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Civics Lessons

This election year feels toxic. The current rhetoric and anger of the presidential race seems to be permeating everything. How did we wind up with a reality TV star, who admits to grabbing at the vaginas of women he finds attractive, running for our highest office? Where did all the starry-eyed Berners go? Where are we going, and how did we get in this handbasket?

As former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Ě“Neil once said, “all politics is local,” and if we want better politicians at the top, we need to start getting involved in politics at the local level. But jumping into politics can be intimidating — just understanding how our Eugene City Council operates can be confusing. 

So we present you with this brief guide to local politics, how to get involved and how to watchdog your government.

Don’t let this election get you down. Instead, let it be the spark to make positive change. — Camilla Mortensen

Who runs the city?

With elections just around the corner, it’s time to examine how Eugene’s city government works, and what we’re electing these folks to do.

Eugene has a city manager form of government, meaning that the City Council and mayor decide legislative goals and ordinances, and then hire a city manager (Eugene’s is John Ruiz) to see those goals through and run the day-to-day bureaucracy of government. The city manager is one of only three direct employees to the council and mayor, and he is in charge of the city staff in all departments. Councilors and the mayor go through the city manager to work within departments. [read more]

 

Public records keep the government transparent

The federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has allowed the public to request documents from any federal agency since 1967. In 1973, Oregon enacted its own Public Records and Public Meetings Laws, modeling it on the FOIA. These laws allow the media and the public to act as “watchdogs” over government, though Oregon’s law has weakened over the years. [read more] 

 

Why care about the county commission?

The five member Lane County Commission administers the approximately $450 million that federal, state and local taxpayers provide to Lane County, South Lane Commissioner Pete Sorenson tells EW. [read more] 

 

School board powers and planning

The workings of a school district can appear mysterious to the uninitiated. School boards most often appear in the public eye when they make a controversial decision or take a position on something of a political nature, like a ballot measure or federal mandate. [read more]

 

Why don't you run for office?

While a couple local positions were hard-fought races in the primary election in May — the Eugene mayor’s race and the Ward 1 City Council seat, for example — there were also a lot of candidates running unopposed here in Lane County. Eugene City Council Seats 1, 7 and 8 had no opposition, and neither did Ward 6 in Springfield. The South Eugene Lane County Commission seat was unopposed. [read more]