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Mike Stitt, known for offering residents rides in his 1920 Ford Model T, has started a “Phoenix Council Watch” Facebook page. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore

'Council Watch'

PHOENIX — When he threw his name into the proverbial hat of city government more than eight years ago to serve on the city Planning Commission and then on the City Council, Phoenix resident Mike Stitt never envisioned a public Facebook page, much less keeping tabs on those doing the job he once held.

Better known these days as "head waiter" at the community kitchen and for offering residents rides in his 1920 Ford Model T, the former city official who has held many volunteer positions in town says he prefers the role of citizen.

After one partial term — and a second full term for which he was elected — Stitt was one of three city officials ousted in a contentious write-in campaign last November following a public outcry over a water-rate hike.

Often an optimist, Stitt admits he can be passionate and opinionated at times. "I want to keep it positive, but I feel like the questions need to be asked sometimes, so someone needs to do it," he said last week.

Stitt, 60, said he finds it ironic that the winning write-in candidates ran against raising the water rates, which ultimately were raised, and that Councilwoman Carolyn Bartell was reappointed after resigning her elected seat.

On his "Phoenix Council Watch" page, Stitt asks poignant questions in about a fourth of his posts, voicing concerns when he has them and often questioning decisions by the city.

"It isn't named 'Council Watch' because it's a page about love. The main reason I did it was I was concerned about the direction the council may go, and I felt it was a way to get the word out about what was going on in the community," he said.

"When I was on the City Council, it was suggested that they purchase an inexpensive audio system to put all meetings on the website for citizens. They thought it was a good idea, but it never happened, so I started this. The mantra has always been, in all small towns, they're not communicating with citizens. Pick a small town, they're all the same."

Earlier this month, appointments to fill three vacancies left by resignations — one was filled by Bartell's return — were not publicly announced.

Stitt pointed out that state law prevents council votes from being private, and he posted the voting results. While he focuses largely on the accountability of city officials, Stitt also posts news about local businesses and city happenings.

Mayor Carlos DeBritto said he was not a Facebook user but applauded any efforts to share council information, as meetings can often be sparsely attended.

"I feel like if it's something that's a positive for Phoenix and it's about communication, then I think that's good," DeBritto said.

Bartell applauded Stitt's effort to relay information to citizens, as well, even if it involves voicing concerns and criticism. "Anything we do to get information out to the citizens is great," Bartell said. "I haven't seen it, but the more the citizens know is going on in the city, the better. We are city officials, and we want residents to get involved and ask questions."

Bartell, however, declined to comment on Stitt's concerns about her recent reappointment to the council.

Almost relieved some days not to be on the council, Stitt said he considered deleting the page a handful of times, but feedback from community members keeps him going.

During — and before and after — his time on the council, Stitt has been involved as a citizen, founding the community kitchen at First Presbyterian Church alongside City Manager Jane Turner two years ago, planting trees and helping install playgrounds.

"I really think you can do as much behind the podium as you can in front of it. In fact, I think you can probably do more."

As for his page, he hopes the city will embrace the idea of getting more information to citizens.

"It's not meant to harass, harangue or find fault. It's just communication, and all are invited. And what I'm hearing from people is they like it," Stitt said.

"If social media can change the Middle East and the world, maybe it can change Phoenix. Now that's an optimist!"

To see more about Phoenix Council Watch, click this link https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Phoenix-Oregon-City-Council-Watch/207045849332905

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com

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