Q&A with Creswell City Councilor A.J. O'Connell

By Chris Wig, Outspoken Editor

CW: When you ran for your seat in 2010, what did you offer your prospective constituents?

AO: I campaigned as having a fresh perspective, in that I decided to campaign on populist issues: creating jobs in the community, spurring our economic development, ensuring that we have adequate provisions for our more vulnerable populations and making our government responsible again.

And what issues are you working on?

Right now, I’m simply advocating for responsible governance. As it is, in Creswell we spend more on lawyers and litigation than we do on road repairs. We’re spending more on lobbyists than we’re spending on social welfare programs. There has been absolutely no economic development, no job creation, and every single item that we have proposed has been obstructed by a very difficult and establishment-oriented mayor and cabal.

How does the city government in Creswell operate?

The issue for me in Creswell is that there is an old-guard establishment. This is the way they have always done things, and they don’t want any dissent. Period. I can’t tell you how many times I have proposed certain measures that have been defeated simply with the rationale, “That’s not the way we do things here in Creswell.”

So relating to that whole brouhaha back in October, any sort of dissent or challenging of the old guard is met with intimidation, bullying, coercion—they just don’t want it.

That creates a lot of problems for me. I’m the type of person who believes in common sense in government. I believe that we’re there to help people. If we’re still stuck in ways that are unsustainable and could end up bankrupting our city, well then I have to say something.

Local media covered the fireworks from the October 2011 meeting, but what really went down?

In response to the controversy created by failing to pass the Racism Free Zone in September, the mayor, city administrator and their lawyers went into a back room and developed rules changes that made it more difficult for individual councilors to propose anything. There used to be a certain point in our meetings when individual councilors could comment on anything, but most of the councilors would never comment. I used the opportunity to articulate my agenda, to make statements—to get things passed.

That’s not how they like to do it, so they established a procedure to get items onto the agenda. You have to fill out a form and turn it in to the city administrator. Then, the city administrator—who is a non-elected official—decides whether the council will even hear the proposal.

I objected on the grounds that the conduit was going through a non-elected official regarding city policy because I feel that city policy should be directed by officials who are elected by the people. Many in the audience agreed with me, and after I made my statement some people clapped and cheered. The mayor got so frustrated with the audience’s actions that he tried to forcibly remove the audience using the police.

And Commissioner Handy was there to stick up for the good guys?

Commissioner Handy was there to view the proceedings. He was there because his constituents told him this was an issue that concerned them, and he should keep an eye out for what’s going on in Creswell. Commissioner Handy refused to leave because he felt that if the audience was cleared, that Mayor Hooker was going to convene that meeting illegally, and I agreed with him. The meeting was never adjourned, and I believe it was Mayor Hooker’s intention to reconvene that meeting outside the public eye. Who knows what he would have done?

 

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