Think Out Loud

22-year-old city councilor reflects on finishing college while leading West Linn

By Elizabeth Castillo (OPB)
Jan. 25, 2022 5:54 p.m. Updated: Feb. 2, 2022 4:13 p.m.

Broadcast: Tuesday, Jan. 25

West Linn City Councilor Rory Bialostosky ran for office when he was 20 years old. Elected at 21, he’s one of Oregon’s youngest elected officials. Earlier this month he was also unanimously chosen as the council’s president. Meanwhile, Bialostosky has also been working toward his bachelor’s degree at Lewis & Clark College. We hear more about his path to leadership.

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The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller:  Yesterday as you might have heard, we talked to the one and the only Peter Courtney, Oregon’s longest serving state lawmaker. He is 78 years old right now. Today, I’m joined by a politician from the opposite end of the age spectrum. Rory Bialostosky ran for the West Linn City Council when he was 20 years old. He is the ripe age of 22 right now and remains one of Oregon’s youngest elected officials. This month, he was unanimously chosen by his peers as the council’s president. Why did you run for city council?

Rory Bialostosky:  You know, it’s a long story, but I would say that I first got involved with the city when I was in high school. There was an issue impacting high school students. And through that involvement, I noticed just a general dysfunction that was plaguing the council. They spent $60,000 on a meeting facilitator. The meetings were running really long and this was for meetings that were just covering basic issues where people should just be able to get along. So after I saw that and realized that I had some extra time to give to serve the community, I felt like I could do a better job and give the citizens a government that they could be proud of. I decided to step into the race. And I’m very thankful to my fellow members as well for selecting me as council president and wanted to acknowledge them because it really is a team effort to govern a city and we’re all putting in a lot of hours.

Miller:  So what does it mean to you that your fellow council members chose you to be the president of council meaning, effectively, that if the mayor can’t be there for some reason then you preside over the meetings? What did it mean to you that it was your colleagues showing you [this respect]?

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Bialostosky:  It was a very humbling experience because it’s just a testament to, I think, my ability to bridge the divide and be a consensus builder. I really pride myself as someone who builds relationships and my fellow council members don’t always agree on things. We came from different backgrounds and had different campaign supporters during the election and prior elections. But I got on the council and was able to build those relationships and it was humbling and I’m very grateful to them.

Miller:  Being the council president seems sort of like being an understudy in a play where you don’t wish the lead actor ill. But if they’re ill one day you get to step into the role. Are you looking forward to the first time that you can lead a council meeting?

Bialostosky:  I think it’ll be a great experience. I’m not looking forward to it because our mayor, Jules Walters, does a great job. But whenever called upon, I’m happy to step in. And there’s also some unofficial duties like keeping time for the public comments and things like that that I do during the meetings where I didn’t have to do that in the past. But I’d say you know, it’s something that is an experience.

I mean coming from the outside and sitting at a council meeting three years ago and watching and now to be in a position to potentially run the meeting and being the council president is a pretty humbling and cool experience that you know, in a lot of other countries, it wouldn’t be possible. So I’m just grateful. It makes me kind of feel thankful that we have democracy even though it’s not perfect by any means.

Miller:  You’re a senior at Lewis and Clark College right now. What’s it been like to balance school work and your official duties as a member of the council?

Bialostosky:  It’s been really pretty challenging. I’m grateful to have had some professors who have been understanding. I mean I have class today at 1:50 and some homework to do once I’m done on here. So it’s been kind of a “doing it as I go” and trying to take it day by day and not get too caught up in the long term anxieties that come with being a college student. You know, this semester I’m a senior. I’m writing my senior thesis, a 25 page research paper, and then thinking about how I have three or four meetings this week, three or four meetings last week. You know, it’s hard to keep up. But I do the best I can and I’m hopeful that other people see my service and are willing to jump in as well. But I think it’s something I wanted to open up public office and show folks that anybody can do it. It’s not just something for people who have the time.  You know something? There’s kind of an access issue where you have a job. It’s hard to also serve as a city councilor because it’s a lot of hours. But I wanted to show folks that you can do it if you have another job. I look at school with my job and we have other members who are working professionals as well, so we’ve kind of opened it up. So it’s not just retirees per se, it’s that anybody can do it. And I think that’s a service [in order to]to be a healthy system.

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