The interim chair of the Woodland Planning Commission didn’t receive re-appointment to the position earlier this month, with pushback from community members leading to the removal of the longest-serving commissioner this month.
During their July 1 meeting, the Woodland City Council voted unanimously to approve a replacement for Tel Jensen, whose six-year term on the commission had expired. Jensen had recently been the target of some in the Woodland community who lobbed allegations he wasn’t fit to serve on what serves as an advisory board to council on land use planning issues.
Correspondence between community members and the city regarding Jensen’s re-appointment were provided in documents for city council’s July 1 meeting. Of the comments regarding Jensen, those opposed were concerned over the direction he wanted to see Woodland develop was counter with what they felt was right.
In some cases, his residency in Woodland was questioned, and others alleged that some other commissioners would resign should Jensen be re-appointed.
Jensen addressed the controversy during the July 1 council meeting where he went through some of the allegations. On his residency, he said it had been settled to the city attorney’s satisfaction.
In an interview with The Reflector after the meeting, he explained that he is finishing up a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering at Portland State University that requires him to also work at the school, which leads him to spend much time in Oregon as a result. He noted he has family ties in Woodland saying he was a fifth-generation resident of the area.
Jensen also touched on opposition to his stance on supporting a 60-40 split between low and high residential densities in planning for the city, something that differed from the 75-25 that most nearby municipalities employ in their planning. He said that constraints such as the Lewis and Columbia rivers, Interstate 5 and steep geography required a different density to make sense for the city.
“Our ratio is unique in the region because those constraints are also unique,” Jensen said.
During the appointment of Jensen’s replacement, councilor Benjamin Fredricks expressed displeasure with the situation.
“I think the city owes you an apology,” Fredricks said. Regarding opposition to Jensen’s view on planning, Fredricks said differing opinions often led to local governments coming up with what he felt were the best solutions. He mentioned past city councilors who had different politics but ended up working together on issues.
“Some of the best policy was created with us bantering back and forth,” Fredricks recalled.
Fredricks said it was “hypocrisy” that community members questioning Jensen’s residency were apparently fine with a previous planning commission member who lived primarily in California while serving. What he objected to the most, however, were allegations of a more personal matter, alleging Jensen was unprofessional and comments on his appearance and mannerisms.
“This is crap,” Fredricks remarked while holding one of the letters against Jensen, later adding that the situation was “the prime example (in) Woodland of why people don’t serve.”
Woodland Mayor Will Finn agreed that Jensen was slighted. Though he didn’t give specific names, he said the same individuals who were opposed to Jensen’s re-appointment had done similar to a past planning commissioner as well who also saw the denial of another term.
Finn, like Fredricks, said that Jensen’s oftentimes different perspective was a benefit to the commission.
“Mr. Jensen did a wonderful job for us. This is a classic case of someone being railroaded out of a position because of the way that he thinks,” Finn said.
Though he had the ostensible support of Fredricks, Finn and some others on the council, Jensen’s seat went to Brian Ripp, a Cowlitz County Public Works employee, according to his appointment application. Finn said there was “not a word” in opposition to Ripp’s appointment, Finn pointed to the new commissioner’s roots in the city and a young family that would keep him invested in Woodland’s future.
“That excites me, that he’s bringing that younger attitude and that younger voice to the planning commission of what we want our city to look like,” Finn said.
“I’m not going anywhere”
When he spoke to The Reflector the week after the meeting, Jensen was still unsure how he felt about what transpired, noting that though there was some verbal support he still remained off the commission.
Jensen was the longest-serving commissioner at the time he was ousted, completing his six-year term. None of the current members were on the commission a year ago.
Jensen said this was a relatively new trend during his tenure.
“Maybe starting fresh will be OK, it’s probably not all bad,” Jensen said. “I’m certainly sad that I can’t be a part of it, selfishly, but as far as what’s good for the city, it might be fine.”
Jensen said that at the meeting he was encouraged by some on the council to apply for an unexpired term left by former commissioner June Jones. Though he did apply, he is not too optimistic about collecting the needed votes.
Regardless, Jensen said his ties to Woodland would keep him around, planning commission seat or not.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Jensen said. “(Woodland’s) home and that place is important to me.”