Who was that masked man, anyway? That’s what prudent residents are asking in the wake of Vancouver’s weekly council meeting July 19. That gathering was like a chapter of the old radio/television serial, “The Lone Ranger.”
Picture townspeople gathered at the city square, not knowing what direction to take on a crucial issue. The new city administration has been battered. Hardship budgets and massive confusion about the replacement Columbia River bridge have left citizens perplexed and confused.
A sinkhole has formed at city hall based on ignorance and the lack of leadership at the city helm. Where do we turn for guidance? Where is the leadership that promised us no bridge tolls if we cast votes for a mayor who ran on the pledge of fighting tolls?
The “Masked Man” — the Lone Ranger — always rushed in to offer protection from the bad guys and lead us back to the straight and narrow. Tim Leavitt was playing this role to get himself elected, but now has abandoned it. But he’s gone far afield and with the council members — all well-meaning souls — has confounded the whole issue.
Residents of Vancouver and the surrounding area — call them townspeople — share a burden of ignorance that must stop because it spreads confusion about the issue and distrust of the council.
Let’s back up to July 19: That meeting damaged the council’s reputation. A polite “thank you” (for your testimony) won’t do it. Erroneous statements must be corrected. Instead of calling, “whoa, Nelly,” Mayor Leavitt allowed citizens of the greater community (including David Madore, co-chairman of “notolls.com,” a political action group opposed to light rail and tolls) to spew out his group’s distrust to all who watched and listened, including the television audience of CVTV. The result was a corruption of the discussion by accusations of wrong-doing.
Protesters held “no tolls” signs, according to a Columbian story, applauded sometimes and were “clucking and hissing at some points.”
If you’re going to oppose something, you at least should have your facts straight. Most citizens who spoke that evening did not know what they were talking about. Most assumed the city had authority to reject or accept the $3.6 billion Columbia River Crossing project. Likewise for light rail.
Making matters worse
Mayor Leavitt didn’t help the situation by campaigning for election on a platform of “no tolls” and then reversing himself after the votes were counted. But he caused more harm by suggesting tolls be levied at interchanges in a five-mile stretch leading to the bridge from both I-5 directions. Editorializing the next day, The Oregonian said the Crossing Task Force should consider it. No, no, a thousand times no.
“It would cause congestion by motorists’ driving through city neighborhoods seeking to avoid the tolls on the way to downtown. It’s a stupid idea,” said former mayor Royce Pollard. “(Leavitt) is proposing an additional toll.” Leavitt should drop that idea, assert leadership and concentrate on damage control.
The “know-nothing” group must be challenged. They can’t be allowed to continue haranguing the council on false issues containing more paranoia than truth and setting up “straw men” that have no factual foundation.
A “white paper” on the toll issue and city’s involvement and authority should be prepared by the council and distributed citywide electronically, in flyers and every other means possible. A series of public meetings should be considered by the council at diverse locations in town.
Trust in the council is in jeopardy and must be restored. The city must reassert its leadership and point the way to future direction. This issue is not just about Vancouver and Portland. Its scope is the entire West Coast.
Ignorance will not guide this area to 21st century transportation thinking. Only when orderly planning is restored can the mayor climb aboard his white horse and charge into the sunset with a hearty, “Hi-yo, Silver, away!”