In Aberdeen and Hoquiam, council politics starts in the ward

Aberdeen and Hoquiam are each divided geographically into six wards

By Thorin Sprandel

For the Grays Harbor News Group

Every neighborhood has problems — broken streetlights, parking complaints and cracked sidewalks. Complaining about local problems to your neighborhood Facebook group may earn you some sympathy and a few likes, but how much does it do to fix the issue?

So where do you start when you want to get the attention of City Hall?

If you live in Aberdeen or Hoquiam, you might start with the council members who represent your ward. Did you even know you had a ward? If you live in either of those cities, you do. Each is divided into six wards and each ward is represented by two council members.

If you’re a voter, you only vote for candidates in your ward and don’t get a chance to vote for council candidates in other parts of the city.

So the first step to fixing your neighborhood problem could be as easy as finding out which ward you’re in and picking up the phone or writing an email. Jack Durney, who has the distinction of being the former mayor of both Aberdeen and Hoquiam, said he once got a call from a nurse at 5 a.m. who couldn’t get up the hill to the hospital because the snowplow wasn’t out yet. While he wasn’t strictly the correct person to call, the mayor called public works, the street was plowed, and the nurse got to work for her shift.

Calling your city council member is probably a better idea than waking up the mayor for people who aren’t sure if they should call public works, code enforcement or the police for their issue. “Wards in small towns like Aberdeen and Hoquiam are really just neighborhoods,” said Durney. Thus, council members are your neighborhood representatives in the city government.

According to Grays Harbor Auditor Joesph R. MacLean, the best way for registered voters to find out their ward and see who is running is to visit the state’s voter portal, After logging in with name and date of birth, voters can check their current elected officials to see their ward and its two council members, find a local drop box, check ballot status, update voter registration and view their voting history. It will also show the candidates and measures that will appear on their ballot in the voter’s guide.

Aberdeen and Hoquiam are the only cities in Washington that have 12-member city councils. Other cities, such as Pullman, have two members per ward but are divided into three wards instead of six. Seattle and Tacoma are divided into districts with one city council member elected per district, plus at-large council members that are voted on citywide.

In May, a resolution to reduce the size of the Aberdeen City Council failed to get the required nine votes to pass with only six council members voting in favor.

“If I could wave a magic wand, I would have fewer wards, three per city, seven members per council, including four elected at-large,” Durney said. “I think the ward system isn’t realistic anymore. You need people to get elected, learn how things work — that takes two or three years and then there’s turnover.” He said it was his experience in Hoquiam that “somebody gets elected and moves across the street, so they have to resign, then you have to scramble to fill the position – that isn’t good for the city.”

Durney said another problem with 12-member councils is people running unopposed because the candidate pool isn’t deep enough. This year in Hoquiam, five of the six council races feature candidates running unopposed. “The difficulty is getting people willing to serve,” he said.

While it’s unusual to have such a large city council, 16-year Aberdeen City Council veteran Margo Shortt said in her experience, “It’s good to have different viewpoints” when working on solutions to the city’s issues. Shortt has represented Ward 4 with three different members over the years. She said she doesn’t always agree with her current seatmate Karen Rowe who brings a “downtown influence” to the council as a business owner, but said they’re able to work together for what’s best for their ward and the city.

Durney said “It’s good to have a real distribution of ages, young people, old people, business owners, retired people, people who have college educations and people who don’t. I think policy turns out better when you have that.”

Rowe said it’s not easy to balance ward issues like sidewalks, parking and lighting with city issues like homelessness, the economy and keeping the city clean, “but you need to understand that when you choose to run for local office. This is what you take on. … You can’t put your personal beliefs in the way. You always have to look at what’s best for the city overall,” Rowe said. She added that she’s “an advocate for a smaller council.”

Shortt agreed that council members need to represent both their ward and the city overall. She said she’s received more than 20 letters and emails from residents about the homeless issue alone, making it the most commented on issue so far in her long tenure.

Hoquiam Ward 3 councilman Bill Nelson said for him “The ward is definitely first.” He said he’s only had residents call him twice in his 10 years on the council. Instead he gets more informal requests for code enforcement when he’s at the grocery store or the bank about issues like neighbors not mowing their yards.

“That’s OK. That’s small town,” Durney said.

Nelson said working with different Ward 3 seatmates over the years to get things done, including his next-door neighbor Shannon Patterson, has always been about “going toe-to-toe” and teamwork, citing a successful sidewalk program in which homeowners pay only for cement while the city does all the work to install sidewalks.

The worst example of teamwork Durney could recall was when one group of Hoquiam council members who tended to vote together tried to re-draw the Ward 4 boundary so longtime member Greg Grun would lose his seat. “Generally, people disagree on some things but are still able to work together,” he said.

Aberdeen is a first-class city as defined by Title 35 of the Revised Code of Washington, and was divided into six wards by the city charter which was signed in 1929. The current ward boundaries were established in the city’s code in 2002. Hoquiam is an optional municipal code city or code city for short. Despite the legal difference in the way the cities are organized, voters would have to pass a measure to reduce the size of either council. “The people have to decide,” Durney said.

Aberdeen City Council

The phone number for the City of Aberdeen is 360-533-4100. Extension numbers for individual council members and their email addresses are listed below.

Ward 1: James Cook, ext. 2317,

Ward 1: Tawni Andrews – President, ext. 2318,

Ward 2: Kathi Prieto, ext. 2320,

Ward 2: John Maki, ext. 2319,

Ward 3: Tim Alstrom, ext. 2322,

Ward 3: Jeff Cook, ext, 2321,

Ward 4: Karen Rowe, ext. 2324,

Ward 4: Margo Shortt, ext. 2323,

Ward 5: Peter Schave, ext. 2325,

Ward 5: Jerrick Rodgers, ext. 2326,

Ward 6: Frank Gordon, ext. 2327,

Ward 6: Dee Anne Shaw, ext. 2328,

Hoquiam City Council

Phone numbers and email addresses for council members are listed below.

Ward 1: Paul McMillian, 360-532-2774,

Ward 1: Dave Wilson, 360-500-6682,

Ward 2: Steven Puvogel, 360-268-3036,

Ward 2: Jim George, 360-798-9202,

Ward 3: Shannon Patterson, 360-591-5835,

Ward 3: Bill Nelson, 360-589-4940,

Ward 4: Greg Grun, 360-533-2784,

Ward 4: Ben Winkelman, 360-532-2466,

Ward 5: Denise Anderson, 360-537-4765,

Ward 5: Brenda Carlstrom, 360-310-3330,

Ward 6: Elizabeth Reid, 360-490-6907,

Ward 6: Dave Hinchen, 360-590-1136,