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Soapbox-type speeches bookend Sunnyside Council meeting

Two extraordinary speeches were presented at the Sunnyside City Council last night, one by a citizen at the beginning of the meeting and the other by a councilman at the end.

Former councilman Jim Stevens spoke for six minutes at the beginning of the meeting during time allotted for citizen comments.

Stevens spoke about the transitions within the city of Sunnyside over the past years and said the city is going through another transition with regards to the city manager and police chief positions.

"During the past 10 years we've seen city managers come and go, we've seen the violence of crime and terrorism of gangs increase," Stevens said.

"We have cruised along in ignorance as our city coffers are being depleted and our financial stability eroded by poor decisions made by previous council members, by deals employees cooked up in the back room and by corrupt city officials. As of today, many of those deficiencies have been corrected for the Good Ship Sunnyside," he continued.

He spoke of the progress with the budget and the decrease in crime.

"These accomplishments are a great start for Sunnyside to rise out of the ashes," he said. "But we need sound leadership to maintain what we have gained and to upright our reputation as we progress towards success. However, we must avoid succumbing to the same pitfalls that recently threatened to sink our ship."

He expressed concern that top positions in the city have no stable leadership. He described the city manager as the captain of the ship and the police chief as the most important position in the crew. He said people seem reluctant to come to Sunnyside because of the history of city managers and criticism of police.

"It would seem prudent for us to get on a steady course and not steer our ship into another storm," Stevens told the council, praising Interim City Manager Frank Sweet for his work.

But he expressed concern that personnel changes would disrupt the current success of both the city staff and police and suggested a freeze on hiring new staff until a permanent city manager is hired.

At the end of the meeting, Councilman Jason Raines brought out a city ordinance from the early days of Sunnyside and spoke for more than five minutes about gun control.

"Recent discussion of gun rights has prompted a public response from some officials within our state," Raines said. He mentioned that elected officials have come our both for and against gun control and commended Yakima County Sheriff Ken Irwin for his statement against banning firearms.

Raines brought up an incident in Oak Harbor earlier this year in which a councilman and a gun rights advocate had an argument, with the councilman losing and leaving the meeting.

Raines read the parts of the United States and Washington state constitution regarding the right to bear arms. Then he said attempts to restrict firearms have been going on for a long time, including right here in Sunnyside.

"Our city founders first regulated the rights of citizens to carry weapons within the first three months of the city's founding," Raines said. "Ordinance number 15 prohibiting carrying concealed weapons and fixing punishment therefore was passed in 1902. This handwritten ordinance was signed by our first mayor, James Henderson."

Raines noted that at the time Sunnyside also prohibited gambling, alcohol and dancing.

"Times have changed since then," he said. "And I'm not about to suggest that we take away our citizen's guns any more than I want to take away the dance halls or your beer. In over 110 years as a city our citizens have repeatedly demonstrated at the ballot box that they prefer more freedom over less freedom."

He then encouraged every citizen to apply for a concealed pistol license even if they do not intend to carry in order to demonstrate a support for gun rights.

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