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Strong Mayor Killed: Yakima City Council says they won't be the ones to take the issue to voters
 Lex Talamo  / 

Backers of an effort to change Yakima’s system of government have until August to collect the 2,300 signatures needed to get the issue on the November ballot.

The Yakima City Council declined to use its power to send the proposed change to a strong mayor system to voters at its Tuesday meeting.

Yakima has a council-manager form of government, in which a council-appointed city manager governs the daily running of affairs.

In October, three private citizens — Yakima Valley Business Times Publisher Bruce Smith, former Yakima County Commissioner Mike Leita and former Yakima mayor Dave Edler — proposed the city switch to a strong mayor form of government, in which a mayor elected in a citywide vote would replace the city manager in overseeing the city’s affairs.

The council approved through a 4-3 vote to put the possible switch on the February ballot, but later voted unanimously to pull the measure when three groups sued the city over the proposal — twice. The two lawsuits took issue with technicalities over the ballot title and language, as well as the timing of the election.

State law allows issues to get onto ballots in two ways: either through a council referendum, in which a City Council approves adding the measure, or through a voter initiative, in which citizens must collect signatures equal to 15% of votes cast in the preceding general city election. One lawsuit noted that council referendums can only go before voters during a November general election.

The private citizens backing the change drafted the version of the strong mayor proposal approved by the Yakima City Council last year, trumping the version prepared by the city’s own legal department.

On Tuesday, City Councilman Jason White asked for council approval to direct city staff to work with the strong mayor proponents to craft a resolution and ballot language that could be finalized by March 20.

The council rejected that proposal with a 4-3 vote, with council members Eliana Macias, Kay Funk, Soneya Lund and Brad Hill voting against. White, Mayor Patricia Byers and council members Holly Cousens voted in favor.

The narrow decision left the matter for voters to bring forth the issue themselves through the initiative process.

Strong mayor discussion

Eight people spoke against bringing back the strong mayor proposal during public comment. Four spoke in favor, including Smith and Leita.

Opponents said there is no evidence Yakima citizens want the change, that any at-large election would disenfranchise Latino voters, and that moving to a strong mayor form of government would likely involve costly litigation.

Those in favor argued voters have the right to decide what form of government they want for the city, that it would be too difficult to get the measure on the ballot through the initiative process, that many other cities in Washington have a strong mayor form of government, and that threats of litigation shouldn’t be enough to stop the council from taking action.

The council adjourned for a 30 minute executive session prior to public discussion of the strong mayor issue.

Afterward, White said he had concerns about the validity of concerns brought forth by opponents, including whether a strong mayor would dilute the Latino vote and whether the proposal would fit within the city’s budget.

White and Cousens said voters had the right to choose their form of government. Lund and Hill countered that could be accomplished through the initiative process by collecting the needed signatures.

“In November, proponents didn’t have time,” said Hill, who voted in favor of a council referendum last year. “I can’t see why they can’t collect them now, besides (Smith) and (Leita) don’t want to do it that way.”

Smith said during public comment that the initiative process was “not as easy as it seems” and would be “too much work for too little reward.” He said proponents would need to collect 2,300 signatures. But to be safe, proponents likely would want to collect between 2,500 and 2,700 signatures, he said.

Smith said the council’s refusal to place the item on the ballot would not protect the city from lawsuits if it passes through an initiative. He also told the council it shouldn’t leave “someone else to do the hard work.”

Hill said proponents’ estimates amounted to collecting about 12 signatures a day.

Byers said she heard interest from voters about learning about a strong mayor switch while campaigning in her City Council race.

“People were interested in learning more,” Byers said. “I made a commitment to moving it forward. I am a person who keeps my word.”

Funk said she was against pitching the proposal to voters through a council referendum and risking litigation, as well as using city attorney time to work with proponents on the proposal. Macias shared concerns that any citywide election would dilute the Latino vote and that a strong mayor is unnecessary.

“Under good leadership, the council and mayor can have a strong hold on the city manager,” Macias said. “I don’t think we need a mayor that has a voice that’s stronger than the council.”

The city manager search

Hill said the council needs to take steps to hire a permanent city manager.

Byers said the council would have to be honest with candidates that a voter initiative could still change the charter. She said the city could either look to hire a permanent manager or extend Interim City Manager Alex Meyerhoff’s contract.

Meyerhoff signed a six-month contract with the city that ends in May. Hill asked if the council could extend it.

“We know him, and no one seems to have a problem with his leadership,” Hill said.

Funk asked Meyerhoff to oversee the search for a city manager. Macias asked if that approach would be a conflict of interest if Meyerhoff were interested in the permanent position or remaining for an extended time with the city.

Lund asked Meyerhoff if he is willing to stay with Yakima through the end of the year. He said he was. Byers then said it would be good to know whether he is interested in the permanent position, and Cousens asked that the discussion be postponed.

