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From Newport citizen and former City Councilor Lon Brusselback –
The Vacation Rental debacle has taken a new twist. News Lincoln County recently reported on the Newport Planning Commission’s struggle to create a list of appointments for its own Vacation Rental Ad Hoc Committee.
The resultant list was a shock and disappointment to many in the community. “The fox guarding the hen house” seems to be the most apt, if not overused metaphor. Five of the ten appointees were in the VRD business, two were not even Lincoln County residents and none lived in Nye Beach, the most VRD impacted neighborhood in Newport (based on City analysis).
Many wondered about the efficacy of such a committee. Many wondered also how the Planning Commission could have so seriously misinterpreted the directions of the City Council? Though not perfect, directions were contained in the City Council’s unanimously passed motion describing their intentions for the Planning Commission. As it turns out, that motion was not provided to the Planning Commission for their deliberations. The Planning Commission was, in effect, left to their own devices – to their own criteria-recipe in making the appointees list. We’re looking at a serious blunder here on behalf of the staff, whose job it is to guide this type of process.
Now here is the new twist. More significant than that “slip-up” by far, is the appearance that the selection of five of the appointees is in direct violation of the Newport Municipal Code, Chapter 2.05. It reads: “F. No individual should be considered for appointment to a position on any board, committee, or commission where a conflict of interest is likely to interfere with the individual’s participation.”
This is very strong language. This paragraph says, not only should such an individual not be appointed, but that they should not even be considered for an appointment “where a conflict of interest is likely. . .” In the same sentence it also states “where a conflict of interest is ‘likely’ to interfere,” they should not be considered. This language sets the bar very high, no doubt intending to prevent individuals from taking advantage of their positions. The Planning Commission appointed five such individuals to their Ad Hoc Committee–e.g. realtors and VRD owners.
I emphasize that the Planning Commission was not at fault here for at least two reasons. First, city staff did not provide the commission with their “working directions” from the City Council at the time of the commission’s deliberations. Secondly, they were obviously unaware of any possible Municipal Code violation.
It remains unclear why this essential information was not provided the Commissioners or why the caveats of our Municipal Code were apparently ignored. How the Planning Commission will clean up this mess is anyone’s guess, but we can hope that planning staff will at least provide the guidance necessary.
As a longtime South County Resident, WHS alumni, and family of property management for nearly 50 years, I see the shift in economic benefit and local employers/employees as a hindrance to progress.
Airbnb and the likes, have wreaked havoc on our local rental business economy. Maybe it’s inevitable, maybe some are exploiting rules, maybe counties and cities need to re-evaluate the zoning and curb appeal. Maybe rental owners should cough up the percentage to local companies, not Airbnb, not Vacasa, not Meredith.
Regardless, the current system is not working. Family businesses are on the losing end of County and City policy, diminishing the appeal of Lincoln County as unique, family-oriented and owned.
Save Lincoln County,
——————————–Response from Newport Mayor Sandra Roumagoux
I would like to take a moment to respond to former City Councilor Lon Brusselback’s comments in his January 22, 2018 letter to the editor. Lon has provided great service to this community over the years and I very much value and appreciate his perspective. However, I find the tone and content of his letter to be troubling, and am worried that if this type of rhetoric continues it will poison the water to such an extent that we risk undermining the real opportunity that is before us, which is to develop a thoughtful set of updates to the City’s vacation rental rules that is acceptable to a broad range of interests within our community.
There is no fault here, no slip-ups, and no blame to be placed. Vacation rental issues are challenging, and the City Council heard from many in our community that the City’s vacation rental rules need to be evaluated and updated. City staff and members of the Planning Commission attended the Council hearings where public testimony was taken, and I am confident that they are working in good faith to proceed in a direction that is consistent with the guidance provided.
The City Council charged the Planning Commission with putting together an Ad-Hoc Committee to assist the City’s staff in developing a set of updates to Newport’s vacation rental codes. It is easy to second guess their decisions, but much harder to stand in their shoes. A few individuals attended the January 1 6th City Council meeting to express their displeasure with the makeup of the committee and, after considering their testimony, the City Council asked that the Planning Commission consider expanding the committee to further diversify the group. The Commission considered the Council’s feedback, took additional public testimony, and agreed to expand the committee.
People shared their views, their comments were carefully considered, and changes were made. That is how public processes should work.
We need a diverse group of people at the table. This includes realtors, lawyers, owners of vacation rentals, permanent residents, part-time residents and many others. An individual’s profession does not disqualify them from serving on city committees nor does it mean that they are predisposed to act in a certain way. Such gross generalizations are unfair. It is also important to keep in mind the scope of a committee’s authority, when asserting whether or not somebody has a “potential conflict of interest.”
This Ad-Hoc Committee is not making any final decisions. They are working with City staff to put together a set of amendments for the Planning Commission’s consideration and recommendation to the City Council, and it is the Council at the end of the day that will decide whether or not amendments should be adopted.
Let’s collectively tone the rhetoric down, take a deep breath, and work constructively to improve the City’s vacation rental rules. There will be many opportunities for people to participate and share their views, and I strongly encourage anyone who is interested to weigh in so that we come up with a product that everyone can be proud of!
Sandra N. Roumagoux Mayor
Citizens either agreeing or disagreeing with these assertions and conclusions are cordially invited to send their comments to: News@NewsLincolnCounty.com