Rose Street isn't only issue communication would help

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I enjoyed U-B Editorial Page Editor Rick Eskil’s Perspective page column Sunday discussing (and maybe having a little fun with) some of our tendencies in Walla Walla.

The proposed changes to Rose Street do seem reminiscent of the relatively short-lived change to one-way streets downtown from more than 30 years ago. But I think Rick missed an opportunity to point out these “flaps,” as he describes them, could possibly be avoided or reduced in the future.

It isn’t just the proposed changes to Rose Street that have recently raised eyebrows. I have seen numerous letters to the editor and heard countless conversations in the area about the proposal to annex a large parcel south of Walla Walla into the city limits, and even more conversations and continuing letters about the most recent bond proposal for improvements to Walla Walla High School.

Each of these proposals seemed to raise the ire of some, or a significant portion, of our citizens. Among the complaints were that we were kept in the dark, information was withheld, or our elected representatives or school or city and county employees “didn’t listen to us.”

Count me among the citizens who often don’t know where to go to get information, don’t pay attention perhaps when it is right in front of me, or was too preoccupied by my own daily activities.

And a week earlier in the Sunday paper, which included letters from citizens indicating the City Council was making changes to Rose Street without public input, was a guest column from the city’s Rose Street Design Team that developed the proposed changes and recommended them to the City Council.

Apparently a Transportation Benefit District Citizen Advisory Committee exists and provided input. Oops. Should we all have known about that committee? I didn’t.

I feel like the same was true for the recent Wa-Hi bond. There was a volume of information available at the School District Office for the asking, there were several open forums to answer questions, and a superintendent who was offering guided tours of the campus to discuss the needs.

And yet we still had numerous letters to the editor questioning the process and the proposal fell short of the necessary 60 percent for approval.

How can it be that citizens feel our representatives and regional employees don’t hear us, and at the same time those folks feel like we as citizens aren’t engaged early enough in the process?

I don’t have the answers, but I am happy to report there has been a dedicated group of citizens from throughout the region who have been working toward a solution.

A regional nonprofit organization, Community Council, has just completed the citizen-driven study of Improving Communications Among Citizens and Government.

The all-volunteer members of this committee spent 16 weeks gathering information about the topic and then 10 additional weeks analyzing the information gathered and developing recommendations for community action.

And the best part about Community Council is it doesn’t just put the report on the shelf. It commits two years volunteer effort to facilitate the implementation of those recommendations.

I look forward to reading the recommendations and then working with my fellow citizens of our region to implement those recommendations.

The report will be released to the general public at a luncheon at the Elks Club on June 19. After the luncheon, copies can be picked up at the Community Council offices in the Drumheller Building and will be available online at wwcommunitycouncil.org.

Please join me at the luncheon and then help Community Council work with our elected representatives and employees to improve communications. It is a two-way street.

And, as Rick Eskil pointed out, that’s the way we like them in Walla Walla.

Thomas P. Sawatzki is the immediate past-president and board member of Community Council.

Community Counci addresses city concerns between Burbank and Dayton and from the Snake River to Milton-Freewater.” For more information, call the Community Council office, 509-529-0119 or email info@wwcommunitycouncil.org

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