Situation in Port Orchard getting worse

Sound Off is a public forum. Articles are selected from letters to the editor or may be written specifically for this feature. Today, Port Orchard resident Dennis Xavier Goss weighs in on the recent Harborside Bar & Grill controversy and what it says about Port Orchard’s mayor and police chief.

Mayor Kim Abel, shame on you. We elected you to run and govern our city, not the police chief. Your recent recommendation to the liquor control board not to issue a liquor license to the Harborside Bar & Grill was done without personal knowledge or observation and was based upon the hearsay of our police department, which to many of the citizens of Port Orchard is highly suspect.

You were elected in hopes you would become a needed voice for change to a city that for decades was a small retirement community and was governed with an interest in protecting and serving the needs of our older citizens. That was a noble cause 20 years ago, but the landscape of Port Orchard has changed drastically in the past two decades.

The population trends in Port Orchard for the past two decades have moved substantially away from the senior citizens as the largest part of our population and very clearly towards our youth. Yet the geriatric mentality that was in place prior to Mayor Abel’s election is still prevalent today.

It is time to bury the past and recognize the realities of today: Port Orchard is a vibrant young city stuck in an old-town time warp.

There are no Mayberry RFDs any longer.

The old mayor and some of our current city council members (Bob Geiger, John Clauson and Carolyn Powers) are having trouble recognizing the change.

This group supported a strong and no nonsense no-bull approach to policing our streets and our Police Department was spoiled to the detriment of other critical departments and to the citizens of Port Orchard.

In fact, I think the Police Department feels they are legislators first and public servants second.

This town is dying and will continue to die if we don’t get off our collective butts and demand change. The population of Port Orchard, which is hovering around 7,910 people, cannot support the major facelift that the mayor and council have been attempting to do for the past two decades.

Our population is not big enough to sustain a major facelift.

Not once have I heard Abel talk about her plans for annexation or the need to build facilities for our youth. These should be the top priority for Port Orchard — not a proposed $1.3 million indoor gun range for our overworked 19 police officers.

I have heard Chief Al Townsend complain about losing officers to Lakewood because they could offer more money, more advancement and more prestige than Port Orchard could. The chief’s hidden message to us and the council and mayor was that the police department needs more money, more positions and more advancement opportunities.

The reality of our police department is that, per officer, they serve a smaller population then the average police department and our police department receives a greater portion of the city’s overall budget than most police departments serving a population our size.

In fact, I would venture to say each of our police officers has his or her own individual vehicle, which is unheard of. Heck, even the Mercer Island Police do not have enough cars for each officer, and I would dare say Mercer Island produces considerably more revenue than Port Orchard.

Yet when you read the papers, you would think our police department was under fire from hostile enemies. Maybe the enemies it’s facing are not emanating from the Harborside Bar & Grill or the skateboarders but from the antiquated ordinances in place in Port Orchard, as well as the antiquated thinking of some of our government officials.

For instance, Ordinance No. 1682 deals with skateboarding. This ordinance was put into place under the guise of public safety and no one could argue safety is not a legitimate concern.

Yet the police department uses this ordinance to chase our kids out of town instead of using their discretion and supporting good clean youth entertainment.

This ordinance may in fact be unconstitutional because it, in reality, is truly aimed at our youth, and laws prohibiting acts because of age alone are unconstitutional. Let’s face it, the majority of skateboarders in Port Orchard are under the age of 18.

Yet the city and the police department tolerate the indiscriminant riding of bicycles in places where skateboards are not allowed. And I would argue the safety concerns of a pedestrian colliding with a bicycle nine out of 10 times would be at least five times more severe then a pedestrian colliding with skateboarder.

The realities of the differences are clear when you compare the average age of a person riding a bike in Port Orchard to a person riding a skateboard in Port Orchard. The average age of a person riding a bike in Port Orchard where skateboarding is prohibited is 25 as opposed to the average skateboard age of 15.

Another ordinance that is antiquated is our noise ordinance, and the Harborside Bar & Grill is a good example that Port Orchard cannot have it both ways. For several months prior to the Harborside opening its doors to the public, city officials were discussing the need to bring some excitement and vibrancy to downtown and the need to fill the vacant storefronts in the downtown core.

At the same time, the Port Orchard Independent started to print stories about the future opening of the Harborside by new owners.

