A discussion at last night's Sunnyside City Council meeting on plans to rename South First Street took a sharp detour that ended up with one councilman questioning the character of famed civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Councilman Bruce Ricks brought before Council last night the issue of renaming South First Street "Ronald Reagan Parkway," following the massive million dollar reconstruction project scheduled to start late this year. But on the same note, it was Ricks who brought out some fiery sentiments in the audience when he referred to Dr. King as an adulterer.
Ricks said he was proposing the idea of renaming South First Street in honor of the former president who died earlier this month, following a decade long battle with Alzheimer's Disease, as a fitting tribute to a past president he felt was a great man.
"I think it is a very good choice," added Councilman Don Vlieger. "I think it is the least we can do."
Vlieger said renaming South First Street in honor of the late president wouldn't affect very many people. Vlieger noted some of the accomplishments of Reagan, such as having a major part in ending communism, as a reason the city should move forward with renaming South First Street.
Mayor Ed Prilucik shared with Council some input he received over the weekend from Frances Sooner, who was representing a group of eight senior citizens. Sooner requested on behalf of the group that the city doesn't move forward with the proposed name change. Sooner suggested renaming a new development on Mabton Road in honor of the former president. The mayor said Sooner indicated to him it would be hard for senior citizens to remember the name of a new street.
Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar added some of the public comment she had received over the weekend. Aguilar said many citizens she spoke with were in favor of naming a street after Reagan, just not South First Street. Aguilar said she agreed with the idea, but just felt it should be in a new development.
Ricks said he also received comments from several people who were in favor of the project. Ricks also talked about some ideas he received about forming a list of city pioneers that can be utilized when the opportunity comes to name new streets or buildings. Ricks said he felt renaming South First Street would make a positive statement about the community and also be patriotic for the city.
Vlieger added his comments to the mix, saying nearly 20 people had contacted him who were in favor of the idea. Vlieger even suggested the possibility the city might be able to obtain a sign on the interstate highlighting the name of the new road.
Aguilar interjected and said she was very much in favor of creating a list of pioneer names to utilize later. She suggested adding such noted activists as Cesar Chavez and King. Ricks, though, fired right back, saying he wouldn't want King to be recognized because he is a known adulterer.
The statement brought the ire of Martin Campbell, a local resident in attendance last night, who popped up out of his seat and took the podium, telling Ricks he couldn't understand why he would make a comment such as that one. Campbell noted some of the less than spectacular things Reagan did as president, such as selling weapons to Iran. Campbell agreed that Reagan was a great American, but didn't quite know yet where his place would be in history as president. Campbell noted the accomplishments of King.
"He got us through a very terrible period," said Campbell, referring to the civil rights uprising of the 1960s.
Local resident Carol Stone, a regular at city council meetings, recommended the Council wait a year to consider renaming South First Street. She felt the city shouldn't do it now because it was reacting to the death of the president.
Another local resident in attendance last night, Don Outhet, said he felt the city should get the input of local residents before changing the street name, especially the people in the area of South First Street.
"Before you make a change, check with the property owners," said Outhet. "If they are in agreement with it, fine."
Mark Tucker of PW Pipe, who was at last night's meeting, said the only effect changing the street would have on his business would be financial. Tucker said the company has extensive amounts of letter heads and other items with their current address on it.
Prilucik expressed his reservations about renaming existing streets.
Vlieger disagreed with the mayor and some of the comments expressed during the discussion. Vlieger said history has proven Reagan as a great man.
"I am grateful to the man," said Vlieger. "It is good for the city. It is going to make a statement for the rebuilding we are doing."
In the end, the Council voted 4-2 to move forward with plans to rename South First Street "Ronald Reagan Parkway." Prilucik and Aguilar voted against the measure. Councilman Jim Restucci was absent from last night's meeting.
. Mike Kantman can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or email him at email@example.com