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A town in turmoil: Silverton sizzles in wave of political unrest

By Brenna Wiegand

At least the Homer Davenport Community Festival came off without a hitch after months of discord and confusion.

At the Aug. 8 Silverton City Council meeting, many community members were publicly praised and thanked for pulling together a fine festival, from various city staff including police and public works; the Rotary Club, who became the administrative entity for the event; and all the citizens who stepped in to make it happen, including Councilor Kyle Palmer.

However, the meeting got off to a shaky start when citizens brought allegations of public misconduct by Councilor Scott Walker.

Silverton Area Community Aid volunteer Rayann Alger testified that while the booth volunteers called out to passersby, Walker approached Alger and demanded to speak to her, though she stated she was not there to discuss political matters.

She said he then proceeded in what she considered a threatening manner, to tell her he didn’t appreciate being called out at a meeting, where Alger had told him something to the effect of “I’ll see two bags from you next month,” and Walker calling into question the integrity of the SACA board and its director, Dixon Bledsoe.

“During this entire exchange he was very close to me and very aggressive, not letting me get a word in or complete a sentence,” she said.

The following day, as Walker was collecting garbage near the booth, Alger said, he made a vulgar hand motion toward them – twice. That day, she said, the booth contained a 12-year-old girl.

Walker denied the remarks regarding SACA’s board members and director and that he made hand gestures. Council members tabled the issue in order to gather further testimony and consider whether to take disciplinary action.

Several SACA board members came to the table, castigating Walker for the actions he is accused of making.
And that was just the beginning of the heated meeting.

The unrest at last month’s passage of Concept 2 as the fabric of Phase 1 of Silverton’s Downtown Streetscape Enhancement Project remains at fevered pitch. The plan involves replacing the sidewalks, widening them to a uniform 13 feet – and replacing the existing trees with new trees.

On the heels of the 4-3 decision, Jim Squires submitted to City Elections Officer Janet Newport a prospective petition for recall of the City Councilors Bill Cummins, Randal Thomas, Judy Schmidt and Kyle Palmer who as Urban Renewal Agency members, voted in favor of the plan.

Newport approved the application on Aug. 10. Squires, who has refused to comment on the issue, now has 90 days after filing the prospective recall petition to collect 555 signatures for each counselor and submit the completed petition to Newport. A recall election would follow if the petition is completed and certified. The public officers whom the recall petition was filed against then have five days after the certification of the recall petition to resign or file a statement of justification.

There has been a swift outcry to the recall – as well as objection to posters and other literature many call “misleading and inflammatory.” Their contentions are expressed in a new Facebook page, “Silverton – Stop the Recall.”

Local architect and Silverton Planner Victor Madge cites a poster displayed in a downtown business window that reads, in part, “All Main Street Trees are Scheduled for Removal in the Near Future … Courtesy of City Council and Urban Renewal Members Bill Cummins, Randal Thomas, Judy Schmidt and Kyle Palmer” fails to tell the whole truth.

“The truth is that the existing trees are going to be replaced with properly sized, appropriately spaced trees that are part of a comprehensive design solution intended to endure for the next 100 years,” Madge said.

Besides the uprooting and replacement of city trees, many business owners are concerned that the months-long upheaval in that area will make staying in business even more difficult.

“Every week I hear of some business that is barely hanging on,” Michelle Fenney of Silverton Green Store said. Her partner Monte Bean concurs, saying in reference to the passage of Concept 2, “I just hope we’re (all) still standing when this is all over.”

Others are willing to risk it for the overall improvement of downtown – and at least one will not be sorry to see his tree removed whether it’s replaced or not. “Those trees cost me a lot of money; I don’t need one in front of my building,” Jeff Nizlek, chef and owner of the midblock restaurant Silver Grille said. “We’ve had to deal with an insect problem that’s cost me $60 a month for eight years – and now the tree covers about 60 percent of my façade. What’s the point in making improvements when no one can see them?”

Not only that, he said: The “inordinate amount of leaves” on his roof clog the gutters and have caused his basement to flood, damaging property stored there. He estimates the trees have at least tripled in surface area since he opened a dozen years ago.

“For me personally, I think the entire city council and especially the mayor tried to find out as much as they could and that there was a great deal of deliberation,” Nizlek said. “I’ve been waiting for things to happen for 12 years now.”

Over the turmoil is the continuous refrain for peace and civil cooperation between all parties involved.

“The tone of the most vocal locals … who participated in the meeting loudly and somewhat violently don’t represent the tone of most of the downtown business owners,” said Celia Stapleton who, with Renee Bianchi, owns Stone Buddha and The Purl District, both in the Phase 1 zone. While she is also dissatisfied with the input-gathering process, concerned about businesses being able to weather the lengthy destruction and construction process involved and skeptical the city will make a concerted effort to work around merchant business hours, Stapleton is repulsed at behavior exhibited by some of those who object to the city’s input-gathering process and the URA’s ultimate decision.

“People are threatening other people with bodily harm and flipping others off and just being pigs,” she said. “No one deserves that just because they disagree; not council people or business people or the general population. It’s disgusting.”

Silverton Chamber Director Stacy Palmer said the Silverton Chamber of Commerce doesn’t have an official stance other than “that we have participated in the process and will continue to advocate for the businesses on Main Street,” adding that includes seeing that, whatever project is undertaken, “the city takes into consideration its impact on businesses and take whatever measures possible to minimize it.”
Palmer is hearing from people how damaging a recall could be when it comes to promoting Silverton and attracting new business.

“Not only are we now recruiting for a new city manager, but if the recall is successful, what does that say to anyone who would potentially serve on council in the future,” she said.

Amid the stir, the search for the next Silverton city manager has shifted into high gear. They target Jan. 1 for the new manager taking the desk.

In a back-and-forth presentation/discussion with council shared by Waldron Managing Director Lara Cunningham and Senior Consultant Heather Gantz, it was determined within the next few weeks Waldron would formulate a profile of Silverton and what it seeks in a city manager. To that end, council brainstormed to provide them with a panel of about 30 people representing Silverton’s various entities or groups who deal with the city on a regular basis.

Citizens can visit www.silverton.or.us to learn about upcoming meetings, city news and events and more.

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