E Street project is discussed as a political issue

Some Washougal council members express anger about not being invited to merchants meeting

An unscheduled debate occurred last night, involving Washougal Mayor Sean Guard and several city council members, regarding a recent lunchtime meeting about the “E” Street project.

Councilman Michael Delavar questioned why the city’s public works committee – consisting of Rod Morris, Molly Coston and Paul Greenlee – attended the March 14 meeting with “E” Street merchants.

In a March 9 email, Guard wrote to city council members about the scheduling of a meeting at Los Dos Compadres, at Seventh and “E” streets.

“The purpose of the meeting is to go over progress to date, upcoming schedules and time lines and a discussion of how we can further assist businesses while we complete the project,” he wrote. “I have chosen to hold this meeting at a restaurant in order to hopefully bring them a bit more business on that afternoon.”

Guard requested that council members not attend the meeting, other than Morris “who raised the issue.”

“If we get a good turnout of businesses, we will not have room for other folks,” Guard added. “If a majority of council were to attend, we would need to notice the meeting and any resulting notification in the papers may also attract residents. We just don’t have the room to facilitate everyone and be able to offer a meal service to help the restaurant.”

The merchants meeting involved Manager Cless Woodward, of Westech Construction Inc., and Project Engineer Wes Wegner, of Wallis Engineering, as well as Guard, City Administrator David Scott and department heads. Guard said each person who ate paid for his or her own meal.

In a March 9 email, Councilman Jon Russell told Guard, “This could be perceived as using city resources for Rod Morris’ reelection. I would reconsider your appeal for council to stay away.”

Last night, Delavar said he honored the mayor’s request to not attend the merchants meeting, but he would have liked to have received a note mentioning the change of plans to include the city’s public works committee. Councilwoman Jennifer McDaniel said she also would have appreciated an email update.

Guard said he asked the public works committee members over the weekend, to attend the merchants meeting.

Russell said the E Street project is also a public safety and community development issue.

“It was not a City Council meeting,” Guard said last night. “It is not a political issue.”

“You made it political by keeping us out,” Russell replied.

He said a better approach would have been to be “all inclusive and hold the event at the Washougal Community Center.”

During the March 7 council meeting, Morris talked about a meal he had eaten at Neder’s Cafe. At that time, he had heard the cafe was losing $100 a day since the E Street project began.

Morris expressed an interest in convening a meeting with E Street merchants and the project’s general contractor, as well as representatives from the city and its public works, fire and police departments. At that time, he expressed concern about the businesses in the construction zone losing profits.

The $8.1 million construction project includes the conversion of the road width to two through-lanes and a center left turn lane, and the addition of bike lanes and sidewalks from Sixth to 32nd streets. It is expected to be completed in August.