Senior Center Debate Turns Heated

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HCC 12-28-15
After a heated discussion Monday night, the Hermiston City Council voted to select the Ridgeway property as the alternative site for the new senior center.

A heated debate broke out at Monday night’s Hermiston City Council meeting during a discussion of an alternative site for the new senior center.

At one point, Hermiston City Councilor John Kirwan motioned to Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston to remove Perry Hawkins from the meeting after he called Mayor Dave Drotzmann “a liar” and became belligerent. He left hurling insults at the mayor before the police chief had to respond.

Hawkins accused the city council of failing to work with the owners of the Aspen property on Fourth Street in an effort to agree on a purchase price for the property. The Aspen site had been the Senior Advisory Group’s first choice to locate the center. The city made an offer of $200,000 for the property based on its fair market value. The owners, however, rejected the offer. Drotzmann said their counteroffer was well beyond the city’s initial offer, leaving the city with no choice but to turn to the Senior Advisory Group’s second choice – the Ridgeway property behind the library.

Hawkins listed a series of complaints, including that the city, early on, moved away from plans for a full-time senior center to a multi-purpose center; that the city forced the Harkenrider Center name on the project against seniors’ wishes; and that the city is now planning to locate the center on property the seniors do not want – despite the fact that the Ridgeway property was the committee’s original second choice.

Hawkins, however, said the seniors don’t want the Ridgeway property as an alternative site, but would prefer the site of the old Goodwill store. He accused the city of ignoring the wishes of the seniors.

“The seniors have been left out of the whole process,” he told the council.

Hermiston Parks and Recreation Director Larry Fetter told the council that the administrators of the $2 million block grant discourage grant recipients from using grant money to renovate old buildings because of unforeseen problems that often arise during the renovation process.

Hawkins accused the mayor of insisting the new center be named the Harkenrider Center after former longtime Mayor Frank Harkenrider. Drotzmann told Hawkins that he merely suggested that the committee consider it as a name. The committee eventually agreed to the name.

At one point, Hawkins turned to a person next to him and said, “He’s a liar. He’s a liar.”

At that point, the mayor interrupted the meeting to tell Hawkins he did not “appreciate being called a liar” and told Hawkins he no longer had the floor at which time Hawkins angrily left the meeting.

Drotzmann told the seniors in the audience that he and the council are not “fighting against you – we’re fighting for you.”

The mayor, clearly angered by being called a liar by Hawkins and being accused of working against the seniors, told them that he was the one who asked the city to get involved in helping build a new senior center.

“It bothers me that I’m being singled out as fighting you all the way,” he said. “You matter to me and I felt it was important to help in any way I could.”

The center will be built with a $2 million Community Development Block Grant that stipulates the center must be used exclusively as a senior center for the first five years. After the first five years, it will remain dedicated to seniors up until 3 p.m., after which it can be used for community events.

Hermiston attorney Sally Anderson Hansell thanked the city for its work on the new senior center and said she was pleased the Ridgeway site was the council’s alternate site. She said the central location will help draw people to the downtown area.

Mary Corp also spoke out in favor of the Ridgeway site.

“This site is the center of our city and city services,” she said. “We want our seniors to be engaged in our community and this site is compatible with that.”

Kirwan blamed the city’s inability to agree on a purchase price for the Aspen property on the owners’ “greed” and that the difference in the offer and counteroffer made purchasing the property cost-prohibitive.

“We don’t always get exactly what we want,” he said. “We have an opportunity to put $2 million into this. We didn’t get the Aspen site, so now we have to move on.”

The council voted 5-0 to choose the Ridgeway property as the new site of the senior center.