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Small crowd at Spanish Town Hall gets drug-sniffing dog demo

“The drugs are under the stairs,” Cornelius City Council President Dave Schamp told Juan Gonzalez, development director for Centro Cultural de Washington County.

And sure enough, that’s where they were. When Forest Grove Police officer Micah Akin and his Belgian Malinois-German Shepherd, Stark, walked into the room, the dog trotted straight for the steps at the far end of the stage. Unfazed by the smell of fresh paint, Stark barked once at the steps and sat.

The drugs were real enough, but the scenario was staged for the benefit of the 10 Cornelius residents who attended the city’s 11th Spanish Town Hall Saturday morning.

Public officials in attendance included representatives from the Washington County Sheriff’s Department and Forest Grove Police Department, as well as Cornelius Mayor Jef Dalin, City Manager Rob Drake, and Treasurer Debbie Roth.

“The attendance today was about what we usually have,” Gonzalez said afterward. “But the encouraging thing is that different people come in every time. Someone is always asking questions or raising concerns, which is why we have these meetings.”

Gonzalez added that he believes folks who attend the town halls are sharing what they learn with other members of Cornelius’ Spanish-speaking community.

“Also keep in mind that average attendance here is larger than most Cornelius City Council sessions,” Dalin said during the meeting. “Unless we’re discussing an issue like Walmart, most people would rather be home having dinner with their families — or maybe just watching Dancing With the Stars.”

With the help of two interpreters, local law officers covered a range of issues, from the hazy particulars of legalized marijuana to a May bond measure that would fund an updated 911 communication system for fire, medical and police agencies.

They also encouraged residents to spread the word about the “See Something, Say Something” campaign.

“It takes teamwork to keep everyone safe,” Cornelius Police Chief Al Roque said. “On your side and our side.”

But a Cornelius resident named Ana brought up a cultural disconnect that seems to be hindering “See Something, Say Something.”

Through an interpreter, Ana pointed out that many Latinos don’t call the police because they are “afraid to give their name.”

“In the countries that many of these people are originally from, there just isn’t a trusting relationship between the people and government officials,” Juan Gonzalez said afterward. “We have great police and elected officials here and they really want to help. But with corrupt officials and police in many Latin American countries, it can be hard to get people to see that.”

For Gonzalez, however, the power of Centro Cultural to bring people together is part of his family legacy.

“Twenty-five years ago, Centro was the platform for my father’s American dream,” he said. Gonzalez went on to Georgetown University and, though he considered other seemingly prestigious careers, in the end returned to Cornelius to take a job with Centro.

“Now I get to help further that dream for other immigrants,” he said.