Mayor: Incumbent Paul Aziz focusing on city vision, transparency with public

Paul Aziz says he’s running for his third term as mayor to continue the work he started when he was first elected, four years ago.
The issues he set out to address have either been remedied or are in the process of changing, he said.
“I originally ran on several key points and one of those was having a long-term vision,” Aziz said. “I was frustrated with the city not having a vision and a plan and getting caught financially strapped because the water treatment plant wasn’t done.”
He felt they needed a long-term plan but when he talked to city staff at the time, they said they had a master plan.
That master plan didn’t have anything to do with the direction and the fullness of the community, he said.
“That’s what I wanted to see with the vision,” Aziz said.
The Lebanon 2040 Vision and Community Strategic Action Plan was adopted by the City Council in 2015.
According to city documents, the public engagement process involved more than 1,100 residents through focus groups, surveys, interviews, community events, and a community forum.
“With that, we are now involved in all kinds of projects that are going towards the vision,” Aziz said. “We have a focus on downtown because that’s what the community told us – that that’s to be the heart of our community.”
What better heart than a gathering space, he said.
One of his pet projects is Strawberry Plaza, a park-like area on Main Street formerly known as “Mural Park.”
It will feature a strawberry-shaped water feature, picnic tables, and an art display (see related story on page 9).
“It’s going to be done for Strawberry Festival next year, so I can’t wait,” Aziz said.
Transparency of city leadership was another area he wanted to address.
“I didn’t like the way press releases were being written,” Aziz said. “I didn’t like the press relations the city had and I think all that changed after I became mayor.”
Soon after his term began, Aziz personally began recording City Council meetings and posting them to YouTube. That practice continues, though it’s now being done by city staff. Live-streaming of meetings is in the works as well.
The city, Police Department, library, and Senior Center also are active on Facebook.
“Things just became a lot more transparent and open,” Aziz said. “When we hired our new city manager, a couple of years into my term, that really changed a lot of things because that is Gary’s (Marks) trademark.”
Information is publicly shared and the city has changed financial policies to make sure that money is spent appropriately in the appropriate categories and not charged improperly between different departments, he said.
“We have a much larger contingency (fund),” Aziz said. “We had hardly any when we started and we basically had to lay off 10 people. That layoff was direct because of the Lowe’s payment that had to come up for the wetlands mitigation that no one technically knew about.”
In 2005, the city of Lebanon entered into an economic development agreement with Lowe’s. The agreement offered monetary incentives, such as reimbursement to Lowe’s, up to $7 million, to fill, import and/or borrow fill dirt.
According to newspaper reports at the time, Aziz asked city staff about city debts or any upcoming payments and was told the city may owe Lowe’s $5 million.
Then-City Manager John Hitt said he thought there may be $2.5 million payment, according to the same report.
After Hitt’s retirement in 2013, city staff learned the city owed $10 million to Lowe’s.
“We had that $10 million we had to suddenly come up with and that really wrecked our contingency,” Aziz said. “That, again, is part of the planning thing with the vision that I fought for.”
As the budget recovered, more money was added to the Police Department budget so they were able to add back some positions that had been vacant, he said.
The homelessness summit that the city is planning for Oct. 27 (See Page 6) is another thing that has been on his radar for a couple of years.
That event will bring together different people from the community: the evangelical community, the churches, the homeless themselves, doctors, everybody, he said.
Dr. Robert Marbut, author of “The Seven Guiding Principles of Homeless Transformation,” has done some preliminary work for the summit.
“He’s interviewed a bunch of people,” Aziz said.
Marbut went out to different camps with Lebanon Police Department officers to talk with people who are homeless, he said.
“He’s basically doing a survey of how many are homeless, how many are actually Lebanon residents, native residents,” Aziz said. “He’s doing this whole statistical thing and understanding the whole story of why people are here and then he’s coming back and we’re having this summit where everybody gets to talk and I believe he’s going to present some of those findings and then discuss what we as a community can do.”
Aziz hopes this will change the way some things are being done.
A warming shelter Aziz helped establish is rarely used.
Sometimes there has been one person, sometimes none and the city is not sure why he said.
There were some initial concerns about people having a place for their animals, so an area was provided. Some people may not trust the police, even though they are helping provide information about the warming shelter.
“There’re just different things and this is what (Marbut) is going to talk about and that’s an important conversation that everybody needs to have,” Aziz said. “The community needs to understand how much homeless we have and why they’re homeless.”
Aziz is confident and positive about the direction the council has gone in the last four years.
Even during the marijuana debate, which was split down the council, the councilors maintained positive communication, he said.
Aziz was a police officer in Glendale, Calif., on patrol for two years.
“I saw what marijuana did and I saw the people that were using it and I saw that it was not a good influence on our community.”
After doing some research, he changed his mind on medical marijuana.
“I heard about people at the veterans’ home that they would have to go to Corvallis,” Aziz said. “I started thinking the medical makes sense. I understand that and that’s already been approved for quite a while, so I said I was OK with that. I didn’t have to vote on that one. Then when we came to the recreational, that was where it was a split vote and I voted no.”
His “no” vote was because he wanted the community to decide.
“I don’t want it, but let’s let the community decide because I didn’t feel that Lebanon got to decide whether they want stores in town, retail stores for recreational,” Aziz said. “It’s legal, I’m not saying it shouldn’t be legal. I’m not saying people can’t smoke in their house because they can, it’s the law.”
Last month Aziz was diagnosed with throat cancer. In a statement through the city and on Facebook, he said:
“I’ve talked to Gary (Marks) and I’ve talked to the city staff and everybody’s really good about it and nobody’s worried,” Aziz said.
“The nice thing is it’ll be done and I’ll have December to recover. If I do win, which I’m hoping, then I’ll be able to take over in January and it shouldn’t be any issue.”