LEXINGTON — The city of Lexington reopened Tuesday night after the city council voted unanimously to approve the 2019-20 budget.
“The town is now open for business,” mayor Marcia Kemp declared, prompting a round of applause from the audience.
Lexington’s city government lost its authority to spend money on July 1 after three of the four city councilors did not show up to a planned budget hearing on June 27.
Kemp consulted state agencies and the League of Oregon Cities and under their advice locked city hall on the first day of the new fiscal year, laid off the city’s two employees, held the city’s mail and left a message on city hall voicemail stating the town was “closed until further notice.” Neighboring fire departments in Heppner and Ione were asked to be ready to provide the first response to fires in Lexington.
Myrna Sieler was one of about 40 residents present Tuesday, and said the shutdown was something people had been talking about “everywhere you go” for the past nine days.
“There are a lot of different views about what happened,” she said.
She said she was happy to see the city’s government reopen and its two employees, a city recorder and maintenance person, go back to work.
Tuesday’s meeting was much more upbeat than a community meeting Kemp called on Monday to take citizen questions about the shutdown. During Monday’s meeting, which lasted about half an hour and drew just under 50 people, participants at times raised their voices and talked over each other.
They seemed divided on who to blame.
“What I want to know is why you refused to make a simple phone call that would have eliminated this whole mess,” Will Lemmon asked the mayor angrily. “All you had to do is make a phone call, Marcia, and it would have prevented the whole thing.”
Others joined him in blaming Kemp for not trying harder to get councilors to the meeting. They pointed out that while one councilor was out of town, two more lived just a few blocks away.
Bill Beard, one of the councilors who missed the meeting, said in the past the city’s protocol was to send out an agenda packet ahead of the budget meeting and call councilors the day of the meeting to remind them.
“To hell with protocol,” one man retorted. “It’s your actions that count.”
He and others said it was part of city councilors’ jobs to keep track of when they needed to be at meetings without having someone “hold their hand.”
John Renfro, who served as Lexington’s mayor several years ago when Kemp was on the city council, told the room that they were lucky to have her as mayor.
“I’ve had a taste of what you’re going through, and why you’d want this job is beyond me,” he told Kemp.
Residents of the town of 238 seemed to have gotten their frustrations out Monday, however, and on Tuesday refrained from commenting on the budget when given the opportunity.
The budget of $737,549 passed unanimously, as did required resolutions to levy taxes in the town and accept state revenue.
After the meeting, Kemp said she was pleased to have the whole thing behind her. She had been distracted at work and kept up at night worrying about the city, she said.
“I did not want this to happen,” she said, adding that leading the city was “not a game” to her.
She was grateful for Eddie Dickenson, the city’s maintenance person, for fixing a major water main that broke during the shutdown even though he had technically been laid off and was well within his legal rights to refuse to come in and work for free.
“I was not going to leave the town without water,” he said.
He said he had “sat around about as long as I could” the past week and a half and was thrilled to be able to officially return to work Wednesday morning. He celebrated by doing one of the jobs that had gone undone while city hall was shut down: throwing away a dead mouse that had been caught in a trap for several days.