Cities have a responsibility to provide basic services. You need public safety agencies such as Police and Fire. You need to have a Public Works Department to keep infrastructure intact and working. Planning and Community Development keeps your city on track. You must have a Finance Department to ride herd.
Anything else is gravy.
However, it is those extras that speak to the character and livability of the town.
Thus endeth the civics lesson.
I don’t tell you these things to insult your intelligence but only to provide a basis for where I’m going with this piece.
In my previous post I wrote about the day-long tour I took Saturday of most of the Astoria Parks and Recreation facilities, parks and programs. It is clear that several recurring themes in council goals and decisions affecting administration over time have led us to build a much larger system than we should have to deal with.
It’s time to talk priorities. It may be painful. It will certainly be controversial.
After taking a day-long tour on Saturday with a few other hearty souls it became evident very quickly that Astoria's heavily subsidized parks and recreation department is groaning under the weight of public demand. While it is not unusual for government operated programs that are clearly lower priority to struggle in providing everything citizens ask for, this particular department has grown substantially over the last few years into an unwieldy animal that would tax the resources of a city easily twice the size of Astoria.
There was a troubling undertone to the Clatsop County Commission meeting Wednesday when it appeared that the commission had voted the will of the people in tabling the proposal to slap a new layer of regulation on property owners.
I was at that meeting specifically to watch what was going on because when you just listen to a recording you miss the body language that is critical to human communication.
Words for “the record” do not communicate nearly as much.
You miss the sideways glance and that “deer caught in the headlights” look one could clearly see in some of the commissioner’s eyes when faced with a large concerned crowd.
You can also see what’s missing.
Over a hundred citizens packed the meeting space at the Boyington building to attend a public hearing on the proposed Tsunami Overlay Zone. We’ll never know how many of those citizens were there to speak in favor or against the proposal because the hearing was cut short by Commission Chair Scott Lee after the staff report when commission took the unusual step of accepting a motion to table the proposal while the hearing was still open. Astonishing!
Granted, this was a continuance of the hearing that began at the previous commission meeting but I would take that to mean the commission intended to open the floor. It would be a false assumption that all those people just wanted to hear the vote.
Chair Lee works off a script to run his meeting. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as the actual meeting doesn’t vary from the script. He gets lost quickly when things go awry. It appears that may have happened when instead of the Community Development Director recommending the commissioners take further testimony, close the hearing, and vote to approve the overlay zone, Jennifer Bunch suggested the commission table the proceeding. Perhaps he wasn’t in the loop on that change.
Leanne Thompson was well prepared when she said she may have had an exparte contact, and she said so did Dirk Rohne, with the same person. She said she didn’t realize that taking with the President of the Planning Commission informally about the proposal represented an outside contact that might affect her ability to vote fairly on the issue. She said that Bruce Francis told her that after hearing so many negative comments from the public that people would just have to “get used to the idea”.
Isn’t it odd that Rohne was the one who made the motion to table?
Thompson then launched into a speech saying that she appreciated the involvement of the
people in the room and talked about how important it is that we make the county a place we all want to live…words to that effect. Then she suggested bringing in experts to answer specific questions about codes and insurance and finance echoing what Bunch had said.
She later stopped Chair Lee from moving on with the agenda until her suggestions were part of staff direction.
The motion to table was seconded, somewhat reluctantly, by Commissioner Nebeker because she said she wanted the board discussion.
At some point before the vote on the motion the public hearing was closed and I don’t recall the chair asking the public for comment either way.
They voted. Done. People applauded and left the building.
Commissioner Lee made it a point to say that the issue was likely to come up in Salem in the short session and encouraged the public to stay informed and that the county voice would be heard. Just what that voice might be saying is still in question.
It was just all strange.
Why did the county pursue this at all?
Why didn’t the board just dump the idea entirely?
Why didn’t the mailers about the public meetings stress new land use regulations instead of Tsunami education?
Why does the Community Development Department leave out the part about the new regulations you would be forced to follow to rebuild in a Tsunami Overlay Zone?
Did the county talk to the cities about this at all? How about the Port? The county’s pre-emptive approval of the FEMA flood maps certainly indicates silo thinking that impacts all those jurisdictions and the inability of the County Commission to understand those impacts.
I would agree with one thing that was said. It’s time to take a step back.