Four years ago we endorsed Erik Larson for mayor of Aberdeen. He’s bright, clear and forward thinking and not afraid to make decisions.
The community needed that then and it still does and that’s why we’re endorsing him for a second term.
But we have some reservations. Larson has been criticized for sometimes making decisions too quickly and for not looping in others who might have helped him make a plan and build the strategy and coalitions to carry it out. We think there’s something to that, but we also sympathize with him when he says some decisions can’t wait for the council to make up its mind.
But he absolutely does need to do a better job of looping in the council and the public and giving them the information they need and time to consider it. That’s been true with the homeless issue. At the same time, council members and stakeholders should know that they can’t complain if they aren’t engaged in the process.
That was abundantly clear this week. The council, hearing strong public opposition to Larson’s plan to open a bigger homeless camp on recently purchased city property a block south of State Street near Michigan, voted down a permit 10-1, with his opponent, Pete Schave, one of the loudest voices against.
For the record, just six weeks ago, the council appeared to be going along with Larson’s plan when it voted 8-3 to purchase the property. Schave was one of the three in opposition.
The public opposition probably tipped the council balance, but there is something to the notion that the council felt rushed and under informed. Larson likely would roll his eyes and that’s part of his problem. It did happen fast and the options the city was considering, along with some what-next scenarios, weren’t communicated.
Schave, has been a solid and dependable council member for 18 years in two different stints.
He’s a high-character guy, but he’s had a lot of time to show leadership on sticky problems such as homelessness and the effort to bring back downtown and he hasn’t been nearly far enough out front.
When he talks about priorities, he stresses the basics — dependable utilities, for instance. And he would be a strong ally for the police and fire departments. Larson is strong in those areas, too, but we think he has more potential to address Aberdeen’s longer-term needs.
Aberdeen has the feel of a city at a crossroads. There is positive energy and talented and creative people working on making things better, particularly downtown. But it has been struggling economically since the 1980s and it needs a mayor who can keep oiled the moving parts that could create a different looking future for Aberdeen.
Some of those parts include the coming North Side Levee and whatever solution is found for traffic and trains on the east side. Then there’s the Gateway Center, which could anchor the east side of downtown if it ever happens, and development of the Morck Hotel, which could anchor the west side, again if it ever happens. Those projects need nurturing if they are to reach their full potential. The same is true for the stretch of downtown between them.
There’s the coming development of a new Aberdeen Historical Museum. And the Historical Seaport Society is making progress on its vision for the old Weyerhaeuser mill site.
And now we have the real possibility of Aberdeen and Hoquiam joining together in some fashion to form a joint fire department.
That’s a lot of balls in the air.
And there’s the issue of homelessness. It isn’t going away and that means difficult decisions and taking action. Larson needs to build his relationship with his partners on the council and elsewhere and find the best solution they can to a problem that seems almost impossible to solve
That list is an argument for the city to get off the dime and hire a city manager. Aberdeen has solid department heads. But there are just too many moving parts to run a city without a full-time person in City Hall to carry out the policies and direction set by the mayor and council.
Four years ago, Larson said he wanted a city manager. He seemed to drag his feet initially and basically ran out of time this term. We won’t give him the benefit of the doubt next time. If he’s elected, he needs to get that done.
Schave has never been keen on hiring a city manager and that is short-sighted.
Aberdeen will be best served by Erik Larson navigating through all those challenges, and much better served if he’s working in partnership with his City Council and a city manager.
The Grays Harbor News Group editorial board consists of Publisher Mike Hrycko, Editor Doug Barker, City Editor David Haerle, Lifestyle Editor Kat Bryant and Vidette Editor Michael Lang.