Washougal delays Children's Home action

Council to discuss subsidy for nonprofit, city budget Dec. 9

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter



WASHOUGAL — The debate over whether Washougal should give money to a nonprofit loosely affiliated with medical clinics that provide information about abortion elicited plenty of reaction Monday but little action.

In front of a standing-room-only crowd, the Washougal City Council voted 5-2 to postpone a planned discussion of the city's budget so members could discuss changes to the budget at their next meeting, scheduled for Dec. 9. Council members Paul Greenlee and Caryn Plinski voted against tabling the budget.


• What’s happened: City council members Dave Shoemaker and Connie Jo Freeman voiced reservations Nov. 18 about providing a $7,500 subsidy to Children’s Home Society of Washington, which has an office in Washougal, in the city’s 2014 budget because the nonprofit circulates a list of medical clinics that are not expressly anti-abortion.

• What’s new: The city council tabled a discussion about the budget at its Monday meeting in front of a full house.

• What’s next: Council will readdress the budget at its next meeting, 7 p.m. Dec. 9.

Until then, at least, the city won't take action on the budget, despite mounting interest.

One question in particular has marked a dividing line within the community for the past week: Whether the city should set aside $7,500 for the Children's Home Society of Washington, a nonprofit housed in a city-owned building across from City Hall.

The organization is a catchall of sorts, providing some services on its own — including food and clothing drives — and referring clients elsewhere for others.

Council members Dave Shoemaker and Connie Jo Freeman said they had serious reservations about subsidizing the nonprofit, in part because it provides clients with a list of medical clinics that are not expressly anti-abortion. At a Nov. 18 city council meeting, Freeman said it made no sense for the city to give money to an organization that sends people to a clinic that "doesn't care or take care of women and the unborn child in the fashion that should be done."

One of those clinics, Sea Mar Community Health Services in Vancouver, disseminates information, at a woman's request, about where to have an abortion. Shoemaker and Freeman have suggested the Children's Home Society instead only provide information about Camas' Community Pregnancy Clinic, a Christian clinic opposed to abortion.

Even though the city postponed making a decision on the budget, that didn't stop those in attendance from speaking their minds on what should be done about the Children's Home Society.

Dan Duringer said he toured the nonprofit with Freeman and came away impressed.

He said he opposes abortion but added he didn't think that was a major issue for the organization.

"I'd like to see the city support the center," he said. "On abortion issues, though, I don't think they help our community. I'd like to see them refer to our local community pregnancy center more. And I would like to see that somehow verified."

Marilyn Tyrrell, a regular attendee of council meetings, said she found the rationale for not giving the organization money "disturbing."

She said the purpose of the nonprofit was to provide resources to the city's neediest residents.

Washougal resident Ken Bork agreed with Tyrrell, saying he didn't think Shoemaker and Freeman provided a valid reason for yanking the city's subsidy.

But at Monday's meeting Freeman reiterated her belief that Children's Home Society should provide clients with more information about the Community Pregnancy Clinic. She said the clinic provides educational resources to pregnant women free of charge.

"They want the girls to be informed," Freeman said. "That's what we all want. Everybody in this generation says people should be educated and informed, so they can make a choice."

She added that the clinic informs women that if they choose abortion, "there's one dead and one injured."

Shoemaker has been at loggerheads over giving the nonprofit money in the past. He previously opposed a $7,500 subsidy to the organization last year, arguing that the city doesn't have the money to spend on social services. On his personal website, Shoemaker writes that charity is a "function poorly and inefficiently performed by government agencies and should be performed by the private sector."

But without the city's subsidy, the Children's Home Society, with state headquarters in Seattle, would have to contemplate scaling back its services in Washougal or stopping them altogether, its director Cathy Garland has said.

Washougal Mayor Sean Guard said if that happened, he would support a fundraising campaign to keep the nonprofit afloat.

Shoemaker said people's concerns were misplaced and they were upset "for nothing."

"I am not in favor of closing out (Children's Home Society)," Shoemaker said. "I think they do some good work in Washougal. I applaud them for that. They (also) do some things I don't approve of."

In the last week, since vocalizing his concerns, he said he's been on the receiving end of abusive phone calls and other mean-spirited messages, and called for civil discourse.

Some attendees of the meeting pointed out that discourse was cut short by the city council's tabling of the budget.

"I'd be glad to debate anybody, so long as I can have a civil debate on this, which is not what I've had in the past couple of days," Shoemaker said. "I will debate anyone, anytime, anywhere on the subject, as long as it's civil."