The Lane County Board of County Commissioners showed a glimpse into its new dynamics as it argued over whom to elect as chair of the body at the Jan. 10 board meeting. The board ultimately unanimously voted to re-elect Pat Farr as chair and Laurie Trieger as vice chair for the second consecutive year.
“This is unusual,” Trieger said when newly sworn in Commissioner Ryan Ceniga first motioned to have Farr as board chair again. “There’s only been once in the past seven years that we’ve had the same chair in the same two years in a row and that was because the person who had been in the vice chair seat wasn’t in office any longer.”
According to the Lane County Home Rule Charter, the chair presides over and enforces rules at board meetings and determines the order of board business.
Traditionally, the election of vice chair and chair rotates through the board and the past vice chair becomes the chair. In 2019, Heather Buch was elected vice chair and in 2020, she was elected chair, for example.
The chair debate prompted a letter to the editor in the Jan. 19 print issue of Eugene Weekly, which says the Lane County commission started 2023 with a discriminatory slap to gender equality, “We can expect more of the same from this male dominated agency.”
During Trieger’s discussion of the chair appointment, she referenced a split vote for her election to vice chair in 2022, which Farr had defended the tradition of continuity. “‘The protocol of the selection of officers and the rotation of selection of officers that most bodies select moves through a particular order to maintain continuity of leadership but also diversity,’” she said, quoting Farr’s statement from last year, adding, “I echo that statement.”
Buch also questioned the decision to elect Farr for a consecutive term, saying that Trieger and the two newly elected commissioners haven’t served as chair yet. “It’s important that we take turns,” Buch said, adding that Trieger is qualified to take on the chair position. “It’s important to create equity and diversity on this board as we replicate that for staff and the community at large.”
Buch said that she wanted to see Trieger as chair and Ceniga as vice chair. “It’s important to have that rotation and different people with different opportunities to have leadership opportunities,” she said.
David Loveall defended Ceniga’s motion to have Farr as chair. He said that the board is no longer partisan as it was in the past and that Farr brings a balanced approach to governing.
“I think we have the A Team here,” Loveall said. “I would like to see the A Team continue for another year to train that next rotation to continue this momentum.” Presumably, Loveall was not referring to the classic 1980s TV show where four wrongfully convicted military men worked as soldiers of fortune out of a GMC van.
Ceniga said that the board is in a unique position where the second most senior board member has four years of experience. “The cohesion that the board had between Chair Farr and Vice Chair Trieger was impressive,” he said. “It was a team I wanted to join.”
Before voting, Farr reassured the board that as chair he works with every single commissioner. “I’ve sided with commissioners at times and I’ve opposed every single commissioner at times,” he said. “My role has always been to look at the size of the issue and vote on the side that I believe is the right side.”
To watch Lane County Board of County Commissioner meetings, go to the county’s YouTube channel. Visit here to stream the Jan. 10 meeting.