilor Evans, and Councilor Groves. And I appreciate Councilor Clark’s acknowledgement tonight of my efforts to be collegial in spite of our political differences.

[00:13:57] I also have many city staffers I wish to thank, and so I’m limiting this list for the sake of time. These are individuals who helped me navigate the many complex policy issues council grapples with every day; responded to my requests to assist constituents with their needs; and provided me with administrative support over the time that I’ve been a councilor.

[00:14:20] Thank you to Beth Forrest, Teri Harding, Stephanie Jennings, Doug Mozan, Sarita Black, Matt Rodriguez, Renee Grube, Sara McKinney, Kristie Hammitt, Kurt Corey, Kelly McIver, Chris Skinner, Jeff Petry, Rob Inerfeld, Kathryn Brotherton, and Ethan Nelson. A special thanks to our former City Manager Jon Ruiz.

[00:14:45] And lastly to Sarah Medary, who has been the best partner in this work I could have ever hoped to have the privilege of working with. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

[00:14:55] In the 10 years that I have served Ward 7 in this city, I have strived to listen, learn, and lead. I have accomplished much that I am proud of and wish I had the opportunity to do more before my current term ends.

[00:15:08] I leave concerned that Ward 7 will be without a representative for several months.

[00:15:13] I leave concerned that the work important to my constituents will be delayed or even worse, undermined by my absence, including work on regulating toxic polluters, addressing homelessness and combating climate change.

[00:15:27] I leave also deeply concerned about the implications of the successful recall that has removed a duly-elected councilor who has committed no ethical or criminal offense before the end of their term. This recall was instigated by a small group of people who do not live in Ward 7, who hold extremist views on the role of public transportation and its value to the community.

[00:15:51] They were joined by others who do not live in Ward 7— and in fact, in one instance, don’t even reside in the city of Eugene at all— to remove the most effective, vocal, and forward-thinking member of this council.

[00:16:04] Together they successfully manipulated the very valid and real fears, anxiety, and anger many voters are experiencing due to a myriad of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with my service as Ward 7 councilor.

[00:16:18] This kind of anti-democratic strategy— to undermine and remove duly elected public officials— should raise alarms for all who care about our representative democracy, regardless of your political affiliation or ideological point of view. This is just a harbinger of a future in which elections truly won’t matter unless we take action to combat this strategy.

[00:16:44] Lastly, I want to acknowledge the incredible privilege I have had to serve as the elected representative of Ward 7 for a decade. It has been my honor to serve with this council and mayor, and with prior councilors and Mayor (Kitty) Piercy. I can’t imagine any experience will match it.

[00:17:03] For those who are wondering if my departure from the seat heralds the end of my political career or public advocacy, whether you are a detractor or supporter, I leave you with this promise: You ain’t seen nothing yet.

[00:17:18] John Q: For the first time in Eugene history, voters recall a sitting city councilor.

[00:17:23] Colleagues pause to reflect on the occasion, to praise her best qualities, to recognize the 10 years she dedicated to the residents of Ward 7, and to wish her well.

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