County Rescinds Gateway Center Advisory Vote, Backs Away From Center Ownership

A public advisory vote on the proposed Gateway Center in Aberdeen is off the table, as is potential county ownership of the building.

Proposed by Commissioner Wes Cormier, the advisory  vote was approved by the commissioners last month. It was headed to the August ballot. The commissioners voted to rescind the measure at this afternoon’s meeting on a 2 to 1 vote. Commissioners Vickie Raines and Randy Ross voted Aye to rescind. Commissioner Cormier voted Nay. (More on that in a minute. Don’t go away.)

Commissioner Vickie Raines initiated this morning’s discussion on the resolution to rescind. Explaining that timing was an issue, Raines noted that she wanted to address the topic today rather than next week when Commissioner Cormier will be unavailable. 

Stressing her personal support for the Center, Raines said she applauds efforts by the City of Aberdeen and Mayor Larson to revive the project “following an extremely difficult and lengthy recession.” Her remarks were made via a written statement Raines read and provided this morning. She read the statement at the afternoon meeting, adding  “including potential ownership and operation” to the final paragraph. See below for the full text.

Raines outlined her reasons for moving to “rescind the Advisory Ballot regarding the Count’s (sic) direct involvement with the (Gateway Center) facility.” She backed away from county ownership or operation of the facility, saying in part:

“At this juncture, I believe  it is up to Enterprise Center supporters, including myself, to champion this project and see it cross the finish line. ..

I am not of the belief that the Grays Harbor County Government needs to intercept the forward momentum, but rather team up and individually support the Grays Harbor Enterprise Center…, if we choose.”

Cormier said the reason he brought forward the advisory vote was because he doesn’t want the county “to own or operate the Center.”

Raines replied that commissioners are elected to do a job that sometimes includes making hard decisions “This is one of those decisions” she said, adding that the county already has responsibility for other facilities. She reiterated that there  are “too many unanswered concerns and questions” surrounding the Center. “I think we need to look in our own backyard and take care of what we have” she said.

Raines also commented that previous commissions took the route of “no maintenance” on county facilities. “We need to step up and address that” she observed. She emphasized that while she still supports the project, she’d rather step away and let the City of Aberdeen move forward with it instead of  the county.

Commissioner Randy Ross likewise voiced his personal support for the project, but “has some concerns” similar to those expressed by Raines. He said the county lacks the funds to repair its current facilities, citing the fairgrounds as an example. Regarding the advisory vote, Ross said county government is a representative form of government, not a populist one.

Cormier responded that the commissioners had to vote to approve a loan to address fairground repair costs. He disagreed with Ross’s fairground comparison, saying the fairgrounds are a county concern but the Gateway Center has never been a county project. “We didn’t start the (Gateway) project and we didn’t weigh in until it came to us” he said.

“There’s no reason why we can’t go out to an advisory vote” Cormier reiterated. “If the City of Aberdeen is selling this as a countywide project, we should seriously consider letting this go to the people” as an advisory vote.

Raines asked Cormier why an advisory vote is still needed if “I just agreed with you” that the county shouldn’t own or operate the facility? 

Cormier replied that different involvements with many different municipalities and stakeholders necessitates broader feedback. “When you have multiple jurisdictions involved, why not get a vote of the peopke?” he asked.

All commissioners agreed that the county shouldn’t own or operate another facility until a capital facilities plan is in place.

Approved by the commissioners on March 27, here’s how the original resolution authorizing  the county auditor to place an advisory vote on the Center on the August ballot reads:

Here’s today’s resolution rescinding the above and directing the county auditor to remove the measure from the August ballot:

Some confusion/a misunderstanding regarding the resolution was cleared up during the afternoon media Q and A session. 

At that session, Raines said she didn’t think an advisory vote was needed because “I’ve agreed with Commissioner Cormier that the county shouldn’t own or operate the facility.” She said the city should pursue the project on its own, “Let the city do what they want to do.” She agreed with Cormier that the county shouldn’t be “in the landlord business” related to the Gateway Center. “I strongly  support the project” Raines clarified, but said she doesn’t see how the county can assume ownership of another building when other county-owned buildings need attention and funds. 

Harkening back to last summer’s county buy of the  Byles building, which Cormier opposed, Raines said she now agrees with Cormier opposition to that purchase. The purchase appeared to be a good deal at the time in light of requirements for a third courthouse, she said. But she now agrees with Cormier per fiscal concerns.

Cormier later said he would’ve joined fellow commissioners regarding the resolution to rescind the advisory vote, but he misunderstood the morning discussion. He apologized for any confusion.”I don’t get involved in city business” said Cormier. “I don’t want to step on their toes. I only commented on the Gateway Center when it came to our door.” 

Ross likewise said he’s not a strong supporter of county ownership of the building, but would support some county involvement if the county uses the facility.