ILWACO - After operating one councilperson short for the past few weeks, the Ilwaco City Council chose Gary Forner as the new council member from three candidates Monday night.
Forner, Bob Robinson and Don Berger were vying for council position No. 5. Each candidate was brought into the meeting room separately to provide opening statements and answer questions from the mayor and council.
Robinson said he would like to see the city operate and maintain services that are reliable and affordable, as well as be viewed as happy, organized and having a "can-do" attitude. He also wished for a productive and accountable city crew.
Forner described himself as a retired park ranger and one of the original founders of Pacific County Technical Rescue. He is also a longtime volunteer firefighter and EMT with the Ilwaco Fire Department and Pacific County Fire District No. 1.
Berger, whose experience is in the construction and development industry, stated that he has attended Ilwaco city council meetings since 2003 and wants to be a council member to represent the people that supported him in the fall 2009 election. He said he has knowledge in law from previous lawsuits and believes that some of the city ordinances are illegal. He added that he has called council member Fred Marshall a liar numerous times and it is never reported in the newspaper or in the meeting minutes, and said he feels the Observer is biased. Berger believed that Forner would be chosen for the council, but said he will continue to "expose the city council of their wrongdoings."
Councilman Will Greene asked the candidates what their campaign themes would be if they were running for office. Robinson said his theme would be to support existing citizens and their needs. Forner said his would be "Rebuilding Ilwaco for the Future," which would consist of inviting more businesses to the city to generate more tax revenue, improving the city's appearance, rebuilding funds, and changing how tax money is spent. Berger thanked Greene and Cassinelli for helping him campaign in the recent election, but said his wife felt that the people who helped him weren't his friends.
Greene asked each of them if they understood the current financial state of the city and what each of them would do to fix it. Robinson said the city is operating in the negative and its reserves are minimal. He suggested that the city convert from accrual to cash, which would reflect accurate balances. Forner explained, "It's circling a drain. And the only way to plug it up is with more tax revenue through bringing in more businesses and hiring people here and people spending their money here." Berger said the city's poor financial state can be attributed to when MSW "took $1.2 million from the city" back in 2003. He suggested the city get back to basics and change development laws so the developers are forced to pay their share.
Councilor Marshall asked which area of the city is in need of the most improvement and how they would help to change it. Robinson said the council's stifling and infighting needs to stop; he is trained in teambuilding, and felt the board should use teamwork to collaborate and include all contributions. Forner suggested that the city encourage citizens to trust government officials and city workers by developing a work project list, which would allow citizens to track which projects have been completed within the city. Berger felt that the city's ordinances need to be revised so that they are legal.
Marshall, who won the race against Berger a few months ago, asked Berger if he would equally represent the people that had voted for Marshall in the last election. Berger said he already has represented Marshall's supporters by playing an active role in the Sahalee water agreement.
Councilwoman Gini Chin asked Robinson which groups he has been involved with. He said he has been a port manager, and worked closely with port districts, city councils, state senators and public and regional utility systems.
Chin asked Forner if an increase in Ilwaco businesses would directly cause an increase in population. He felt that more businesses in Ilwaco would increase the city's populations because Ilwaco it an attractive area with unique and appealing homes. He suggested that the city advertise the city's need for more businesses with help from the Economic Development Council.
Chin asked Berger how he would work alongside Marshall. The candidate described Marshall as "a very intelligent person, but he's wrong," and later compared him to a con artist. Berger said he would tell Marshall when he is wrong or right.
Chin then held up a short paragraph Berger had submitted to the city with his application. She asked if he would be capable of writing documents for the city when his letter was full of grammatical errors. Berger lamented that he doesn't have great grammar abilities but that he does have a mind and an opinion.
Councilor David Jensen asked the candidates to describe the thought process each uses to make decisions. Forner said he listens, researches the facts and formulates the information into a proposal to explain his reasoning. Berger said that as a former developer and contractor, he has worked closely with engineers and architects and is familiar with laws and ordinances.
After a brief executive session, Chin and Marshall nominated Robinson for the council seat. Greene and Jensen nominated Forner. Acting as the tie-breaking vote, Cassinelli chose Forner to fill council seat No. 5. Casinelli added that he had jobs for the other two candidates if they were still willing to give time to the city.
