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Residents question venue choice for mayor's speech

Editor's note: After the publication of this story, Mayor Shane Bemis announced there will be a second State of the City event at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17, at Gresham City Hall. This event will be free.

OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO - Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis will deliver the State of the City at the Persimmon County Club.The city of Gresham’s decision to partner with the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce and change the location and time for the mayor’s annual State of the City address has some residents scratching their heads.

This year’s address is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17, at Persimmon Country Club, 500 S.E. Butler Road. Traditionally, the city holds the address in a public venue after 9-to-5 work hours.

The city is asking residents to register before the event. There is a fee of $20 for those who want lunch. Free seats are also available.

Elizabeth Livingston, land use chairwoman of the Northwest Neighborhood Association, typically goes to the address event every year but can’t this time because of a scheduling conflict. She said she wouldn’t have paid for lunch even if she could go.

“I’m concerned about why they made the change,” Livingston said. “A lot of people couldn’t afford to go who might be interested in going. Affordability isn’t my issue, but it’s the principle of the thing.”

This is the first year the city has partnered with the chamber for the event. Last year, Mayor Shane Bemis delivered his address in the City Council Chambers at 1333 N.W. Eastman Parkway, where the city served free refreshments.

In 2014, the address was at Gresham High School and the year before was at Mt. Hood Community College.

Elizabeth Coffey, spokeswoman for the city of Gresham, said the change was made in the spirit of collaboration.

“Over the past year we’ve been working to strengthen our relationship with the chamber, and we thought that partnering with them at this event would be a good way to bring the business community into the event a bit,” she said.

But some residents were surprised at the departure from tradition.

“It just doesn’t seem community friendly,” said Lee Dayfield, a longtime Gresham volunteer. “I thought (Persimmon) was an awkward place to have it. The community is going to have difficulty getting there, and it costs money. You don’t have to pay for lunch, but then you have this whole section of people who aren’t eating with anyone.”

Carol Rulla, president of the Gresham Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, echoed the sentiment.

“I support the city working with all groups and trying to strengthen relationships, but I don’t think the State of the City address is the way to do that,” Rulla said. “It’s unfortunate

because I think the motives were good but the effect is negative in my eyes, and I think a lot of people will view it as exclusive.”

John Vandermosten, former chairman of the Gresham Citizen Involvement Community, also criticized the city’s choice of time and venue. He said he and his wife, Shirley, go to the State of the City address every year. He was unsure if he would pay for lunch.

“That’s a pretty expensive lunch,” Vandermosten noted. “The city council, by and large, is very, very closely connected to the chamber. If you want to see a member of our city council in public, usually you have to go to a chamber meeting.”

Vandermosten is retired, so the time of the event isn’t an issue for him, but he does think the time shuts out a lot of people.

“The city council, they’re elected by the 40 thousand some-odd voters, but it doesn’t seem like they really want to get connected with those people. They’re very oriented toward the business community.”

With no community center in the city, Mayor Shane Bemis said Persimmon Country Club was the only option to hold that many people for a lunch event.

“We partner with the chamber all the time,” Bemis noted. “They have a built-in lunch event, and we wanted to do a lunch State of the City and they were a natural fit.”

“This isn’t anything different than any large city has done,” the mayor added. “This is being held as a lunch event to see if we can get more people. I want everyone to see the State of the City.”

Lynn Snodgrass, the chamber’s chief executive officer, was not available for comment.

The entire speech will be recorded and posted online for those who can’t make it, and city staff will be live-Tweeting and posting highlights from the address on Facebook.

Last year, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales delivered his annual State of the City speech at the Portland City Club at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 30, at the Sentinel Hotel, 614 S.W. 11th Ave. Tickets cost $23 for club members and $30 for non-members. A similar event is scheduled for March this year.

In neighboring East Multnomah County cities, the events are generally held at public venues.

In Troutdale, the mayor’s State of the City address is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, in the Sam Cox building at Glenn Otto Park, 1106 E. Historic Columbia River Highway.

Fairview’s State of the City address will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 16, at Fairview City Hall, 1300 N.E. Village Street.

The Gresham mayor has delivered these annual speeches since at least 2004, Coffey noted, and the city tries to move the event around to different venues each year to connect with different groups in the community.

“We like to try something different and mix it up and see how that works,” Coffey said.

As of Feb. 4, more than 50 people had registered.To register for the event, visit greshamoregon.gov/SOTC/.