KALAMA — Many citizens, even those who opposed the Kalama Police Department’s controversial new station, have moved on from the conflict now that the station is officially open.
However, even as people gathered Wednesday to dedicate the $2.7 million station, the decision to build it at Maruhn Park has prodded at least some of the challengers for three City Council positions up for re-election.
About 50 people attended the dedication, during which Police Chief Ralph Herrera expressed his appreciation to the community. The commitment of the City Council and staff to move forward with the project ensures the department can deliver adequate service today and in the future, he said.
The department moved into the station earlier this month after spending three and a half years in the Kalama Community Building. The December 2015 flood forced the police out of its previous location, which city officials say was meant to be temporary.
Many citizens opposed the project, saying they did not think Maruhn Park, located on the north end of downtown, was a good location for the station. Some also objected to the council pursuing the project, noting that voters had decisively shot down a $2.2 million bond proposal in November 2017.
In early 2018, the council adopted a series of tax measures and adjustments to pay for the project. The decision to forge ahead led to talk of recalls, which ultimately were thwarted on legal grounds.
The council picked the park for the station because the city already owned the land and the park is also centrally located and outside the flood zone. City Administrator Adam Smee said in July 2017 that the location was chosen and plans for the building were drawn up before the bond election so the city could know exactly how much to ask of voters.
After the bond was rejected, Councilwoman Rosemary Siipola said in February 2018 the city wouldn’t be going back to the drawing board for a new design and location, as only the funding package was voted down. She said the officers deserved a safe, efficient space as soon as possible.
Mayor Mike Reuter said Wednesday the station is a long-term commitment and an example of the city investing now for future growth.
“It’s not easy or cheap but has to be done,” Reuter said.
Up for election this year are three council seats currently held by Siipola, Mike Dennis Langham and Mary Putka. Langham said he will not seek re-election. So far, three candidates have filed for his position.
Tanaja Gravina, who filed Wednesday for Putka’s seat, was an outspoken opponent of the council’s police station decision. She said Wednesday the project is one of the reasons she decided to run for the council.
“There’s been a long history of City Council members, specifically (those) up for election, doing what they deemed what is in our best interest ... whether we like it or not,” she said.
Gravina said she thinks the controversy over the station plays into why her fellow challengers are running.
“We need some change,” she said. “All of us just want to represent ... the people of this town.”
Putka has filed for re-election.
Jon Stanfill, who filed for Langham’s position, said the council had to make a “hard call” about the police station. He said he wasn’t sure there was a perfect place for it, but he is impressed with the finished facility.
“We need a positive vision moving forward,” Stanfill said. “I don’t want us to get stuck in rehashing debate over police station. I’m worried that’s what some of the impetus may be, not that we should forget struggle we’ve worked through, but we can’t let it hold us back.”
Sara Hutchinson and Wendy Conradi also filed for Langham’s seat.
Hutchinson Wednesday did not mention the police station specifically, but said she decided to run because of decisions that the current administration has made in the last few years that a lot of residents didn’t agree with.
Conradi said she wanted to get involved in local government and believes it’s her responsibility to let citizen voices be heard.
Siipola, who also has filed for re-election, will have at least two challengers, Matthew Merz and Steve Kallio.
Merz also opposed the police station’s location and in early 2018 attempted to submit a petition for a new city ordinance that would prohibit municipal buildings from being located in public parks. He also called 911 during a council meeting and asked for law enforcement to arrest council members for violating the law. The incident began after the citizen ordinance was left off the agenda and the city attorney said that was not a legal way forward.
Merz said he did not have time to be interviewed Wednesday.
Kallio said he has been “disturbed” ever since the police station was voted down then “pushed through” by the council.
“I want to try to turn it back to where people actually have a say,” he said. “I’m not against having a police station... but to blatantly raise taxes and do what you want is not the way to do business.”