About 30 people turned out on a soggy and dark Monday night to both condemn and praise Aberdeen city officials at the third in a series of meetings to see what’s on the minds of citizens. The four meetings were called by Mayor Bill Simpson who thanked the crowd, “the largest yet.”
Many had not been at either of the first two meetings and voiced new complaints that included sign and building code enforcement, storm sewer bills, an allegation of oil in the Chehalis River and the plight of the mentally ill. Familiar grievances were aired about the rights of residents versus the rights of vagrants as well as shabby residential properties. The audience also applauded city officials for recent improvements to city parks and the paving of First Street.
The city’s new code enforcement officer, former police officer Bill Sidor, will find a full list of complaints to investigate when he starts his new job today. Public Works Director Malcolm Bowie, Building Official Bob Waite, and Community Development Director Lisa Scott will also find several questions in their in-boxes.
In the most serious code issue, Grays Harbor Port Commissioner Jack Thompson expressed worry about the safety of the old Pioneer Paper building on East Heron Street where the roof collapsed “four months ago.” The structure stands next to the building where he and his wife live. The couple is concerned the building will fall and take theirs with it. Simpson said he is worried, too. The mayor said he called the owner twice to no avail and will explore the matter further.
Carol Coyle brought a photo array of sandwich board and sign violations for the mayor and moderator Police Chief Bob Torgerson, who agreed it is illegal to post signage on lampposts and light poles. Both promised to refer the matter to Community Development Director Lisa Scott.
John Martinsen thanked taxpayers and the city for the re-paving of First Street and asked that Bench Drive and Rustic Way, which are now gravel, be paved.
Ed Coyle wanted to know why he pays for stormwater dumping “even though there is no storm sewer” on his block, 1100 East Market. He said he doesn’t mind paying but wants owners of vacant lots and empty buildings such as the Morck to pay, too.
Joshua Francy who garnered applause for saying he has been cleaning up garbage and needles under the Chehalis Bridge on the south side, says the water in the culvert “has always got oil in it.”
Discussion centered around when shabby residential conditions such as trash and overgrown lawns is a code violation and when it is a nuisance violation.
One woman brought up people living under a brown tarp on private property near her. While she said she did not want anyone to become homeless if the tarp comes down, she complained to code enforcement “because it is one heck of a mess.” The chief confirmed there is no camping allowed in the city.
Then why are vagrants allowed to camp along the river, Trish Thompson asked? Because much of the riverfront is private property, said Torgerson, who promised to look into the issue again.
Torgerson reminded the audience that “being homeless is not a crime, being a vagrant is not a crime, sitting around is not illegal.” Imagine “your grandmother” sitting on that bench, he said, “They have rights just like everybody else does.”
Council member Tim Alstrom, who is running unopposed in Ward 3, brought up the issue of mental health as it relates to homelessness, crime and drugs. National and state cuts in funding have trickled down into the cities where there is an acute shortage of treatment options. Many beds on a state level have been lost so “people who need help have no services to help them,” Alstrom added.
Many end up in the city jail, which was built for 18 inmates but often holds 22. There are “five people in our jail who are mentally ill,” the chief said, “One was moaning constantly and had to be restrained,” another screamed for days, another was emotionally upset and the others were “calm for the day,” he said.
“Revenue is flat and our expenses keep climbing … we need more money but taxpayers don’t have more money,” Torgerson said, gesturing toward Finance Director Kathryn Skolrood, who nodded in agreement.
Sam Benn Park area resident April Obi-Boling reiterated a request she made before the city council recently for speed control signs on streets near the park. Fellow area resident Sally McCarthy thanked Parks and Recreation Director Karl Harris for recent improvements to the park which now attracts more adults and children in the sunshine, “even in the rain.” She is also grateful for lighting the parking lot. The audience applauded.
Port Commissioner Thompson chimed in, thanking Harris for cleaning up Zelasko Park. Martinsen also congratulated Harris, who joked he would pay Martinson later.
A final gathering will be held at McDermoth School at 401 N. K St. for Wards 3, 4 and 5 on Friday night at 6:30 p.m.
A citywide summit to review concerns expressed at the ward meetings is planned for early February.
Erin Hart: 360-537-3932, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DW_Erin