City of Aberdeen officials and citizens who sit on various city commissions outnumbered attendees Monday night at a town hall style meeting that was billed as the culmination of a series of meetings last fall to give people a chance to vent about problems in the community.
Last fall it was crime, vagrancy and drug problems that seemed most on peoples’ minds. But it was concern about recent and past redevelopment efforts that got most of the focus at last night’s meeting in the Aberdeen High School commons. Unlike the four smaller ward meeting held at elementary schools in the fall, this meeting was run by Mayor Bill Simpson himself, rather than Police Chief Robert Torgerson who moderated the others. Most department heads, City Council members and many commission chairpersons and members were present to field questions from the audience who numbered a dozen or so.
Simpson opened the meeting to urge people to “play nice in the sandbox.” A couple of flareups marked the largely civil meeting.
Lori Maki said she and husband John are “very concerned hearing rumors about a public walking path in our backyard” which is along the Wishkah River where a dike is in the design phase. Public Works Director Malcolm Bowie said “it’s something we are hoping to do.” The project is funded by the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority and includes plans for a walkway atop the dike, with permission of landowners, he said. She confirmed they do not want the walkway in their backyard.
Dave Jennings thought $60,000 earmarked to hire consultant and redevelopment expert Cary Bozeman for a year would be better spent on city services or relocating the homeless. Bozeman, the former mayor of Bellevue and Bremerton, was hired to create specific goals aimed at redevelopment of downtown and reconnecting it to the waterfront.
Connection to the waterfront is something “nobody has agreed is a good idea,” Jennings claimed. The public has asked for the waterfront and downtown to be developed in several studies and meetings, ideas supported by many officials present including Councilmembers Kathi Hoder, Alan Richrod and Tawni Andrews, Community Development Director Lisa Scott, City Attorney Eric Nelson, the mayor and several others.
Jennings said he is skeptical about why the city would redevelop when more than half the population “is on EBT cards,” referring to benefits such as the food stamp program.
Scott noted recent successes such as the full occupation of the Elks Building for the first time in years and the return to Aberdeen by several young people opening businesses. As the child of parents who run two small businesses, she said she understands how hard it is but “it’s worth a shot. Maybe this is our time to shine, to help and encourage our youth to start businesses.”
Michael Dickerson of the civic group Our Aberdeen, who moved here from California because he and wife Sylvia like it here, called Aberdeen a lovely place. “Don’t tell me what the city should do, tell me what YOU’RE going to do,” he said.
Saying he is skeptical, too, Nelson pointed to state and federal dollars that helped rebuild Bremerton. Aberdeen has spent city and state money tearing down old buildings, building new sidewalks and street lamps and adding public art, Nelson said. Bozeman was hired for his expertise in using public and private funds in redevelopment and his work would cost less than a full time city official doing similar work, Nelson said.
Mayor Simpson said he wasn’t trying to be Pollyannish, recalled that he came to Aberdeen from Tacoma 34 years ago and fell in love with the city. “All cities have problems,” he said. He kept urging people to speak up. Scott wondered aloud why many in attendance were so quiet.
Aberdeen museum Curator and Director Dann Sears spoke in defense of renewing the city based on the renovation over time of Fayetteville, N. C., he saw when living there. Planning Commission Chairman Brian Little spoke passionately about how long projects take to evolve over time.
The new Seaport Landing in South Aberdeen earned both praise and criticism. Jennings criticized Les Bolton, executive director of Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, which operates the landing.
Several rose to defend the seaport, as did Bolton, who took criticism in stride, saying until recently the Authority did not own land on the waterfront. Resident Dan Gleason claimed the seaport had taken city money without being repaid, which was disputed by Nelson. The mayor had to gavel Gleason into silence as he tried to outshout counters to his criticism. Nelson stopped after a couple of attempts, saying Gleason kept trying to twist the facts and didn’t care to listen.
John Barclay said he was there to file his usual complaint: that there are not enough police officers on the street patrolling crime.
Courtney Cook read several questions. She wanted to know how to reintroduce the issue of putting fluoride in the tap water, presumably to end it. Get a council member to sponsor it, she was told. How can the city stop traffic jams caused by trains? It can’t, a federal commission and trains govern that, she was informed.
Would the Mayor’s downtown task force continue, she asked, adding members could volunteer to be “Bozeman’s minions.”
“The task force is alive,” responded Simpson, who told The Daily World it will be co-chaired by former chairman Mike Spezia and John Martinsen.
Scott called for those who volunteer their family time to city commissions to be recognized and applauded. City officials were also given a round.
Gregory Johnson, of the Gregorian Group and Our Aberdeen, noted on The Daily World’s Facebook page after the meeting, “Where oh where are all those that want change and answers? It was amazing to see the city staff, council and mayor all interacting with the public — and each other!”
Erin Hart, firstname.lastname@example.org, 360-537-3932 or Twitter: DW_Erin.