The council unanimously agreed to discuss the matter at a later meeting.

Living her history
Bringing history to life: Retired teacher to portray Harriet Tubman at Saturday program
 Tammy Ayer  / 

In the more than 20 years Evelyn Malone taught elementary students in Yakima, she enjoyed bringing history to life by re-enacting famous African American women.

Malone has portrayed abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth, civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, educator and philanthropist Mary McLeod Bethune, poet Maya Angelou and singer Billie Holiday. The jazz singer performed “Strange Fruit,” originally written as a poem protesting American racism and the lynching of African Americans.

On Saturday evening, Malone will celebrate another powerful African American woman with an incalculable legacy — Harriet Tubman. An activist, abolitionist and Union spy and nurse, the fearless woman born into slavery led more than 300 enslaved people to freedom.

“She was a woman of many hats,” said Malone, who will not dress as Tubman this time but will wear traditional African attire. “She was one woman and she made a difference.”

Malone will recite a short poem about Tubman by Eloise Greenfield along with a reading on Tubman during the Black History Month Celebration at Greater Faith Baptist Church, 816 S. Sixth St. The program begins at 6 p.m.

The event will feature Josephine Howell, a popular jazz and gospel singer from Seattle, accompanied by a choir of community singers as well as a select group of singers from Seattle. Musicians will include pianist Greg Jackson and organist Eric Silvers. Dee “Miz Dee” Rome will have an inspirational reading and Ester Huey will direct a short play highlighting a pivotal event in African American history.

Jordan Jerome Harrison, a motivational speaker, educational consultant and international youth development specialist, will be the guest speaker. A native of Chicago, Harrison is arriving in Yakima on Wednesday for his program at the Downtown Rotary membership meeting on Thursday, said Silvers, president of Downtown Rotary. Harrison also will visit the Central Washington University campus on Friday, he added.

“Jordan spoke at our district conference in Canada last April. I introduced myself and found out he was part of Dr. (Tyrone) Bledsoe’s Brother 2 Brother program,” which has a chapter at Central, Silvers said.

While the Rotary meeting is open only to Rotary members and guests, the public is encouraged to attend Saturday’s program at Greater Faith Baptist Church. Choir rehearsal from 1 to 3 p.m. that day at the church is also open, Silvers said. Harrison is a drummer at his father’s church and will perform with the musicians and singers, he added. The Rev. Robert Trimble has also arranged an exhibit of African American history with items from his personal collection.

“We just want the public to come and celebrate our Black History Month. It’s going to be a great program,” Silvers said.

Huey’s short play will highlight Rosa Parks, he noted. Huey has led and participated in many programs celebrating numerous African Americans over the years. They included “We Dream a World,” which she directed at the Capitol Theatre in 1995, Malone said.

“There were quite a few different portrayals in that work that I did,” she added.

A fourth-grade teacher at Robertson Elementary for more than 20 years, Malone retired in 2015. She began re-

enacting famous African American women as a teacher because students enjoyed seeing the historical figures as real people, she said.

Malone moved to Yakima with her family when she was 5 years old. Her father worked in a sawmill in Louisiana but lost his job when the mill closed. After learning about agricultural jobs in the Yakima Valley from recruiters, he brought his family to the Yakima Valley in the late 1950s for work in orchards, asparagus and hops.

The family had a home on South Sixth Street, where many of Yakima’s African American residents lived at the time. Like a number of their neighbors, they came during the Great Migration. More than 6 million African Americans left the rural South for the North and the West beginning with World War I. The Great Migration ended by 1970, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Everybody knew each other,” Malone said.

She grew up when Greater Faith Baptist Church was led by its founder, the Rev. Joe T. Denman. A towering figure in Yakima’s faith community, Denman was known for his message of working hard and making a difference. She volunteers at the church, led today by the Rev. Murray Bradley.

Malone doesn’t do re-enactments as often these days. But whenever she’s invited, “I’ll do it,” she said. “I’m kind of shy sometimes, but I’d still do it.”

Evan Abell / Yakima Herald-Republic 

Capt. Dean Ottinger, right, and 1st Sgt. Joseph Elsmeirat fold the American flag that covered Brian Winter's casket before presenting it to his family at his memorial service on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020 in Yakima, Wash. Winter served in the United States Marine Corps for 30 years before becoming a police officer with Union Gap Police Department and later the Yakima County Sheriff's Office. Winter served a 4-year term as Yakima County Sheriff starting in 2014.

Trump boasts of economic gains on eve of impeachment verdict

WASHINGTON — Standing before a Congress and nation sharply divided by impeachment, President Donald Trump used his State of the Union address Tuesday to extol a “Great American Comeback” on his watch, just three years after he took office decrying a land of “American carnage” under his predecessor.

