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News / Clark County News

Leavitt town hall turns rambunctious on tolling protests

Attendees vent anger on many issues; some say it crossed the line

By Andrea Damewood
Published: July 21, 2010, 12:00am

Anger, worry and concern were the common threads during the third town hall meeting with Mayor Tim Leavitt and the Vancouver City Council and constituents Tuesday evening.

The quarterly town halls, instituted by Leavitt when he took office, have changed since the first one in January. That one was a well-attended exchange of ideas. The next had a sparse crowd. The third, held at Fort Vancouver High School, had about 60 people with a litany of concerns.

Anti-tolling and anti-light-rail contingencies continued their active protest of Leavitt’s announcement that he had changed his position on tolling on any new Interstate 5 bridge.

Members of the crowd — many of whom attended Monday night’s city council meeting — booed, applauded and shouted questions over the speakers or politicians trying to answer questions.

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Anti-tolling advocates tried to boo Councilor Jeanne Harris away from the podium as she outlined different tolling options bridge stakeholders have researched. They called for her to sit down, and that they had enough of her.

“People needed to be civil, that’s all I ask for,” Harris said after the two-hour session. “I’m used to it, but it does scare other people who are here to speak.”

Jana Postma, 32, and Stacie Walczyk, 35, both of Vancouver, showed up out of curiosity and concern after reading about the city’s budget woes. They were taken aback by the crowd.

They described what they saw as “emotionally overheated” and “disrespectful,” although they also recognized how passionate some protesters are.

“I had a ton of questions, but I’d rather do it in a smaller setting,” said Postma, as Walczyk continued, “You even said, ‘Why would you wanna say something and have people jump down your throat?’”

Sharon Thompson of Camas, however, came to protest bridge tolling, and said the meetings are a good opportunity for people to speak out.

“I would describe it as adamant, even angry, that this project is being forced down our throats,” she said. “It’s a sign of frustration at more than just the city’s mayor. It’s frustration at what happening to citizens of this country, a feeling of helplessness.”

Others issues that came up were the city budget and the potential cuts to public safety. The east Vancouver train horn quiet zone was another hot topic.

People also spoke out against the lack of police response to burglaries and about road issues and layoffs of other city employees.

Though the tone was ardent, most of those left in the audience at the end of the town hall raised their hands to say they thought it had been a productive session.

“I think that it’s important for these types of communication to be open,” Thompson said.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com.