City name change encounters council resistance

Published on Wed, May 14, 2014 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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Changing the city’s name may not go as smoothly as Blaine city councilmember Clark Cotner had hoped. 

The issue was a hot-button topic at the regular council meeting on Monday night, with the council hesitant to move forward on a resolution to put it on the November ballot evident, even with dozens of signatures in favor of an informal polling initiative. “People tell me they don’t want to change,” councilmember Charlie Hawkins said. “My family has been here since 1880 and the people I’ve talked to are not particularly enthused about it. I think having the citizens initiate this is the proper way to go if we’re going to do this, instead of council shoving it down their throat.”

City manager David Wilbrecht said that going that route would pose some risk, though.

“My understanding is that if a citizen or group of citizens were to take this to the county auditor, then if there was any litigation, those citizens would have to assume personal liability for that. The county wouldn’t support them,” he said. “They wouldn’t have the protection of a government entity in the case of a lawsuit.”

Cotner was adamant that a resolution would be in the best interest of everyone involved.

“I see no reason to make the citizens do that. I’ve already started an unofficial initiative to change the name,” Cotner said. “Starting last Tuesday and Wednesday, I went out and put petitions in 14 different businesses across town, and have already accumulated 300 signatures, and have met very little to no resistance. If we keep going, we’ll have 500 or 600 in a week or two. I strongly recommend we move forward with a resolution.”

Hawkins was not convinced. “Why not have the chamber or someone like that support it,” he said, “since all the businessmen here seem to be in favor of it?”

Cotner said that changing tack now would ruin their chances. “If we go any other route now, we’re cooked for the year, and I don’t think the chamber is exempt from lawsuits. It’s really vital that we do this.”

After some discussion, which uncovered that the last time the initiative had been put to vote it was put forward by a citizen- driven initiative to council, mayor pro tem Paul Greenough called for a vote.

“I’d like the citizens to put together a proposal and bring it to us, to present it to council, and then we can act on that,” Greenough said.

Cotner took exception to Greenough’s suggestion. “This is a huge decision,” he said. “Let’s not kill this yet,” he interrupted.

“I’m just asking for a vote, not to kill it,” Greenough replied.

“Well, I’d like to speak,” Cotner said.

Greenough acknowledged Cotner, but continued. “I’m asking for the economic development committee to take the petitions, treat it as one petition and give it to the city manager, and it can be brought to council from the citizens,” he said. “We won’t quibble over the wording of it and are willing to accept them as worded; it’s mostly cosmetic, but it indicates to me that the citizens are the ones requesting the change, and it’s not coming from council. I’m not trying to delay it or stop it, and it’s a minor change, but an important one to many of us.”

Cotner still proposed that they move forward with the original plan and pass the resolution. Before the vote, he interrupted again. “Can I bring this back if it gets defeated?”

“Yes,” Greenough said. “In a different way.”

With a motion on the table to add the name change to the November council ballot as a resolution, the council held a roll call vote, which was quickly defeated. Only Cotner and councilmember Bonnie Onyon voted in favor of the resolution.

Cotner brought the motion to the table a second time, proposing Greenough’s solution of a formal presentation of the petition to council.

“I like this plan,” said councilmember Steve Lawrenson. “Then we have a record of the signatures on file and we’re able to show interest.”

This time, the motion passed 5–1, with Hawkins opposed anmayor Harry Robinson absent.

At the same meeting, council went into executive session to discuss the potential sale of the Gateway property to the owners of Blaine Connected, who have expressed interest in owning the property outright. 

Public works director Ravyn Whitewolf also gave an update on the road to the Blaine Harbor pier. “It’s in pretty bad shape,” she said. “We’re continuing to allow only pedestrian access and are meeting with the port this week to decide what to do.”

Whitewolf said they plan to get public input on the road situation, and share their proposals soon.

“The port has repaired all the damage to the pier,” Wilbrecht said. “There are two series of barricades right now, and there has been some talk of more barricades, but when you start putting out large semi-permanent structures, it implies the road is closed.”

Whitewolf acknowledged that it could be quite some time before the road to the pier is reopened.

“The cost for reconstruction to the road is far more than any of us have,” Wilbrecht said. “We’re going to have to figure out what to do for a long-term solution.”