Fire chief out? While one fireman was just settling into his new city position, Fire Chief Tom Williams was on the verge of stepping out.
Casinelli said the fire department volunteers didn't feel it was right for Williams' salary to be cut completely out of the budget. Since a handful of city employees were laid off a couple weeks ago, the mayor said he has found a little extra money. He suggested that Williams be paid at least the same amount the city councilors are entitled to ($250), but not as much as the mayor is entitled ($500). This year the council and mayor denied their stipends to cut costs.
Williams stated he has put 28 1/2 years into his job for very little appreciation from the city council, nor appreciation for volunteers who have served the fire department for decades at a time. Feeling that Marshall was the person behind his wage cut, the fire chief said he would like to give Marshall a pager to respond to emergency calls with him.
And while Williams said he serves as fire chief to help the city, he felt that if the city couldn't reciprocate then maybe they should look for someone else to act as fire chief because he would not do the job for $300 per month.
Roughly paid $2,200 per month in 2009, Williams said during the average week 15 to 18 hours of his time is dedicated to fire chief duties, which pull him away from his regular job. He asked that the city council at least provide him with a benefit plan or not charge him for water and sewer services.
"What do you want me to do when I get calls? Direct them to city hall or the sheriff's office? Because I won't do it for free," said Williams, who has also been a key player in trying to fix the fire hall insurance battle and reminded councilors that the Ilwaco Volunteer Fire Department has the best fire rating on the Peninsula.
Jensen explained that the city council didn't cut out Williams' salary and that the funding balances have not been finalized. In fact, he didn't think that there had been a consensus to "zero out" the fire chief's salary. Jensen felt that the city should create a fire marshal position, a service that would generate fees and additional revenue that could be applied to Williams' salary.
Marshall said the every time he does something that relates to the fire department, he gets rocks thrown at him. The councilor said he worked on the 2010 budget as a volunteer and that the salary cut was included in the budget proposal back in November. He noted that Williams does a great job and the cut was not personal but rather financial, as the city is running $3,000 further in the hole each year when the city should be adding $50,000 to the city's margin each year. "It's a difficult problem and I'm not sure how to solve it because the city's general fund is in terrible shape."
Greene took responsibility for the budget as well, and said if Williams gave him a pager, he would respond to calls with him. He explained that everyone values the fire department's contributions and he also supports creating a fire marshal position in order to compensate the fire chief.
"Fire service is as essential as police, and somehow we found money for police," said former councilman Dave Johnson, who added that there should be a fire department appreciation day each year.
Ilwaco business owner Clint Carter said that while he doesn't envy the council for the budget decisions they have to make, he fully supports Williams and the department.
Berger suggested that the city impose impact fees on developers to gather funds for the fire department, schools and other entities.
The council went into an executive session, but no decision appears to have been made. On Tuesday, Williams said, "The city expects me to work for free and expect me to pay my bills - and to pay bills I have to make money."
In other business, the council passed an ordinance extending the adult business moratorium and a resolution establishing fire hydrant standards. They also discussed an ordinance that would increase the time extension for preliminary plats.
In staff reports, Gary Kobes said the Beards Hollow Overlook Project is about 50 percent complete.
In council reports, Chin said she is serving as the city representative to the Friends of the Columbia River Gateway and Friends of the North Head Lighthouse.
Marshall stated he continues to work out the budget.
Greene gave a summary of the Jan. 13 public meeting regarding the eradication of invasive weeds in Black Lake. He added that he hopes to see more participation from the public at the next meeting. He also reminded the public that they can receive NOAA weather radios, help programming the radios, and information about tsunami readiness on Jan. 27 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Ilwaco Community Building.
In his mayor's report, Cassinelli explained that the city has started a regular budget and financial review process, and a public exit audit will be scheduled. He said he is also holding weekly meetings with city staff so that each person knows what their responsibilities are.
During public comment, Jim Berglund requested that the section of Myrtle Street between Spruce and Lake streets be a "no parking" zone to allow room for fire trucks.