Thursday, October 30, 2014

I was taking a break beween the show and heading for the planning commission meeting yesterday afternoon when there was a knock on my front door.  Standing there was a campaign worker for the Larry Taylor for Astoria Mayor campaign.  For those of you who follow the show it must be obvious by now that I'm not a big Taylor supporter to begin with so my first inclination was to not answer the door at all.  Temptation got the better of me.  I couldn't pass up the opportunity this presented to find out exactly how Taylor is being pitched on the doorstep.

The gentleman asked for my wife at first (she is one of those who votes at the last possible moment), then he asked if I am Mr. Freel I said "yes" and the pitch began.

First he handed me a campaign postcard with Mr. Taylor's picture and a list of reasons to cast my vote for him.  The campaigner asked me if I am at all familiar with Taylor to which I replied, quite honestly "The name is familiar..Who is he?  To that the man replied Larry Taylor is a fifteen year resident of Astoria and he is asking for your vote for Mayor.  "Larry wants to put the operation of Astoria on a business-like basis."

This is a line usually reserved for Republicans but..Okay.

I replied ' Well, It is a municipal government and not a business but okay"  Then he stated "Larry believes that Astoria's finances need to be fixed"

I replied "The city is audited on a regular basis and always gets a clean opinion. As it stands today we are more than a million dollars in the black so what needs to be fixed?"

He didn't seem to have an answer for that and appeared taken aback as though he was completely unaware of those facts.

He then said 'Larry is very well qualified to be Mayor of Astoria because of his experience as a manager at Intel"

I replied, "Well we have a City Manager form of government so the Mayor doesn't manage. The Mayor leads which is quite different. What involvement has he had with city council committees or projects?"

The answer was honest. "None" he said.   

I asked "So he's going from no involvment at all to Mayor?  That seems quite a leap"

He replied "Not really. Larry's experience from Intel in management will more than make up for that"

Really?

At that point I was tempted to challenge him on the claim that Taylor is a 15 year resident when actually he has an address here that is a second home and he has been running the Clatsop County Democrats backroom as Chairman for some time while actually spending most of his time living in the Portland area but I let that go and instead asked " So do you live in Astoria?"

The answer was a shocker. "No", he said "I live in Naselle".  "Naselle WASHINGTON!" I exclaimed.  "Yes", he said.

I asked "What possible connection would you have to Astoria that would have you campaigning for the Mayor's race?"

He said "Well I'm not running, Larry is"

I didn't think anything could surprise me anymore.  I was wrong.   Not only was this guy not an Astorian..He doesn't even live in the state.

A guy who doesn't live here campaiging for a guy who says he'll move here fulltime if he becomes Mayor...........

That was all I could take.

I smiled. Handed his brochure back. Shook my head slowly and slowly closed my front door leaving him standing on my front porch wondering what just happened.

He didn't understand. How could he?

In a way it's emblematic of the Taylor campaign.

Astoria has a relatively new rule in it's code that effects commercial area proprties that become vacant. In came into effect with the derelict building codes established by the city.  The code (posted on the city website) states:

Buildings located in commercial areas shall have some street presence by the display of goods in the storefront windows, interpretive displays, or some other activity that give the appearance of the building being occupied.

Displays in vacant buildings shall be reviewed and approved by the Community Development Director prior to installation. Displays shall be reviewed for the following:

a. The goods and/or interpretive displays should encompass a minimum of approximately 25% of the window area.
b. The displays shall be maintained in good condition and notfaded or deteriorated.
c. Content of the displays shall be in compliance with allowable uses within the zone.
d. Displays shall comply with the requirements of the Sign Code if applicable.

 

As rundown and obviously derelict as the Flavel-owned properties may be, you do see some pictures of old Astoria hanging in the windows which constitues a display of sorts.  I doubt that the Community Development Director actually approved the display because it's kinda sad but at least it's something.

Empty storefronts became a more important issue with the awareness that came through the ADHDA's Building Blocks program.  Empty windows create "blanks" that discourage walking which is key to a healthy downtown. Empty storefronts just shout the wrong message. This is obviously true for a downtown that is a darling of the Oregon Main Street program.  It's not even a choice for building owners in commercial areas of town to comply.  There is nothing ambiguous in the code, it's quite clear.  I think it's probably a matter of communication.

As I write this there are empty windows in the commercial area of Astoria and that has been the case for months. The question this raises will be uncormfortable.  Especially in view of the attention the Flavel properties have received and the massive fines levied by the city for non-compliance with city code. Granted, in the Flavel properties the city had to build a whole new derelict building code and the situation provides an extreme example but it's also true that laws that are not enforced are ignored. Laws that are not equally applied attract unending litigation. Actually, it's a little funny that the window display rule is just about the only code Mary Louise did comply with.

 How many empty windows do you count in downtown Astoria?

 

It has been awhile since I blogged but it's been a very busy time in the Freel household with my daughter's wedding and dealing with long distance details since she lives on the other side of the country.

Now it's time to get back to business and I'll start with this upcoming election.

A few years ago I wrote extensively about my objection to Cindy Price running for the Clatsop County Commission. I pointed out that there were probably going to be several conflicts of interest considering she is the wife of District Attorney Josh Marquis and at the time Mr. Marquis was locked in a battle over budget and his county stipend.

Ms Price running for Astoria City Council is a different matter. Even though this will mean a solid vote in favor of citing Astoria's DUII's into Circuit Court instead of Municipal Court, as the D.A. has asked for, ordered, demanded and gone to court over, this is a relatively small conflict and I'm sure she will do the right thing. I tend to side with comments made by council candidate Zetty Nemlowill, "If he wants those cases...Let him have them". Let's move on. Other than that issue I certainly have no objection to Cindy Price serving on the city council.