The partisan discord was apparent for all to see as the first president to campaign for reelection while facing impeachment vigorously made his case for another term: Republican legislators chanted “Four More Years.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripped up her copy of Trump’s speech as he ended his address.

“America’s enemies are on the run, America’s fortunes are on the rise and America’s future is blazing bright,” Trump declared. “In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny. We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never going back!”

Offering the nation’s economic success as the chief rationale for a second term, Trump’s speech resembled a lower-volume version of his campaign rallies, offering something for every section of his political base.

But while he tweets daily assailing his impeachment, Trump never mentioned the “i-word” in his 78-minute speech. He spoke from the House of Representatives, on the opposite side of the Capitol from where the Senate one day later was expected to acquit him largely along party lines.

Pelosi, a frequent thorn in Trump’s side, created a viral image with her seemingly sarcastic applause of the president a year ago. This time, she was even more explicit with her very public rebuke.

Trump appeared no more cordial. When he climbed to the House rostrum, he did not take her outstretched hand though it was not clear he had seen her gesture. Later, as Republicans often cheered, she remained in her seat, at times shaking her head at his remarks.

Trump, the former reality TV star added a showbiz flavor to the staid event: He had wife Melania present the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to the divisive conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who recently announced he has advanced lung cancer.

He stunned a young student in the gallery with a scholarship. And he orchestrated the surprise tearful reunion of a solider from overseas with his family in the balcony.

Even for a Trump-era news cycle that seems permanently set to hyper-speed, the breakneck pace of events dominating the first week of February offered a singular backdrop for the president’s address.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who has presided in the Senate over only the third impeachment trial in the nation’s history, was on hand again Tuesday night — this time in his more customary seat in the audience. Trump stood before the very lawmakers who have voted to remove him from office — and those who are expected to acquit him when the Senate trial comes to a close.

The leading Senate Democrats hoping to unseat him in November were campaigning in New Hampshire.

In advance of his address, Trump tweeted that the chaos in Iowa’s Monday leadoff caucuses showed Democrats were incompetent and should not be trusted to run the government.

Among Trump’s guests in the chamber: Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who has been trying to win face time with Trump, his most important international ally.

The president offered Guaidó exactly the sort of endorsement he’s been looking for as he struggles to oust President Nicolás Maduro from power. Trump called Guaidó “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela.”

“Socialism destroys nations,” Trump declared.

The president entered the evening on a roll, with his impeachment acquittal imminent, his job approval numbers ticking upward and Wall Street looking strong. H e struck a largely optimistic tone Tuesday night, though even in past moments when Trump has struck a tone of bipartisanship and cooperation, he has consistently returned to harsher rhetoric within days.

In the closest historical comparison, Bill Clinton did not mention his recent impeachment when he delivered his State of the Union in 1999. In his address a year ago, Trump did remain on message, making no mention of how Pelosi had originally disinvited him from delivering the speech during the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history.

Trump spent much of the speech highlighting the economy’s strength, including low unemployment, stressing how it has helped blue-collar workers and the middle class, though the period of growth began under his predecessor, Barack Obama. And what Trump calls an unprecedented boom is, by many measures, not all that different from the solid economy he inherited from President Barack Obama. Economic growth was 2.3% in 2019, matching the average pace since the Great Recession ended a decade ago in the first year of Obama’s eight-year presidency

Trump stressed the new trade agreements he has negotiated, including his phase-one deal with China and the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement he signed last month.

While the White House said the president would have a message of unity, he also spent time on issues that have created great division and resonated with his political base. He attacked Democrats’ health care proposals for being too intrusive and again highlighted his signature issue — immigration — trumpeting the miles of border wall that have been constructed.

He also dedicated a section to “American values,” discussing efforts to protect “religious liberties” and limit access to abortion as he continues to court the evangelical and conservative Christian voters who form a crucial part of his base.

The Democrats were supplying plenty of counter-programming, focusing on health care — the issue key to their takeover of the House last year. Trump, for his part, vowed to not allow a “socialist takeover of our health care system” a swipe at the Medicare For All proposal endorsed by some of his Democratic challengers.

Many female Democrats were wearing white as tribute to the suffragettes, while a number in the party were wearing red, white and blue-striped lapel pins to highlight climate change, saying Trump has rolled back environmental safeguards and given free rein to polluters.

Several Democratic lawmakers, including California Rep. Maxine Waters and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, announced in advance of the speech that they would be skipping it, with the high-profile New York freshman tweeting that she would “not use my presence at a state ceremony to normalize Trump’s lawless conduct & subversion of the Constitution.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivered her party’s official response and drew a contrast between actions taken by Democrats and the president’s rhetoric.

“It doesn’t matter what the president says about the stock market,” Whitmer said. “What matters is that millions of people struggle to get by or don’t have enough money at the end of the month after paying for transportation, student loans, or prescription drugs.”


AP writers Darlene Superville, Aamer Madhani in Washington and David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report.


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