Our cty officials knew what type of business the Harborside would bring and at no time, as I understand it, did any of our elected officials visit the new owners of the Harborside or voice any concern with the type of business that would be conducted therein.

Chief Townsend, likewise, did not visit the new owners or voice a public concern with the type of business that would occupy Councilman Ron Rider’s old establishment.

It would seem a town in need of new businesses would welcome the opportunity to meet with its new revenue base via its elected officials and public servants and discuss the terms of their future and how to maintain a long-term relationship.

While I read with interest the stories about all the extra work the Port Orchard Police were expending having to babysit the Harborside, I decided to witness the interaction between the police and the Harborside on two individual weekends.

The people in the bar were vibrant, alive and younger than most citizens the police department is used to seeing. The town had a new vibrant pulse that would soon meet our content police department — and the rest is history.

The Harborside has had a few opening day jitters and miscues. Some could be attributed to the owners’ lack of planning, and some even the owners could not have expected.

The size of the void filled by the Harborside in Port Orchard was severely underestimated by everyone involved. But the need was clearly demonstrated.

Port Orchard citizens have been begging for changes. Our kids have written and told us numerous times there is nothing for them to do in Port Orchard.

Citizens between the ages of 21 and 50 have to go across the bridge or into Seattle to find the type of atmosphere that the owners of Harborside brought to our dying downtown core. The new owners spent more than $60,000 to create a Seattle-pub type feeling in Port Orchard, and the mayor and police chief took it away from us without our input.

The pulse of the city is kept alive only by a few new business owners that cater to the non-geriatric majority of the citizens.

Our public officials have not noticed, but our older citizens are dying and their numbers are shrinking, and these losses are being replaced by a younger more vibrant citizen.

Port Orchard’s voice comes from a non-elected public servant, Chief Townsend, and Mayor Abel. We did not elect Abel to maintain the status quo, but she seems very content to do just that when she makes decisions without public input.

It is time for Port Orchard’s leaders to start reviewing their ordinances that are pro geriatric and anti youth and to start the tedious process of revamping ordinances that may be unconstitutional because they discriminate against the non-geriatric generation.

As a citizen of Port Orchard, I would rather retain our youth, provide for their needs — which have been neglected for far too long — recognize the vibrancy inherent in our citizenry, move away from the geriatric mentality that has suppressed growth, review and revamp outdated ordinances, pay more attention to other city departments including an new Parks and Recreation Department, and demand the city — including the police department — become part the solution instead of standing in the way of progress, resting on their laurels and creating barriers to where Port Orchard needs to be.

If we allow the police department and the antiquated officials still in place to legislate bad policy, we might as well close the doors and give up.

We allow our officials to chase our kids out of town because they skateboard. The patrons of the Harborside rode Harleys and are now being driven out of town by our police chief.

If the city and police department want to really nip the problem at the bud, I suggest that they pass an ordinance outlawing strollers in the city.

Mayor Abel, we want change and not status quo. If we wanted status quo we would have re-elected Jay Weatherill.

Growth in downtown Port Orchard is not going to happen without a change in the mentality of Port Orchard officials, and growth in revenue to the city and our elected officials doing what we expect — leading.

If you keep closing down businesses that may or may not make the police department work just a little bit harder, you will not grow, and the only alternative to growth will be annexation.

We need both new businesses and annexation to survive and grow and, as of yet I, as a citizen you serve, am clueless as how you and your council are going to get us to the future. Your silence as our new mayor is as deafening as our past mayor.

When will we see change and when will that change be implemented?

I would like our mayor to reconsider her decision on not recommending that a liquor license be issued to the Harborside based on the hearsay of a suspect police chief.

It is time for the police department and mayor’s office to become an active, positive participant in our future. You need to become the solution to our problems instead of being the problems that keep us from growth.

Let us not forget we were all kids once, and that was a good thing. Don’t make our youths trip to the future a bad one.

Become part of the solution. I personally met with the mayor and offered my assistance and, like our past mayor, have not been requested to help.

We can no longer be apathetic and wait and hope something will be done. What made our country great in time of challenge was our ability to open our doors, come together and find positive solutions to difficult changes.

If there are other citizens that want to participate in change and meet your neighbors as well as help our kids I can be reached at gosslaw@hotmail.com or (360) 895-8529.

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