PORT ANGELES — With their replacements joining in applause, the four outgoing Port Angeles City Council members took one final bow this month.
Mayor Patrick Downie, Dan Gase, Brad Collins and Lee Whetham, whose terms officially end today, were recognized Dec. 19 for their years of service on the council.
Each received a proclamation lauding their commitment, service and dedication to the city.
City Manager Dan McKeen provided a 30-minute summary of the council’s accomplishments during the past four years, highlighted by long-range financial planning, priority setting and major public works projects.
Large city projects such as combined sewer overflow and landfill bluff stabilization were completed on time and under budget in 2016 thanks in part to the outgoing council members’ leadership, McKeen said.
“This council made it clear many times that you don’t want to kick the can down the road,” McKeen said.
“You want to tackle things that affect us today, and actually affect our grandkids.”
Municipal water fluoridation was not mentioned in McKeen’s slide presentation or subsequent ceremony.
The issue of water fluoridation, a practice the city stopped amid controversy in August 2016, dominated public comment periods in many meetings and drove a political wedge between council members.
The Dec. 19 presentation focused on the positives, a theme that Downie seemed to relish.
“I want this to be known as the best small town in America,” Downie said. “I think we’re on our way.”
Incoming Port Angeles City Council members Kate Dexter, Mike French, Jim Moran and Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin will be sworn in at 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
A brief reception will be held after the swearing-in ceremony and before the 6 p.m. council meeting.
Dexter, French, Moran and Schromen-Wawrin were seated together in the second row at the Dec. 19 meeting. They will join Sissi Bruch, Michael Merideth and current Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd on the dais Tuesday.
McKeen, who became city manager in 2012, credited the current City Council for its fiscal stewardship and long-range financial planning.
He noted that the city’s $108.03 million budget for 2018 was balanced despite significant challenges such as the curtailment of the recently-purchased McKinley Paper Co. mill on Ediz Hook.
“We went through a long-range strategic financial planning process,” McKeen recalled.
“There were two parts to it. The first part involved policies, looking at policies that would help ensure that we manage our money well and we didn’t get ourselves into a predicament, hopefully, like we had in the past.”
The council adopted “forward-thinking” policies for debt management and raised the minimum reserve balance for the general fund from 10 percent to 25 percent of expenditures.
The city received a good credit rating in a recent audit based largely on its council-approved financial policies, McKeen said.
The city also gained efficiencies in recent years by consolidating misdemeanor prosecution with Clallam County.
The county now prosecutes misdemeanor offenders from unincorporated areas and the cities of Port Angeles and Sequim, resulting in budget predictability and prosecutorial continuity for all, McKeen said.
“And we’re not duplicating services from somebody, literally, that’s right next door,” McKeen said.
The current council set priorities and was able to stick to those priorities, something that past councils could not do, McKeen said.
“You made the tough decisions,” McKeen said.
“We ended up ensuring that the limited tax dollars were spent on those things that the citizens expect and value the most.”
Priority setting moved the city away from a staff-driven budget to more of a council-directed budget, McKeen said.
In a slide presentation, McKeen provided historial background on the landfill bluff stabilization project at the Port Angeles Regional Transfer Station and the decades-old effort to eliminate combined sewer overflows, or CSOs, into Port Angeles Harbor.
McKeen said the landfill project removed 380,000 cubic yards — or 25,000 truckloads — of municipal waste and asbestos from the edge of the bluff, preventing environmental contamination as the bluff continues to erode.
“This council, again, wanted a solution that didn’t kick the can down the road for somebody else so that our grandkids had to deal with it,” McKeen said.
The CSO project was the largest public works project in the city’s history.
During periods of high rains, stormwater would mix with septage in sewer lines and overflow the city’s treatment plant, contaminating Port Angeles Habor.
Since it was completed in 2016, the CSO project has prevented nearly 40 millions of untreated wastewater from entering the harbor.
The current council also invested in improvements to Civic Field, some of which were funded by grants and received volunteer support, McKeen said.
McKeen highlighted the redevelopment of the Port Angeles waterfront, which began as a concept in 1997. Phase 1 of the waterfront project was completed in 2014 and Phase 2 was finished in 2017.
“It’s something that adds vibrancy for our downtown area,” McKeen said.
“It’s something that’s starting to spur some additional conversations in development in the downtown area. But most importantly, it’s something that our citizens can enjoy as well as our visitors.”
McKeen pointed to other accomplishments from the City Council annual work plan, including cruise ship visitations, a new roof at Vern Burton Community Center, a Port Angeles Lefties use agreement, a consumer fireworks ban, the formation of a transportation benefit district and a recently-adopted blighted properties ordinance.
“This council helped lay the foundation for future councils,” McKeen said.
Gase said McKeen’s presentation left him “speechless.”
Collins, who worked in municipal government for nearly 40 years before joining the council in 2010, borrowed one of Downie’s favorite quotes to described his time on the council.
“I have to admit, being on the council was way cool,” Collins said.
Whetham said his term on the council was his second-biggest accomplishment to date besides raising two children as a sole custodial parent.
“This has been fun representing the public,” Whetham said. “I’ve tried my best to take care of the majority here.”
Whetham thanked city staff for working with him, saying he had “been difficult in the past.”
“But it feels good to me to represent the community,” Whetham said.
Downie became emotional as he reflected on his eight years on the council, saying he has been dealing with an illness for the past four years.
“I’ve never regretted a moment,” Downie said.
“I never tried to be a politician. I’m just me.”
Downie said he enjoyed being involved, caring for people and trying to make things better.
“Working with all of you in this audience day after day, week after week, for eight years or more, has been life sustaining,” Downie said.
“I wish you all well.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].