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Truman neighbors at odds over safety issues

March meeting heats up as groups wrangle over bylaws, control of neighborhood association

By Jake Thomas, Columbian political reporter
Published: April 9, 2017, 7:37pm
2 Photos
Neighbors from the Truman Neighborhood Association spent numerous hours volunteering to keep the area livable. But some residents say they should be doing more.
Neighbors from the Truman Neighborhood Association spent numerous hours volunteering to keep the area livable. But some residents say they should be doing more. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Sheriff’s deputies commonly show up at neighborhood association meetings to check in on public safety issues. But at last month’s Truman Neighborhood Association meeting, three deputies were there to keep the peace.

On the evening of March 23, roughly 150 people gathered in the American Legion post on N.E. St. James Road for a tug of war over control of the neighborhood association.

“It was bizarre,” said Christie BrownSilva, chair of the Neighborhood Associations Council of Clark County, who was there to help oversee what she said was an unusually heated election for the Truman Neighborhood Association’s council. “It was very stressful for some neighbors.”

Now, a splinter neighborhood group has emerged seeking to address public safety issues that they say haven’t been adequately addressed.

“Our perspective is that the current board does not encourage different views and does not take a proactive approach to issues in the neighborhood,” said Peter Hotrum, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than two years, and ran unsuccessfully for the association’s council.

Others in the neighborhood are feeling uneasy.

“These people have been pretty threatening and disrespectful just in the way they’ve been speaking with us,” said Debbie Nelson, a resident of the neighborhood. “I don’t trust them.”

Trouble in the neighborhood

Marilee McCall, Clark County neighborhood relations coordinator, said that none of the county’s 29 recognized neighborhood associations have any governing authority and instead give neighbors a collective voice organizing them around livability issues.

Hotrum said that last year he and other neighbors approached the association with his concerns over extreme speeding, dimly lit streets and crime problems. He said he wanted the neighborhood to be more proactive and suggested forming neighborhood patrols and encouraging neighbors to lease street lamp lights.

“They’ve made it evident they are not interested in these ideas,” said Hotrum, who described the association’s response as “unpleasant.” “They’re more interested in social events than real problems in the neighborhood.”

Barbara Cabe, Truman Neighborhood Association council chair, said that the association already has a crime watch program where residents report concerns to block captains who relay them to the sheriff’s office. She said the association has been attentive to other livability issues and she’s proud of the neighborhood’s clothing and food drives and volunteer work at Truman Elementary School. Hotrum said the watch program is too reactive and he doesn’t know his captain.

Cabe said one detractor, Jeremy Luciano, has been demanding and accusatory on the website Nextdoor. She said there was an “outburst” at a neighborhood meeting in October where he heatedly confronted her afterward. Luciano declined an interview request but wrote in an email that he shares Hotrum’s perspective.

“It’s no secret that my outspoken personality has caused the current board to really dislike me,” Luciano wrote on Facebook last month.

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Sheriff Chuck Atkins said he met with Luciano to discuss residents conducting night patrols. Atkins said he told Luciano that while he had the right to conduct night patrols, that approach wasn’t supported by the neighborhood association and could arouse suspicion from deputies.

Cabe said she and others have asked Hotrum and Luciano if they planned armed patrols and said they gave evasive answers. Neither responded to a follow-up email asking about the matter.

“We work with our neighbors,” said Cabe, who requested extra sheriff’s deputies for the March meeting. “And the frustrating thing is, they felt the need to take control over the neighborhood association.”

The Truman showdown

Hotrum, Sherri Stringfellow, Luciano and his wife, Tara, missed the deadline to appear on the ballot for the association’s council and showed up at the March meeting to run as write-ins. They brought along a set of proposed meeting rules, new bylaws for the association as well as Christian Berrigan, a local conservative activist who lives in Ridgefield, to observe the meeting and possibly help facilitate it. By all accounts, the meeting’s tone was contentious.

Nelson, a resident, said voices were raised at the meeting and the group mentioned filing a lawsuit. In an email, Hotrum denied that anyone explicitly said they’d file a lawsuit.

Ed Barnes, a local labor leader and longtime resident of Truman, said the group tried to “muscle” control over the meeting, which he said he pushed back against.

“I was not about to let them run over those people who have done all this volunteering on behalf of Truman,” said Barnes.

While Berrigan said that he was “probably more dramatic” than he should have been, he said the group was denied a vote on its rules and bylaws. He and Hotrum said the association’s bylaws are unfair and badly written. Berrigan objected particularly to how residents were allowed to cast their votes and leave before the meeting formally began and before the write-in candidates had a chance to speak.

“This is Castro Cuba elections,” said Berrigan.

Cabe said neighbors had never felt so threatened at a meeting before. She said that McCall and BrownSilva were called in to manage the election and count the ballots in front of everyone, a step she said the association has never taken before.

At the end of the night, the write-in candidates lost handily.

Two neighborhoods?

Hotrum said he wants to improve his neighborhood. He’s encouraging others to lease street lamp lights and is looking into a neighborhood watch. But he said that neighborhood associations have an established voice with three mailers paid for by the county each year. He said he and others are looking into setting up their own association and already have a website for the Truman neighborhood — which Cabe said is causing confusion.

But McCall said she’s been in touch with both sides and hopes they will reconcile.

“They can get more done together than they can separately,” she said.

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Columbian political reporter