February 29, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

You can do this: Two-thirds of all city council votes were unanimous

6 min read
Although serving on the Eugene City Council may seem daunting, our analysis showed that if you had been a councilor in 2023, you would have faced only 12 votes with an opportunity to change the outcome. Most votes are routine; in 2023, 64% of all council votes were unanimous.

by John Quetzalcoatl Murray

Four positions on the Eugene City Council are up for election in 2024. To encourage more candidates to file by the deadline of March 6, we analyzed all of the 2023 council votes available in meeting minutes approved as of Jan. 30, 2024. 

The good news: If you’re interested in public policy and public service, you can do this.

It turns out that 100 of the 157 votes—roughly two of every three council votes—were unanimous. The councilors gave their stamp of approval 100 times by votes of six or seven or eight to zero.

Of the remaining 57 non-unanimous votes, only 20 were close enough where a change in one councilor’s vote might have changed the outcome.

It’s still not certain that your vote would have changed the final outcome, as Mayor Lucy Vinis cast tie-breaking votes nine times among those 20 close votes. Even with your vote, the mayor’s tie-breaker may have preserved the same final voting results we saw in 2023.

And even among those 20 close votes, eight turned out to have little impact on the city as a whole. Three were related to a fossil fuel ordinance the council later rescinded, and five votes were related to the police auditor’s salary. (Those five included two votes where the same councilor first voted against Grade 11, Step 7 and then subsequently asked the council to adopt Grade 11, Step 7.) So we’ll discard those eight votes too and pare it down to an average of one significant vote per month.

To help make the council role appear more manageable: If you had been on the city council in 2023, your vote might have made a difference on just 12 of the 157 votes.

The spreadsheet listing all 157 votes is available at the Whole Community News Journalist Studio website, our collection of local government documents. The downloadable spreadsheet includes the description from the meeting minutes and a link to the source documents showing the full discussion around each vote.

To help nudge you towards declaring your candidacy for Eugene City Council, here are all of the 12 close votes where you could have made a difference in 2023.

Six of the 12 votes related to nuances of the renter protection ordinance (with Mayor Lucy Vinis casting the tie-breaker in five of those six votes): 

  • June 26, 2023: MOTION TO AMEND: Councilor Clark, seconded by Councilor Groves, moved to amend the motion to include (removal of) trigger 4. VOTE ON MOTION TO AMEND: 4:5 FAILED (opposed by Councilors Zelenka, Keating, Yeh, and Leech, with Mayor Vinis’ vote against breaking the tie).
  • June 26, 2023: MOTION TO SUBSTITUTE: Councilor Keating, seconded by Councilor Semple, moved to substitute 3 months’ rent. VOTE ON MOTION TO SUBSTITUTE: FAILED 4:5 (opposed by Councilors Zelenka, Clark, Evans, and Groves, with Mayor Vinis’ vote against breaking the tie).
  • June 28, 2023: MOTION TO DIVIDE: Councilor Semple, seconded by Councilor Yeh, moved to divide the motion into 2 as one motion, and 3 and 4 as a separate motion. VOTE: 5:4 PASSED (opposed by Councilors Keating, Groves, Clark, and Zelenka with Mayor Vinis’ vote in favor breaking the tie).
  • June 28, 2023: Councilor Keating, seconded by Councilor Zelenka, moved to direct the City Manager to revise the draft Ordinance to remove relocation assistance exemptions 3 and 4. VOTE:4:5 FAILED (opposed by Councilors Clark, Groves, Leech, and Zelenka with Mayor Vinis’ vote in opposition
    breaking the tie).
  • June 28, 2023: MOTION: Councilor Zelenka, seconded by Councilor Keating, moved to direct the City Manager to amend the draft ordinance to apply the notice requirements of exemptions to 2, 3 and 4 only to leases executed after the effective date of the ordinance. VOTE: 5:4 PASSED (opposed by Councilors Clark, Groves, Semple, and Yeh with Mayor Vinis’ vote in favor breaking the tie).
  • June 28, 2023: MOTION: Councilor Keating, seconded by Councilor Zelenka, moved to direct the City Manager to revise the draft Ordinance to remove relocation assistance exemptions 5. VOTE: 3:5 FAILED (opposed by Councilors Zelenka, Clark, Evans, Leech, and Groves).

