The Succession of Power In Keizer
Popular HBO series explored entitlement to power, an issue plaguing Keizer on it’s 40th birthday
Look, am I just searching for an excuse to write about the series finale of award-winning HBO show Succession?
OK…probably. But it wasn’t until a couple days after the popular series concluded that it struck me - we have our own version of Succession right here in Keizer.
I’ll try to keep the show references to a minimum. While Succession is/was a popular show, it’s not on everyone’s radar. Just cool people…like me. And you, probably.
The stakes are arguably smaller. And I won’t even try to draw comparisons between the characters from the show and real life movers/shakers here in Keizer. But the drama series, for those who haven’t watched, is about…well, succession - the passing or inheritance of power or possession.
And THAT has plenty to do with Keizer. The careful regulation and transfer of political and economic power here is not unlike other places in Oregon, or even across the country (or world!).
But, here in Keizer, as we’re celebrating 40 years since breaking from Salem and becoming our own city, it’s probably a healthy exercise to examine our own Succession-like behaviors and penchant for steering power and influence through very deliberate channels.
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Succession Tactic 1: City Councilors making it harder for “outsiders” to hold office
At a recent City Council meeting, Keizer elected officials passed a pair of resolutions to promote conditions making it harder for normal, everyday Keizerites to serve in their city government. Was that the stated purpose of the two proposals? Of course not. But fans of the television series Succession know that efforts made to solidify power often come paired with at least a moderate degree of subterfuge.
So, when Keizer City Council President Shaney Starr introduced, supported & eventually saw these two measures passed, she didn’t announce the goal was to secure a more controlled line of succession of political power in Keizer - but that was the effect.
One measure successfully advanced by Starr requires City Council members to be physically present for committee meetings on which they serve as liaisons. Each City Council member serves as liaison to multiple committees, boards and commissions. In these liaison roles, City Councilors aren’t voting members - more like advisors to help the citizen-driven committee work more seamlessly with the City Council and Keizer government.
The impetus for the new in-person attendance was to increase participation and effectiveness of the liaison role. Previously, City Councilor committee liaisons could attend and participate remotely - a common communications solution in the modern digital world.
The measure passed with a 5-2 vote, with no-vote Keizer City Councilor Robert Husseman noting during the early May City Council meeting:
“This is an exclusive measure, and not an inclusive one,” he said. “If we’re looking at what it is that we should be trying to do with the city council, we should be trying to include as many prospective counselors and prospective involved citizens as possible.”
Another measure advanced by Starr aimed to limit service on civic committees in Keizer to residents 18 years-old and up. The passage of this measure, by the way, was in direct response to freshman Councilor Husseman selecting a 17 year-old Keizerite to serve on the city’s Volunteer Coordinating Committee.
The logic supported by Starr goes like this: You should have to be 18 to hold a voting position on a committee. But they struggled to find a solid structure of precedent for this decision AND the city attorney said he saw no reason a 17 year-old couldn’t serve.
The in-person committee liaison requirement is relatively naked in its intent - create an environment where only those with an abundance of free-time, resources or flexibility in life are able to serve on the Keizer City Council.
The effort to revoke Husseman’s ability to appoint a qualified Keizerite to a citizen-powered committee, though, likely has more to do with the committee in question.
In fact, the Volunteer Coordinating Committee is a big part of how the power-brokers in Keizer control the various lines of succession of community power and influence.
Succession Tactic 2: Gatekeeping Basics with the Volunteer Coordinating Committee (VCC)
Up front, a disclosure - I once appeared before the Keizer VCC in an attempt to apply for one of two open spots on Keizer’s Budget Committee. In my professional life, I’ve developed, prepared, and directly managed multi-million dollar budgets & I figured that experience and insight would be helpful. I wasn’t selected.
The two folks that were picked included one guy, an incumbent, who very clearly was a pre-selected, shoo-in. I won’t mention his name, because this isn’t about him - but he’s thoroughly integrated into the Salem-Keizer ruling class. The other person, to my knowledge, has relatively little impact on the budget process. (But I’m not bitter. Let’s just be clear on that. I am definitely not holding a grudge years later. Like, at all.)
That had been my only experience with that committee, and while I wasn’t selected - nothing seemed particularly out of the ordinary. Until I shared my experience with others in the community.
Through my casual discussions with others about the VCC, one thing became clear - this committee was effectively a gatekeeper for participation in Keizer civic life.
From the City of Keizer website, members of the VCC are charged with:
Identifying functions and activities where volunteers can help the City
Soliciting volunteers for City Commissions, Committees and Task Forces
Soliciting volunteers for special projects and activities within the City
Matching volunteers to needs within the City
Recruitment, interviewing and recommendation of Commission, Committee or Task Force appointments to the Mayor and/or City Council
Assisting in the training of volunteers; public relation items pertaining to the individual committees; and recognition of the volunteers for the City.
The discretion available to the VCC is really captured in the first word of each bullet point. They identify, solicit, match, recruit and assist - all to power the pipeline of talent into volunteer positions with the city.
And that all sounds totally normal, right? But the issue isn’t really WHAT the VCC does. It’s more about patterns within HOW they exercise their discretion in identifying, soliciting, matching, recruiting and assisting.
