Rockaway Beach Planning Commissioner Speaks Out …

EDITOR’s NOTE: Thanks to Brian Halvorsen, Rockaway Beach Planning Commissioner for this insightful letter, that he will read at this evening’s Planning Commission meeting. As I’ve been receiving multiple requests from Rockaway Beach residents to “investigate”, here is an update of that process. Last week, I reached out to the Rockaway Beach City manager, and for the first time in my 40 years as a journalist, I was asked to fill out a “public records request form” to request an interview, and ask a few questions. I completed the form, and was then denied an interview, and my few questions were not really answered. The Pioneer will continue to review the issues and dig into the various issues.

Dear fellow Planning Commissioners and Citizens of Rockaway Beach,
The developments in recent months surrounding the lawsuit against the city by property owners at 211 S 6th St. have me troubled. It is not my intention to hash out that issue here as I believe this is not the place or time for that. But I feel compelled to reiterate the sentiments I’ve heard by members of the public that the city government and some city staff have left citizens in the dark, treated them with disrespect on occasions when citizens have contacted city hall for information and have fostered an overall hostile attitude towards the people of Rockaway Beach.

Two letters to the editor written by two different residents of Rockaway Beach were published on the Tillamook Pioneer and other local media. While the two letters had separate points, the overall thread was the same: they felt the city was not responsive to their concerns. That worries me so I’d like to take the time to lay out what I believe are the main issues facing our city.

● The city failing to follow statutory requirements. If a deadline is laid out by law, as it was in the case in the lawsuit with the property owners at 211 S 6th St., the city must respond before that deadline. We are not above the law and if the excuse is that the city is understaffed that must be immediately addressed by the city council.
● We must treat everyone with dignity and respect. If a member of the public asks for information, city staff has to be trained on how to make them feel accommodated, even if they can’t answer or complete their specific inquiry. Furthermore, the city needs a better and more transparent way of handling records requests. I believe charging fees for the copying of a small number of pages is ridiculous–even if it is the standard other nearby cities use.
● Better notice of public hearings. In March, I went to the post office and there was no posted meeting notice. At the park next to the Offshore Grill, the meeting notice was from November 2018. Cities like Manzanita operate their own Facebook page where they post meeting notices to their calendar. Where do people check more often, the city website or Facebook? We need to go to where the people are and we can’t just say that if people wanted to be better informed they’d work harder to find out. That sentiment, which has been shared with me by members of the city government, comes from a place of extreme privilege. I grew up in a household where at times both of my parents worked 10-hour days. It isn’t just as simple as if people wanted to know more they’d show up to city hall and ask. Many people want to stay informed, but have lives that make it difficult to find the time to be as involved in the city as we are as Planning Commissioners. But that doesn’t mean we should exclude them entirely. We need to make sure that everyone in our city from service industry workers to retired folks and everyone in-between have an equal chance to make their voice heard.

I’d like to finish by thanking the vast majority of city staff, especially our planning staff, who work very hard and face many challenges that the public doesn’t see. I don’t mean for this to be a rebuke of anyone in particular. I just believe that we all need to do better to make our city a more democratic and welcoming place.

Thank you,

Brian Halvorsen
Rockaway Beach Planning Commissioner, Position 6
April 23, 2019