At least Price admits she has some things to learn about the job and the many issues the city deals with every day. That's perfectly alright because city government is complex and require a great deal of homework, if not experience. She does not pretend to know everything and seems reasonable when commenting on issues at city council meetings. She has been actively participating by attending city council meetings beginning a few months before declaring her interest in serving.

As to the Ward 1 council position and the race between George McCartin and Zetty Nemlowill... Zetty is more than ready, George just doesn't stack up against her but I think there is potential there that should be encouraged. It would be good to see him getting involved at the committee level in those issues closest to his heart that would take advantage of his experience while affording him the chance to see that the City of Astoria isn't broken. Perhaps if he runs for council at some point in the future he will be less likely to waste so much time looking for things that are wrong upon which to base his next campaign. In a few years perhaps he will have a better understanding of how things work and why.

I'm not going to agree with either Arline LaMear or Larry Taylor on a number of issues. Arline has been working with city government for many years but I get the impression it's been more limited that one might expect from someone shooting for Mayor. She is very good when it comes to certain areas like the Library Board and the proposed new City Library. Libraries are her profession and passion. Parks and rec is another area where she shows some knowledge and involvement. Many voters will like her positions on economic development and urban planning. She would work to exclude the possibility of LNG plants, coal trains, oil trains..etc coming anywhere near Astoria. She voted to eliminate the possibly of high rise development along a considerable portion of the waterfront and seems to have a good handle on those issues. I'm confident she will quickly fill those holes in her knowledge about other matters.

The most important reason to vote in favor of LaMear is that you can't be the Mayor of our town by remote control. Can not.

The Mayor isn't just another vote on the council, or the person who runs the meeting. Our Mayor is the face of our town. Our Mayor has to listen to everybody. Our Mayor advocates for our town, lives in our town, loves our town..Warts and all. The person who wants to be Mayor here does so unconditionally.

Astoria has a City Manager form of municipal government rather than a "Strong Mayor" form of government. That means the Mayor doesn't run the day to day operation, or interfere with staff. The Mayor and the Council have just one employee they are responsible for directing, for hiring, and firing. That City Manager must be in the driver's seat in the decision making process when it comes to everyone else on the staff. He is then responsible for delegating authority to his department heads and setting the standard for policies that govern the staff operations. He is responsible for making sure his city council has access to complete and comprehensive background information for those policy and project decisions they must vote on.

In this form of government if the elected officials attempt to manage instead of lead the outcome is inevitably a disaster. That's what happened at the Port of Astoria. The Port is a perfect example of unrelenting meddling by the elected board into the day-to-day operations and decision making that should be the sole province of the Executive Director.

There are multiple problems with Mr. Taylor as Mayor. His comment at the recent AAUW/Daily Astorian forum that he would "empower" the councilors to take more responsibility is troubling. The councilors already have well defined responsibilities and while the Mayor runs the meetings, city councilors are independent in representing their Wards. Does he mean that as Mayor he would be less involved? That combined with his public comment that if elected he would move to Astoria fulltime would seem to suggest a rather cavalier attitude about the job he is asking for.

Taylor is the elected chair of the Clatsop County Democratic Central Committee which normally supports it's members who run for office. Even though City Council positions are non-partisan, LaMear is a Democrat and one would think Taylor's job as party head would be to support her run instead of attempting to take her out of office. Why is he doing this?

Josh Marquis. He is a major force in Democratic politics in Clatsop County.

While I'm less that eager to once again put myself in the D.A.'s sights, reporting this relationship and what it really means is the responsible thing to do.

Taylor is strictly a one issue candidate running to reverse a decision by the Astoria council to keep DUII cases cited in Astoria in the Municipal Court. Mr. Marquis was successful in defending his role as the top prosecutor in the county and so those cases are already his to deal with but he was not successful in skipping the municipal court step and going directly to Circuit Court. Personally, I agree that these cases don't need to go to Muni court. The D.A. wants them, let him have them and do so as effectively and efficiently as possible to ensure equal treatment of these cases throughout the county.

Unfortunately for us, because Marquis has been unable to convince Astoria to join all the other cities in handling DUII's in this manner the issue has now come down to the need to get three votes in favor of overturning the decision. Cindy Price is running unopposed for Ward 3 so that's vote #1. Regardless of who wins Ward 1 it's likely that person will be vote #2 because both candidates have said as much. That leaves the third and deciding vote in the Mayor's race. Arline LaMear has already voted against moving those DUII cases and says she is not convinced to change her mind. Larry Taylor would be vote #3.

If Larry Taylor is elected then the whole matter should be resolved in the first 30 days of his administration. Then what?

That's the real problem with Taylor as Mayor. So far in the few public appearances he has made he is less than impressive in his vision for the town, his four year role as Mayor, or his understanding of the issues and challenges of that role. His past involvement in the few organizations he has had contact with locally has been spotty and troubled. He doesn't like answering questions as he demonstrated at a recent Rotary meeting.

LNG isn't really an issue in Astoria. You don't have to be Mayor to help support the arts. Domestic violence does need to end but Taylor is less than clear about how he would do that. His campaign is an excellent example of smoke and mirrors and speaks to his ability as an organizer and backroom manager for the Democratic Party. However, saying the town is in financial trouble when it clearly is not, telling supporters that government transparency is the issue while admitting publically that the city council does nothing improper behind closed doors, and having no discernable desire to take an active role as the Mayor, instead saying he will hand-off more to the council, is not okay and provides a poor follow-up to Willis Van Dusen.

I strongly believe that if Arline LaMear is elected she will do her very best to serve the people of Astoria over the next four years.

It will be an important transition to what comes next.

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