Hoquiam mayor is proud of what his team has accomplished

In her Oct. 12 letter to the editor, “Hoquiam financial issues,” Judy Reames criticized the City of Hoquiam and its staff. As Mayor of the city, I would like the opportunity to respond to her issues.

Judy implied that the paper mill closure was not anticipated in our budgeting. That is simply not true. We are fortunate that other revenue sources from sales, B&O, and permit fees among others have remained steady despite the mill closure. But all department managers watch their budgets closely on a weekly basis and other than a couple of sub-categories, we are true to budget.

She criticizes utility rate increases due to borrowing to update our aging infrastructure. So what were we supposed to do, allow the wastewater pond to overflow? Were we to continue to allow the force main on the 5th Street Extension to continue to break and pour waste into the harbor (which in recent past involved us in a lawsuit by the oyster growers)?

We have a five-mile water transmission line from the water treatment plant to our reservoirs and distribution system, which has had many failures over the years. Recently it had a major break that we werefortunate to get fixed in two days. The current line was installed when I was a little kid in the 1950s. Decaying underground infrastructure must eventually be replaced. It’s our generation’s turn to assure continued water quality and dependability. We cannot afford to continue to kick the can forward on these infrastructure issues.

She even included the two voter-approved library and fire truck levies in her criticism of taxes in Hoquiam, which I thought was curious.

While in general we all can be critical of public employee salaries and benefits to one degree or another, we honor the bargaining process with our unions. Over my term in office, we have seen significant transitions due to retirements. I am very proud of the quality of the new people who have been brought in to the city across all departments and also of capable younger employees stepping up in to senior positions. By trying to be competitive in wages and working conditions, we attract and retain good people. We also have high performance expectations in all departments. I would have expected Judy, as a retired IRS employee, to be a little more sensitive to public employees.

Judy’s idea was to have Aberdeen negotiate our union contracts. Given the fact that their salary structure is higher at every single comparable position whether in police, fire, public works, or finance — I think I will pass on that advice.

She is also critical about our City Administrator Brian Shay. Contrary to her statement, many cities do have city administrators or city managers depending on their form of government. While mayors by statute have the overall responsibility for running the city, many of us delegate the day-to-day supervision to a trained administrator. Judy apparently did not recall that before hiring a city administrator, I eliminated the public works director position. Our City Administrator position combines the duties of that position with additional tasks and obligations. Brian is exceptional in the role of this newly created, important position on all fronts.

I am very proud of Brian Shay. Out of respect for his accomplishments he was recently given a “manager of the year” award by the city manager/administrators association. He has helped me enormously in making sure that the Hometown Hoquiam vision of improving Hoquiam has been a success.

Brian was instrumental in creating a strong abatement program that removes unsafe structures in our community. Together the team also strengthened ordinances to deal with junk and vehicles in yards. He created our sidewalk partnership with residential property owners which so far has built nearly 4000 feet of new sidewalks. He has focused on and obtained various grants to build new sidewalks along our main streets and to improve handicap accessibility. As part of this, the new sidewalks the full-length of K, as well as parts of 6th and 8th begin soon.

My focus on improving our parks has seen new neighborhood parks from Woodlawn all the way through the North End as well as substantial improvements to John Gable Park. My goals of a skateboard park, a gorgeous remodeling of our train station, and the almost completed Art Pocklington Central Play Park are attributable to his ability at strategic planning, grant funding, and just plain smart, hard work.

Alissa Thurman Shay, who served as our city planner and gets some of Judy’s criticism, quarterbacked a team effort with firefighters and community people to obtain 100 percent funding of our new East Side Fire Station. We needed a new facility to handle additional vehicles to serve not only that part of town and West Aberdeen. It is also crucial to providing fire and life safety to the growing industrial waterfront. It was a magnificent team effort with a very short deadline; construction will start soon.

Alissa was the heart and soul of our urban forestry effort with a very sharp citizen committee that she recruited. We are a proud part of the Tree City USA program. Among other things, it involved the planting of 200 trees along main streets and in neighborhoods. She also worked with our Planning Commission and City Council to make our new Land Use Plan a model for other cities. Our historic preservation efforts and first-in-Grays-Harbor downtown Historic District are attributable to her intelligent work.

The Port of Grays Harbor got a valuable addition to their management team when they hired Alissa to manage marketing for the Satsop Development Park. We should all be grateful that she is still serving our community.

Finally, Judy’s letter took a bizarre and needlessly personal turn when she criticized Brian and Alissa for getting married out of town. I realize that all of us in public life are subject to scrutiny but Judy has no shame when it comes to targeting a very happy occasion for a wonderful and loving couple. Like the rest of her letter, this criticism falls flat if one looks at the wedding announcement portion that they titled “Shopping Small.” They in fact did support local businesses in preparation for their big day. Herbig Jewelers, Waugh’s, Oceana Spa, Dan’s Dahlias, Flowers by Pollen, Cyn-Sational Memories, Gray’s General Store, Aberdeen Office Equipment, Lavender Valley, Sativa Miller Photography, Tracy Wood Catering, and Katie Stamwitz/Steve Williams music were Harbor businesses and individuals who were a part of the occasion.

And yes, Judy, I was honored to have officiated at the wedding!

I am extremely proud of the management team that we have at the City of Hoquiam, our caring city council members who confirm the vision and set policy, and the men and women who serve our community. Judy should be as well.

Jack Durney is the mayor of Hoquiam.