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No one is running for public office in Gates, Oregon

"The community is a lot of retired people. It seems like every one of them has been mayor or on the city council."
Credit: Anna Reed/Statesman Journal
Jerry Marr (Photo: Anna Reed/Statesman Journal)

When the Aug. 28 filing deadline approached for the four open seats in Gates, city recorder Traci Archer had a feeling something weird was going to happen.

At no point during the summer did anyone call the city office with questions about how to file for the position of mayor or any of the three open city council positions.

And the current mayor and city council members didn’t show much interest in running again.

With no one filed for the Nov. 6 general election, the city of 485 people in east Marion County is in a strange position.

“The community is a lot of retired people," Archer said. "It seems like every one of them has been mayor or on the city council.”

What happens when no one files to run for elected office?

Kevin Toon, communications manager for the League of Oregon Cities, said an informal survey of the 241 cities in the state found nine cities including Idanha, Detroit, Waldport and Clatskanie in similar situations with fewer people running for city council positions than open seats.

All of those cities, Toon points out, have fewer than 5,000 citizens.

But none are in the same situation as Gates with no one running for election.

“What I think we’re looking at here is it’s a consistent problem for smaller cities,” Toon said. “I think it’s an increasing challenge of late.”

For someone to be a city councilor in Gates, they must have been registered to vote nine months before the election and resided within the city limits for 12 months.

Credit: ANNA REED / Statesman Journal
Gates City Hall on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018.

If someone wins as a write-in, Archer will ask them if they want to serve.

Two-term incumbent mayor Jerry Marr said he delayed registering to run for re-election in hopes someone else would run.

He admits he waited too long.

The 85-year-old Marr said he would serve another term as mayor if he won as a write-in candidate.

“It’s just the lack of people wanting to get involved in anything concerning what’s going on in a small town,” Marr said. “We don’t have any controversy. I’ve tried. I’ve stirred up a few things.”

Marr points to a $14 monthly increase in water billing per house to pay for a third city employee – one specifically dedicated to public works – that caused some controversy.

A ballot measure prohibiting marijuana retailers in Gates is on the November ballot, but Marr said the petitioner who got it on the ballot moved out of town.

Marr points out taxes paid by Gates’ only marijuana dispensary, Canyon Cannabis, are approximately $14,000, roughly twice that of an average house in the city with the lowest property tax rates in Oregon.

With under 500 people in town, and a large percentage of retirees, there aren't many to choose from for elected office.

"In a small town like this, we’ve probably got eight previous mayors living in town," Marr said. "Pretty soon you run out of people."

This is the first time Gates has been in this specific situation with its city council, but it has been in similar straights.

As recently as 2012, no one ran for city councilor in Gates, and it happened in 2008 and 2006.In the 2012 election in Gates, Marr and current city councilor John McCormick won the positions as write-in candidates.

Prior to becoming the city recorder in 2013, Archer was on the city council after being appointed to the position.

“It’s kind of like, everybody’s got complaints, but nobody wants to step up,” Archer said.

Gary Crum and McCormick each have two more years on their city council terms.

The people who get the most write-in votes can elect to serve or decline to serve. Archer said if they decline, she can go down the list of write-in candidates until she finds people who are willing.

If none are willing, the city could technically still have a quorum with the current two councilors, according to the city charter, though Archer said she would have to consult with the city attorney on how to proceed.

Marr says the lack of interest in being part of the city leadership is a shame.

“Here’s the thing, it’s only one hour or less a month they have to come to a council meeting,” Marr said.

“You’re shaping what’s going to happen in this little city for the next generation, probably.”

bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com or Twitter.com/bpoehler