What began as a largely peaceful and amicable community discussion regarding a proposed severe weather shelter devolved into shouting and table pounding at the very end of a more than three-hour Longview City Council workshop Thursday evening.
Despite recent concerns voiced by some citizens about a proposed shelter in First Christian Church on Kessler Boulevard and its proximity to residential areas and schools, the council thanked the Kelso Longview Ministerial Association for trying to come up with a suitable shelter.
“It is my desire that we can as a council and as a city, get behind faith leaders and get behind those in the community who have stepped up and that we can be supportive of a shelter in a more acceptable location with lesser impacts,” Councilman Mike Wallin said. “It is my hope that we can work together with the other social services providers in the area to find an alternative location.”
However, multiple council members said they were frustrated that the Ministerial Association had not consulted them before voting to locate near Lake Sacajawea and a preschool and elementary school.
In response, Teresa Purcell read a text message from Ministerial Association spokeswoman Liz Kearny, who was out of town, saying council members Scott Vydra, MaryAlice Wallis and Wallin all attended a meeting with the group in June during which a proposed shelter was discussed.
“Not true. How dare you? More lies,” Wallin said.
“Mike wasn’t there. I was there,” Vydra said. “The clarification is they never said ‘Hey, we’re doing this. Do you want to be part of it?’ ”
Purcell responded that the group was under the impression that the council had been invited to participate.
“Why would you taint this process when we’re trying to build bridges?” Wallin said.
As more people from the audience of about 30 jumped into the discussion, Mayor Don Jensen started pounding the table to cut off debate.
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“I’m really upset with you and the way you’re acting tonight. None of us were told about it,” Councilman Chet Makinster said. “You’re trying to make political hay right here, right now, to make the council look bad. That’s B.S.”
Purcell said that was not her intention.
Eventually it was Councilman Ken Botero who brought the discussion back to order..
“This is not an argument. This is getting way out of hand. We’re here tonight to talk about finding a solution for the vulnerable. I don’t want to hear anymore pointing fingers,” Botero said. “Tonight we move forward with a positive direction. We’re going to do something damn positive to get this taken care of.”
Jensen then redirected the conversation by creating a committee to work on alternative locations. He appointed councilmen Vydra and Steve Moon, along with Kearny, a pastor at Longview Presbyterian Church, Frank Morrison, executive director of Community House on Broadway, and Jo Brewer.
Also during the meeting, City Manager Kurt Sacha said he made an “incorrect statement” to The Daily News last week when he said the city could reject the proposed temporary shelter on the basis that it posed a health or safety concern for nearby residents and students.
Under state and federal law, however, churches are granted significant authority when it comes to temporary shelters, Sacha said.
“I thought perhaps there were some regulations there that allowed us some leeway in terms of regulation of this site. I was wrong,” Sacha said.
He went on to say he has been talking to the Ministerial Association and he believes the group is open to a conversation about alternative locations.