By editorial board • 

Broader civic involvement should be a universal goal

In a front page story in today’s edition, reporter Dora Totoian asks: How well do city managers, councils and mayors in Yamhill County reflect the ethnic and demographic makeup of the communities they serve?

Let’s get one thing straight first: That’s a question you could ask in almost any incorporated community in America. It isn’t by any means unique to Yamhill County, or to Oregon. However, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed, on a city by city basis, here as well as elsewhere.

The mission of making municipal workforces and governing bodies more broadly representative will, no doubt, remain a work in progress for a long time to come. But that is never an acceptable excuse for not setting the wheels in motion and keeping them in motion.

The best time to have gotten started was yesterday. The second best is today.

While there’s no workable one-size-fits-all approach holding meaningful promise, people quoted in the story identified various measures that might help. And we can think of others.

One, already in place in McMinnville and Newberg, is electing councilors by ward rather than at-large.

Demographics in any given ward may differ significantly from those of the city as a whole, and ward races are easier and cheaper to run. That enables candidates who are well respected and highly compatible in their neighborhood, but not necessarily citywide, a better chance to break through. It also opens the door to younger, less-experienced contenders willing to invest time and effort in a grass roots campaign. 

That’s one of the factors driving interest in expanding the county board of commissioners and electing members by district. It promises to foster greater diversity.

Identifying and recruiting viable candidates from underrepresented elements of the community also holds potential. It should not be limited to candidates for elective office either. It should also be applied to city staff hiring and appointments to planning commissions, budget committees, other advisory bodies and city councils themselves.

Sometimes potential leaders need to prove their worth to themselves and others by introduction at a lower level. And a push from current leaders may be all it takes.

All communities in Yamhill County feature an array of associations outside the governmental sphere. Those can also prove useful training and recruiting grounds, particularly if taking such tracks is encouraged.

City councils tend to lean toward older, whiter, wealthier and more deeply rooted elements of the community, as do high-level administrative posts. That obstacle can prove a significant barrier to responding to of new, young, gay, Black, Latino, Native American and/or less affluent constituents.

It wasn’t that many years ago that women were seriously and broadly underrepresented in local civic life. The fact we have largely moved past that prejudice shows efforts to broaden involvement can pay off over time.

However, it requires effort, focus and investment. As Newberg Council President Stephanie Findley suggested, “We have to be looking for leaders in places we don’t normally look and accessing those communities instead of waiting for them to come to us.”


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