MONUMENT - Citizens of Monument had better hope that recently appointed members of their city council will step up to run for election this fall. Or residents had better hope that a group of new candidates will offer themselves to the voters.
The City of Monument finds itself in a unique and precarious situation - almost the entire city council is made up of appointees, and that means, with a departing incumbent, the entire city council becomes vacant this year. Appointees include councilors Bob Cox, Lois Groves, Gary Hyde, Keith Teague and Vonda Stubblefield; and the mayor, Joe Duncan. The only council member who was elected to her position, Betty Richards, said she will not seek another term.
In a worst-case scenario, all of the appointees could decline to run in the Nov. 5 general election. If that happened, and if members of the general public did not file to take their places, numerous city positions could remain void after the election.
By law, appointees must stand for election at the first opportunity. So anyone appointed to a city council or mayoral position during an uncompleted term must file to run with the Grant County Clerk's office to continue that term. Deadline to file for the Nov. 5 general election is Tuesday, Aug. 27. As of Aug. 19, nobody had filed at the county clerk's office for city posts in Monument.
When queried about the city's dilemma, Richards adopted an optimistic view. She said she expects most of the six appointees to run for their seats.
However, at least three of the appointees voiced uncertainty. Hyde, a carpenter who has lived off and on in Monument since 1978, said he is concerned about the future. Tentative discussion at the last city council meeting left him feeling uneasy.
"I wasn't real clear at the last meeting who was willing to run for their seat and who wasn't," he said.
Hyde excluded himself from an election bid.
"I'm right now in the process of moving outside the city limits, so I'm not going to be available to run," he explained.
Keith Teague, the new Monument compound manager for the Oregon Department of Forestry, said he will wait and see if anybody shows an interest in his position, to which he was appointed less than two years ago. He said possibly someone who has lived in Monument longer could fill the position.
"We have heard rumors that a lot of other people are running," he said.
This word of hope contrasted with Hyde's gloomier outlook.
"I am very leery of what may be coming up myself," Hyde said.
Conversations with residents have not been encouraging, Hyde said. He hasn't heard anyone talking about running for city council; to the contrary, citizens have expressed reluctance when polled about taking a role in city leadership.
Hyde said he warned his city council colleagues at their last meeting, "We may throw a party and nobody comes."
Seeds of fatigue
The uncertainty continues.
Groves, a retiree who moved to Monument in 1999 and was appointed to the city council almost a year and a half ago, said she is still debating whether to make a bid to continue her term.
"I haven't quite decided yet," she said.
"It has been interesting," she added of her brief tenure.
That word, "interesting," came up repeatedly as a euphemism used by councilors to describe the general sense of frustration and fatigue they experienced over a slow and ultimately unsuccessful effort to build a new sewage-treatment system for the city with volunteer labor.
"I was already on the council at the time we began to talk about the sewer system," Richards recalled.
Richards even attended the first meeting at Heppner when the Self-Help program was discussed. However, in hindsight, Monument's experience provided a cautionary lesson to other small towns, she said.
"I think in a community as small as this one, it would be very difficult to do," she said of the volunteer-based approach to infrastructure development.
In concept, the Self-Help model of infrastructure funding sounded ideal. Local volunteers could help defray the hefty cost of wastewater-system improvements by offering their free labor in lieu of hiring contractors.
Richards said about three quarters of the project was completed that way, but ultimately the work bogged down.
"The people who volunteered were older people, retired people, and the younger ones, a good many of them, have to live away from Monument during the week," she said. "When they're home for the weekend, they don't want to spend their time working on a sewer system."
The process has been revived in recent months. Through the traditional contracting process, the city is ready to start repairing streets where lines were installed. Richards said the end is in sight.
"I would kind of like to see it finished," she added of the project.
However, after about a decade on the city council, Richards said, "That's plenty long enough."
Nobody begrudged Richards her right to step down. Hyde credited Richards for her involvement in city leadership.
"She's held tough through all the hard times," he said.
Hyde also agreed that the sewer-system project created fatigue and frustration that may have left councilors and citizens wary and tired.
"I'm still hoping, that as we start the paving project, in approximately 30 to 45 days, that that's going to bring the town back together again," he said.
But he acknowledged, as the filing date for the general election draws closer, "I really don't know what to expect."