Jeff Gudman, Joe Buck look back on their time as Lake Oswego city councilors
The coming of a new year also brings with it a changing of the guard on the Lake Oswego City Council. Beginning in 2019, Councilors Jeff Gudman and Joe Buck will step aside to make room for John Wendland and Daniel Nguyen, who were elected to the council in November.
REVIEW PHOTO: SAM STITES – City Councilor Jeff Gudman (wearing the ‘Golden Hard Hat’ he was awarded for his support of infrastructure and capital improvement projects), Mayor Kent Studebaker and Council Joe Buck pose for a photo following the final council meeting of the year on Tuesday.
As they prepare to step down — Buck after four years and Gudman after eight — the two men sat down with The Review to reflect on their time at City Hall. Here’s what they had to say:
For the past eight years, Jeff Gudman has been known for his dogged ability to crunch numbers and find fiscally responsible solutions to tough problems. But he says his time on the council has always been about more than that.
“I’ve lived a fortunate life, and I live in a great city,” he says. “(Public service) was a chance to help build on this great community we live in.”
A resident of Lake Oswego since 1976, he ran for office three times before being elected to office in 2010. “The first three times, I never went door-to-door because I thought it would be intrusive,” he says. “I was so wrong. The fourth time, I canvassed and 99.9 percent of the responses were positive.”
That connection to his constituents provided a lasting impression on Gudman throughout his service as a city councilor. Whether it was concern over a particular policy issue or simply talking to people about the happenings in their neighborhoods, those interpersonal connections were always a driving force behind his commitment to looking out for his fellow Lake Oswegans.
“The biggest takeaways from my time as a city councilor are patience, engagement and, perhaps most importantly, realizing that understanding the source of the other person’s thinking on any issue and acknowledging their point has value,” Gudman says. “That’s helped me be a better councilor.”
Gudman’s obligation to open, honest debate led him to create strong relationships with his colleagues, too. During his tenure, he worked alongside two mayors, four city managers and 16 different city councilors — all of whom he respects, he says, whether or not they agreed on policy issues.
“I love the engagement with the people, don’t get me wrong. But working the issues is the most fun I’ve had,” Gudman says. “It says I’m working the issue, not the person. We may disagree, but it will never become personal.”
REVIEW PHOTO: SAM STITES – City Engineer awarded Councilor Jeff Gudman with the ‘Golden Hard Hat,’ an honor bestowed for his vehement support of City infrastructure and capital improvement projects during his eight year tenure.
Gudman says he’s proud to have been a part of many council accomplishments during his tenure, but one that really stands out is his role in pulling together the financial pieces to find a home for the Public Works Department’s Operations and Maintenance Center without the City having to ask citizens for an additional dime.
He says he’s also proud of the council’s work to keep utility bills from increasing more than 3 percent per year for the past three years; the sale of West End Building in 2016 that helped to stop the City’s financial bleeding; the $1.1 million in infrastructure improvements made to the public library; improvements to wastewater and water treatment facilities so that they meet earthquake standards; reversing the decline of the City’s roads; improving pathways; and many more.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, in fact, his “short list” of council accomplishments contained nearly two dozen items.
Gudman says he plans to stay engaged after he leaves office by continuing to communicate with his former colleagues, as well as writing opinion columns on issues he’s particularly passionate about. He also plans to run for Oregon Treasurer again in 2020 — a position he sought in 2016 but ultimately lost in a race against Tobias Reed.
“Nobody wakes up saying they want to be the treasurer of the State of Oregon,” he says, “but everything in my life — my experience, my education, my work, my elected activity — has prepared me to serve as treasurer.”
As he prepares to resume his life as a private citizen, Gudman has three pieces of advice for his colleagues on the council. The first is to gain a mastery of either the numbers, the legal issues or the planning aspects of the City’s operations. Having a firm grasp on one of those three areas, Gudman says, allows one to be a more effective council member.
The second is to build consensus. A 4-3 vote gets the job done, he says, but a 6-1 or unanimous vote sends a message that the council is unified in its approach. And the third
piece of advice is to adopt the mantra: “If we do this, what don’t we do?”
“There’s no money tree in the backyard. Our starting point should always be, ‘Live within our means,”‘ Gudman says. “Going to the residents and asking for money should be the last choice, not the first choice.”
As the son of local business owners and a business owner himself, Joe Buck was always taught that owning a business in Lake Oswego was much more than just balancing the books and taking care of your customers and employees. It also includes a sense of duty to give back to the community in a way that makes it a more vibrant, more welcoming and all-around better place to live, work and play.
Four years ago, that belief translated into a run for city council.
“I grew up here, moved away for a bit and came back. People always ask, ‘Would you consider living anywhere else?’ No,” Buck says. “It’s not just because it’s a great place to live; it’s about the community here. This is the place where I have all the relationships that really mean a lot to me. Getting involved in public service was a way for me to give back to the wider community.”
During his four years in office, Buck made huge strides in improving the way the City operates, including his work on a Climate Action Plan to more deeply consider the environment in policies and decisions, as well as his efforts to improve public engagement and input from Lake Oswego’s young people through the Youth Leadership Council.
But according to Buck, none of the great work that’s been done over the past four years would have been possible without the support and hard work of community members and City staff who wanted to see Lake Oswego improve.
REVIEW PHOTO: SAM STITES – Mayor Kent Studebaker (left) congratulates outgoing City Councilor Joe Buck on his four years of service to Lake Oswego at the Council’s final meeting of the year on Tuesday.
“In everything we do, (the council) kind of has the easy job because we just consider and vote on things. It’s the activists, the volunteers and advocates who push the needle,” Buck says.
One of the accomplishments Buck is particularly proud of is the work to get the Boones Ferry Road Improvement Project approved. With a groundbreaking set for 2019, the project will not only improve traffic but also help facilitate and encourage active transportation for pedestrians and bicycles in a major business district. It will also make Boones Ferry Road a “green street” with more efficient drainage of stormwater.
“It’s beyond just an improvement project. It touches on quite a few of my values,” Buck says. “There’s a huge gap in bike lane infrastructure in this critical stretch of Boones Ferry, where it’s currently very dangerous to ride a bike.”
Buck says that being a member of council has taught him a lot about working with those who offer a different view to come to a solution that works for everyone.
“Everyone on the council has been willing to work with me regardless of our differing positions,” Buck says. “I can think of an issue that I’ve partnered on with every single member of the council, even if we have different values 95 percent of the time. We’re always able to find common ground, and that’s what I respect about my colleagues.”
For Buck, the end of his term as city councilor isn’t the end of his service. His loss in the Metro Council race against Christine Lewis in November wasn’t the outcome he’d hoped for, he says, but he sees it more as a stop along his much longer and greater journey than an endpoint.
In fact, he’s hinted at a run for mayor in 2020 and has been quite open about the fact that he hopes this isn’t the last time he’s sitting on the dais in the City Council chambers.
“I’m hoping to use all the relationships I’ve developed in the Metro region to the benefit of our community in the years to come,” Buck says. “We’re the community with the most in this region. I’d like to see us in the future asking, ‘What can we do to be supporting our brothers and sisters in other parts of Clackamas County and this region? How can we set an example as business leaders and a city?’ That’s the tone I hope Lake Oswego can achieve. When we encourage diversity of thought, diversity of opinion and diversity of people, we become a much stronger community.”