Patterns like some members holding positions on the VCC for years and years and years. And other trends that show the VCC as sort of a farm-league of talent for Keizer power brokers. The current mayors and at least one current city councilor appear in VCC meeting minutes stretching back decades. And, in the spirit of mixing business with civic involvement (which isn’t new for Keizer), Keizer Chamber Executive Director Corri Filardeau is currently serving on the VCC.
If you’d like to explore the limited meeting minutes available for the VCC, you can see for yourself (enter “public” into both login fields).
The Volunteer Coordinating Committee is mostly a cool-kids club, and you gotta know someone to get in. And that club operates pretty much the single entry point into civic service within Keizer.
Succession Tactic 3: Saying the quiet part out loud
On the HBO show Succession, the struggle to accumulate and protect power is often the product of quiet plotting and subterfuge (ed. note: I can’t stop using the word subterfuge. It’s fun to say. Fun to write. All around great word.) But sometimes the veil slips, and a few careless, desperate words or actions lend credence to a library of insight - about yourself, or about your opposition.
In the Keizer version of Succession, it can be as simple as a Facebook conversation featuring a since-washed up politician.
The other person in this conversation has a well-known Keizer surname, but not a public official (so we edited their name out). But also not very far removed from a public official.
This conversation took place a few years ago, but captures pretty succinctly how the ruling class in Keizer looks at “outsiders.” This is former State Representative Bill Post, a Keizer Republican who, depending on what day you ask him, quit on his constituents because:
He thought he could still serve his term from Nevada
He wanted to get out of politics (but immediately ran for school board - and lost - in his new home)
He couldn’t stand the communist/marxist/librul takeover of his beloved Oregon
He couldn’t stand the Oregon Republican party and it’s infinite infighting
These two are talking about former Keizer City Councilor Roland Herrera, the only person of color on the council at the time, and the only staunchly progressive member.
Someone (Herrera), by virtue of having different thoughts and values, is encroaching on their turf. Threatening their power. And, as Post notes, they need to be eliminated to protect the succession of power so carefully built in Keizer.
Incidentally, the above conversation could be dialogue from an episode of Succession. Swap “Keizer” with “Waystar Royco” and that’s a conversation between Roman and Shiv. Just sayin’.
Just talk, though, right? Insightful nonetheless. So let’s see some of this “outloud” succession planning in action.
How about the Spring of 2021? Keizer City officials were in the process of sending former City Manager Chris Eppley off with the municipal-level version of a golden parachute after he resigned following an investigation into a loaded gun he fired in his City Manager office.
Losing Eppley as City Manager was not only a blow to the city, but a blow to the existing power structure in Keizer. You could tell it stung in a way much different from losing that much institutional knowledge. It was embarrassing for city leadership.
And, despite this former City Manager admitting he hadn’t been fully forthcoming with details about his habit of carrying a loaded weapon at work, they needed to show that they were still in a position of power.
So what did they do?
Shortly after the City Council accepted Eppley’s resignation, Keizer Mayor Cathy Clark publicly announced that she was concerned Eppley’s due process rights had been violated when “someone” sent a copy of the incident report to a journalist.
And at the May 3, 2021 City Council meeting, a group of Keizer City Councilors issued a “memo of corrective action” for one of their own colleagues. Can you guess which one? From KeizerTimes:
“The memo will be prepared by councilors Elizabeth Smith and Kyle Juran and presented to the council for consideration at its May 3 meeting. Smith, alongside Mayor Cathy Clark and Councilor Dan Kohler, signed a statement of concern asking that Herrera be investigated for possibly mishandling public records, violating the council’s social media policy and conducting business out of view of the public.”
Yes, the same Councilor Roland Herrera from the earlier screenshot.
Herrera was targeted for punishment because he had forwarded himself council-related emails, including the incident report, so it would be easier for him to read at home. It was literally front page news in the KeizerTimes, and the ink wasn’t even dry on Eppley’s resignation.
And they never actually found any proof (or provided any publicly) that Herrera had been the one to share the incident report with a journalist.
What does that feel like to you? To me, it feels petty. It feels vindictive. It feels wildly hypocritical because Eppley was found to have been less than truthful to investigators.
And it feels like a signal. It’s a procedural flex. It’s a miserable tactic to shift blame to a much more convenient and vulnerable party.
It’s enough to make Logan Roy proud. Or not. Honestly, hard to tell what would make that guy proud.
And while Succession was a fictional show about a fictional family running a fictional business empire - it was rooted in a truth that we can see at play here in Keizer.
Power, resources, and influence are built up over time. And when you spend that much time and effort building something, you want to leave it in the best hands possible. And that’s a fine approach for private enterprise - although you’ll want to see how it turned out for the Roy family (no spoilers).
But in government - especially democratically elected bodies like City Councils - the power doesn’t really rest with the institution. It lies with the people.
All the people - not just those that share similar views or pews.
So the succession planning in Keizer will continue. But it’s getting easier and easier to spot. And maybe the best we can do for now is simply shine a light on it where we can. And maybe that light turns into noise. And noise into action.
Shit, they’re planning their Keizer-sized empires on our dime - we might as well come along for the ride.
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