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The Phoenix Plaza opened last summer on Highway 99. Photo from phoenixciviccenter.org.

Phoenix, Oregon, mayor's actions draw citizen, council concerns

Phoenix citizens raised concerns about the actions of Mayor Chris Luz for a second consecutive City Council meeting Monday, criticizing him for his conduct at meetings and representation of the city before other groups.

Citizens voiced concerns about the way Luz interacted with Councilor Sarah Westover when she asked to be reappointed as the council liaison to the Rogue Valley Council of Governments Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee at the Jan. 7 meeting. Luz said he was going to take the position, and the two bantered back and forth for more than 20 minutes about Westover’s actions on a recent Metropolitan Planning Organization issue. Westover was subsequently reappointed to the position at the Jan. 22 meeting.

“I feel very conflicted by all this. I really do enjoy Chris’ work,” Carolina Marshall, who organizes twice-monthly community dinners, said Wednesday. She said Luz and his family show up regularly to help with the dinners. Marshall criticized Luz’s behavior at the Jan. 22 meeting.

“We can’t spend 20 minutes saying the same things over and over,” Marshall said Wednesday.

At the Jan. 22 session, former Councilor Michael Shunk characterized Luz’s behavior as bullying and misogynistic at the previous meeting.

Luz had criticized Westover for not keeping the council more informed about actions at the Metropolitan Planning Organization that could result in a change to the way federal and regional money would be allocated to jurisdictions and the Rogue Valley Transportation District. Westover responded she had reported the issue initially, but was waiting for the report of an Metropolitan Planning Organization subcommittee to come back before seeking a recommendation from the council on how to vote.

Luz said Thursday that sometimes council discussions can get a little heated.

“Sometimes it’s just part of the process, hopefully on an infrequent basis,” said Luz. “Sometimes making sausage in public isn’t pretty.”

Luz claimed Westover had a conflict of interest in that she supports public transit and RVTD at the Jan. 7 session. Westover said it’s not wrong to support public transit and that the mayor champions his own causes.

“I’ve been pretty overwhelmed with what happened at the last meeting,” resident Tony Chavez said at the Jan. 22 session. Chavez said he was disappointed that Council President Jim Snyder didn’t step in at some point and demonstrate leadership during the conflict between the mayor and a councilor.

“I’m hearing from quite a few people in the city about mistreatment of people here,” business owner Andrea Adams said at Monday’s meeting. “We have a pattern of, quite frankly, sexist behavior from people in the city. I’m asking for all of you, particularly men on the council, to have your eyes as wide open as possible while moving forward to be sure you are a good community partner and citizen, particularly with the women here.”

Monday’s meeting went over three hours and the previous two lasted more than two hours and 45 minutes each.

“It’s unfortunate that (Luz) is not doing his job of facilitating the meetings,” said Councilor Stuart Warren. “He is pushing his own personal agenda instead of trying to facilitate healthy conversations.”

At the Jan. 22 meeting, Warren questioned Luz’s appearance at a Metropolitan Planning Organization session. He said he had gotten calls from other groups informing him that Luz was representing the city of Phoenix on the Metropolitan Planning Organization funding issue. Council rules of procedure require that only an official city position and not a personal position may be stated.

“The mayor is acting in blatant disregard of Phoenix municipal code,” Shunk said Monday. “When a member appears in a personal capacity to give a statement on an issue, they must state that as their own position and not an official position.”

Shunk called on Snyder to figure out a way to make the code enforceable.

“I represent what is best for Phoenix. I’ll bring the positions of Phoenix to various venues,” Luz said when asked about allegations he didn’t always represent city positions.

Also at Monday’s meeting, Luz attempted to change a managerial review process the council put into effect in July 2018, Warren said.

“He’s just kind of out there doing his own thing without consulting the council,” said Warren. “He does his own thing, then asks for forgiveness.”

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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