Tuesday, April 29, 2014

I haven't got much to say...

I was expecting to be really really bored at the city council meeting last night. Instead...

Well, I was bored during bits of it, but never got completely bored. Several major events happened at the meeting.

New Police Chief... Finally!

First off, we swore in a new police chief, a position which had been vacant for more than two years. There was a collective sigh of relief that the position was finally filled. The ovation that he got was more for the position than any anticipation of how well he'll do the job.

Public hearing on Recreational Marijuana

Most of the rest of the preliminaries (the consent agenda, other awards, unscheduled public comments) went quickly because there was a very big crowd waiting for the main event: a public hearing on whether or not the city should zone for marijuana-related businesses. I was dreading the hearing. I've heard *all* the arguments, multiple times. I can recite most of them in my sleep. I didn't want to have to sit through another session of listening to the same old thing over and over.

To my surprise and delight, the mayor limited comments to three minutes each, then held people to it. He only had to cut off a couple of folks and only one speaker ignored him and kept going for another minute. As I wrote in my story on the meeting, 31 people spoke. Three of them got up again and said a few more words at the end when the mayor invited any further comment. Because the mayor was so good about keeping the comments limited, most folks made their arguments quickly and concisely. Although I heard the same thing I've already heard over and over, it was more tolerable than it has been in the past.

And I actually did hear two "new" pieces of information that had a slight impact on my own opinion on the topic. One was hearing the person in town who I think has been most vocally against marijuana offer ideas that, if a store is allowed, could reduce the impact of the store. The mere fact that she is willing to look at the other side and say, "How could we make this work?" instead of sticking to a complete "NO! NEVER!" position makes me feel more confidence in her viewpoint. It tells me that she's really looked at what could happen to the city if it bans the store, and understands just how impossible the job of the city council is.

The other piece... well, I'm still working on digesting whether or not it has any bearing on my opinion, which has pretty much remained the same throughout. It was a casual comment by someone against marijuana, but it struck me as getting to the heart of the issue: will making it legal truly have an impact on the black market, or will the illegal sales shift further to the people who really shouldn't be using the stuff yet? I don't think prohibition is working, no, but I'm not sure that Washington state's experiment is even close to a good solution, either.

Anyway, because I was mentally engaged I was able to get through the meeting without pounding my head against the wall. I did go through my remaining Wilhelmina Mints that some of the elderly Dutch folks in town gave me to help me endure council sessions. I may have to get some more of them. They lasted pretty much all the way through the public comments and kept me from mumbling under my breath, a good thing as there were a lot of people who might have heard me if I'd made an inappropriate comment. Yeah, I probably should get more of them.

So the council decided to postpone the decision, which was perhaps the best possible outcome for the city, although it means I'm going to have to cover it more. I think with the subtle threats of lawsuits and the not-so-subtle threats of being voted out if they approve it, waiting as long as possible is the only reasonable solution for the council. They need to see what happens to other cities before making this decision... and frankly, they have a lot of material to sift through as well, both pro and con.

After the council decided to not decide, the majority of the crowd left the council chambers. Good thing, as I was completely out of mints and afraid I was going to burst from the need to snark a little. I was able to snark under my breath for the rest of the meeting with no one near enough to hear it.

And finally... the Sinkhole of Downtown Sunnyside

There was some other routine-ish business, then we got to the sinkhole. Yesterday morning as I was finishing up my deadline stuff, one of the members of the production crew ran back and said a garbage truck had hit a power pole just behind the building and somehow gotten stuck. I grabbed my camera and rushed to the back. As it turned out, the power pole was secondary. The garbage truck had backed up onto the street, which had then collapsed under the wheels of the truck. I took several pictures, even heading close to the truck to see if I could figure out how deep the sinkhole was and maybe figure out what caused it. As I stood next to the truck, trying to look down the hole, the truck shifted toward me and I heard pieces of *something* falling into water. I backed up rather quickly. I was later informed that the hole was about 10 feet deep and partially filled with sewer water.

I spent a surprising amount of the morning outside taking more pictures and talking with people about the accident. The superintendent of public works told me to look at the council agenda. Sure enough, one of the items was a request to allow a sewer mainline repair. The repairs were scheduled to start the next day... today. Oops. "One more day," he said. "If it had just waited one more day!" He told me he had lots of luck, all of it bad. But it's not really his fault. They had no idea how bad the damage was or they would have shut off the street.

Here's a cell phone picture I took of the garbage truck in the sinkhole. Whee!
Co-workers got pictures and video of the truck being pulled out, a harder job than it could have been because the truck was mostly full of downtown garbage. While I was out that morning I saw three different tow trucks arrive to check out the situation and see if they could pull the garbage truck out. The crane took several hours to arrive once they called for it.

So last night we got to that agenda item and... there was a lot of wry laughter. Pretty much all the council members had already seen the sinkhole in the newspaper or on our website. Although they didn't enjoy spending more money than originally planned, they authorized the emergency funding.

The meeting was just longer than three hours, one of the longest since I started covering council. I had a morning event this morning, so I needed to get to work early to start writing. I ended up arriving just after the editor did, at about 6 a.m. It was a little too early... I was truly exhausted by lunchtime, especially after tromping around a farm with a bunch of seventh graders during time I normally would have been writing up the police logs.

Anyway... I guess I had more to say than I realized... Please note that all opinions expressed on this blog are mine and mine alone and have nothing to do with my employer. Yeah, it's on the sidebar over there, but when I'm talking about work I feel like it's a little safer to just repeat it again. This is a personal blog, has nothing to do with the newspaper (my writing here is crappier and typo-filled), and I'm writing about stuff that wouldn't go in the paper anyway.