Taskforce set to tackle controversial naming policy is delayed
Not enough Gresham residents have expressed interest in helping to shape policy
A citizen task force charged with aligning Gresham's three policies on commemorative naming and suggesting changes is getting off to a late start.
Due a lack of volunteers who are 'not exactly coming out of the woodwork,' an informal community discussion in a coffee shop scheduled for next week has been postponed until January, said Laura Bridges-Shepard, city spokeswoman and community outreach manager.
City councilors called for the task force this spring after proposals to honor two mayors sparked a firestorm of controversy. First, a movement to name Civic Drive in honor of former Mayor Gussie McRobert created such a dustup that she asked councilors to put the brakes on the process.
Renaming the street after McRobert, who served as mayor from 1988 to 1998, goes against a city policy that prohibits renaming streets to honor anyone who is still alive.
Then local Japanese-Americans groups objected to a proposed memorial at Main City Park in honor of longtime Mayor Dr. Herbert H. Hughes. Hughes was mayor from 1941 to 1956, a tenure that included an association with a group dedicated to stopping all Japanese residents from returning to their Oregon homes after being banished to internment camps during World War II.
Councilors pulled the item from the agenda, instead opting for a taskforce to create criteria by which citizens are recognized or honored by memorials.
'We clearly didn't have those uniform guidelines set … on the naming piece we needed a little work,' Bridges-Shepard said.
The taskforce would research how other cities handle naming tributes, bring Gresham's three naming policies into alignment and suggest needed changes to the City Council.
In her preliminary research, Bridges-Shepard has found that 'naming things after people is very problematic,' she said. Not only do longtime residents have long memories, they also can be set in their ways and resistant to any change, regardless of whom is honored in the process.
'And as we saw, the actual person can be controversial,' Bridges-Shepard said, referring to the proposed Hughes memorial.
So far, the taskforce includes Troutdale resident Sharon Nesbit, Outlook columnist and vice president of the Oregon Historical Society's Oregon Geographic Names Board; Terry Nishikawa, vice president of the Gresham-Troutdale chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League; and Sharon Wood, Gresham Historical Society president.
Gresham City Councilor David Widmark also has expressed interest in serving, but he can't volunteer as part of the commemorative naming taskforce until January, when a new councilor is sworn-in to take his council seat. Widmark is not running for re-election due to health reasons.
The taskforce was set to meet in October following an informal discussion at Cafe Delirium on Tuesday, Sept. 26. But the city has struggled to find more taskforce volunteers, with the exception of Widmark, who can't serve until January.
Instead of convening in October and reporting back to the council in December, the group will convene in January and report to the council next spring.