The site of a new fire station, the performance of City Administrator Chad Sweet, and the old Gearhart Elementary School property were the main topics of discussion among candidates seeking seats on the Gearhart City Council in the Nov. 3 election.
“We’re trying to put forward some of the big-picture questions and hoping to ask questions of candidates that require them to carefully reflect on the issues,” said R.J. Marx, editor of the Seaside Signal and moderator of the forum that was held in Seaside last Thursday in collaboration with the American Association of University Women.
Candidates discussed the City Council’s recent decision to forgo giving Sweet a salary increase, but rather proposing a performance review in the spring.
Paulina Cockrum, who is running unopposed for Gearhart mayor, said Sweet’s employment agreement requires an annual review to be completed before the city budgeting process. Gearhart missed the review this year. “We want to get back on track with what that contract says to have another review in six months,” Cockrum said.
Dan Jesse, the incumbent for Position 4, said the decision wasn’t based on the city administrator’s performance. “I wouldn’t read into the review process and the fact that (Sweet) didn’t get a raise. Frankly, I don’t think we had a discussion whatsoever about his pay.”
Jack Zimmerman, Jesse’s challenger, said he found it problematic the the city hasn’t disclosed issues Sweet faced regarding driving citations in Clatsop County and Eastern Oregon.
Zimmerman said he feels there is “a very definitive and clear requirement” to inform the public about ethics issues.
“When people see you’re moving the decision forward, they’re looking back and they’re saying, ‘Wait a minute, the problems happened years ago,’” Zimmerman said.
It raises questions about what “the remedy for the people of Gearhart” will be in terms of “this stain on (Sweet), but also on you folks,” Zimmerman said.
Candidates also weighed in on the decisions being made surrounding the old Gearhart Elementary School, which has received an offer of purchase.
Reita Fackerell, who is running for Position 2 on the council against Bob Shortman, who did not attend the debate, said she feels the public should be given details about the potential buyer because of their love for the park on the property.
“I really think they should be in the know all the time what is happening with that area,” Fackerell said. “I know it was the city manager and our mayor who said it was confidential. And I understand that, but I would like to know what is happening.”
Jesse disagreed, citing the fact that it’s Seaside School District property, not city property.
Zimmerman expressed dissatisfaction with a missed opportunity for the city to purchase roughly 8.4 acres of property in the heart of Gearhart to use for open space, parks, public works, and other purposes aligned with the city’s comprehensive plan.
“The logic on that is terrible and, personally, it’s unacceptable,” Zimmerman added.
Another issue brought up during the forum involved the prospective site for a new Gearhart fire station, as the city hopes to move the current station out of the tsunami inundation zone. Currently, the city is considering the High Point property.
According to Cockrum, they are pursuing due diligence to evaluate the site, the feasibility of building the station and the cost. She is committed to completing that process, especially as High Point is “one of the best evacuation sites we have” within city limits because of elevation. Cockrum said she remains very concerned about cost.
Fackerell supports the High Point site for now, because the city did an extensive survey and respondents overwhelmingly selected the location. At the time of the survey, some data that could factor into the decision was not available, including cost, right of way, and easement issues, she said. “As all these things come out and things are made more clear, maybe the position of the community will change. But until that, I have to go with what the community wants right now,” she said.
Jesse said he would act on behalf of constituents and the public opinion. Although the park at the end of Pacific Way was preferable and the most fiscally responsible choice as it is already owned by the city, that was proven to be a not popular site by the majority of our citizens that did the survey. “That’s how democracy works,” Jesse said.
Jesse said he would support the public weighing in again once they are aware of the costs associated with construction at High Point.
Zimmerman said he is unsure if the extra elevation at the High Point site warrants the substantial increase of cost, and why the city expanded the project scope after the site was selected. The proposed scope of the project expanded to 13,000 square feet with “no explanation as to why that’s happening,” he said.