One close vote was related to the parks levy the council was submitting to the voters, and which was subsequently approved in May 2023:

  • Feb. 8, 2023:  MOTION TO AMEND: Councilor Zelenka, seconded by Councilor Keating, moved to amend the motion to add two parks police officers outlined in the safety and service plus level levy described of $6.1 million. VOTE ON MOTION TO AMEND: 3:5 FAILED (opposed by Councilors Clark, Groves, Keating, Semple, and Yeh).

One close vote had to do with relaxing the Skinner Butte Height Limitation for a building project:

  • Feb. 13, 2023: MOTION: Councilor Groves, seconded by Councilor Keating, moved to adopt An Ordinance Concerning the Skinner Butte Height Limitation Area, Amending Section 9.6715 and Figure 9.6715(3) of the Eugene Code, 1971, included as Attachment A to this AIS. VOTE: PASSED 4:2 (opposed by Councilors Semple and Keating).

One vote would have designated meetings of the new Revenue Committee as open, public meetings. This was another instance where Mayor Lucy Vinis cast a tie-breaking vote, here in opposition to open public meetings:

  • April 12, 2023: MOTION TO AMEND: Councilor Zelenka, seconded by Councilor Keating, moved to amend the motion to have the Revenue Team meetings open public meetings. VOTE: FAILED 4:5 (opposed by Councilors Groves, Semple, Leech, Yeh, and Mayor Vinis).

One vote sought to nominate someone other than activist Dylan Plummer to the LRAPA board:

  • July 12, 2023: MOTION TO SUBSTITUTE: Councilor Zelenka, seconded by Councilor Clark, moved to substitute (for Dylan Plummer) on the LRAPA board. VOTE ON MOTION TO SUBSTITUTE: 3:4 FAILED (opposed by Councilors Semple, Keating, Yeh, and Leech).

One vote limited individuals to service on one board or commission at a time (although applicants may apply for more than one):

  • Sept. 27, 2023: MOTION (with friendly amendment) and VOTE: Councilor Zelenka, seconded by Councilor Keating, move to limit any individual to only one appointed Council Board or Commission at a time, not including liaison positions identified in city code or City Councilors. VOTE: PASSED 5:3 (opposed by Councilors Clark, Leech and Semple).

The 12th and final close vote in our study related to the state’s latest land use mandate:

  • Nov. 13, 2023: MOTION: Councilor Groves, seconded by Councilor Keating, moved to adopt the Ordinance Concerning Climate Friendly & Equitable Communities Parking Standards included as Attachment A to the AIS. VOTE: 4:3 PASSED (Opposed by Councilors Clark, Keating, and Evans).

So if any of you are feeling intimidated about representing your neighbors on the city council, our analysis of all 2023 council votes demonstrates that you will only face, on average, one significant vote each month. You can do this. Your constituents will be glad to advise you in those few crucial votes.

The city recorder’s office makes it easy to file as a council candidate by collecting all of the necessary information and forms in one packet, available on the city website.

Several candidates have already filed as of Jan. 30, 2024. Candidates include:

  • Mayor: Kaarin Knudson, Shanaé Joyce-Stringer, Douglas Barr
  • Ward 1: Ted Coopman, Eliza Kashinsky
  • Ward 2: Matt Keating, Lisa Warnes
  • Ward 7: Lyndsie Leech, Barbie Walker
  • Ward 8: Randy Groves

Here’s hoping that this analysis will encourage you to file for office, and that those elected in 2024 will bring more diversity of opinion, a more robust public dialogue, and fewer unanimous votes at the Eugene City Council.

There are also many opportunities to serve on the city’s boards and commissions.

Members of boards and commissions provide an invaluable service to Eugene by advising the city council and city staff on a wide variety of subjects and making recommendations on important policy matters. The detailed studies and considered advice provided by boards and commissions often inspire innovative programs and improved services. The following boards and commissions are currently accepting applications:

City Council Advisory Bodies

  • Budget Committee (3 openings)
  • Civilian Review Board (2 openings)
  • Historic Review Board (2 openings)
  • Human Rights Commission (3 openings)
  • Planning Commission (1 opening)
  • Police Commission (6 openings)
  • Sustainability Commission (1 opening)
  • Toxics Board (6 openings)

Other Advisory Groups

  • Envision Eugene Technical Advisory Committee (1 position)
  • Whilamut Natural Area Citizen Planning Committee (3 openings)

The city has extended the application deadline for boards and commissions to Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. Sign up at the city’s website. For more information, see the Boards and Commissions webpage.

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