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Bemis declares Gresham 'poised' for greatness

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OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis enjoys a laugh Wednesday at the first State of the City speech at Persimmon Country Club.Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis approached his 2016 State of the City address by taking philosophy right out of “Mary Poppins.”

You know the saying: “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”

What started as a celebratory pat on the back for Oregon’s fourth largest — and rapidly growing — city transitioned to the bumpy road Gresham has ahead. And not just because of the state of its streets, of which Bemis said it’s “no secret to anybody in Gresham … that we have significant deferred maintenance issues.”

But first, the good stuff.

The 43-year-old, three-term mayor, Gresham’s youngest, broke up his more than hour-long address on Wednesday, Feb. 17, at Persimmon Country Club on Southeast Butler Road with short videos carrying the theme “Gresham going beyond.”

The videos featured highlights from the past year, when the city exceeded some of its leaders’ goals: attracting Subaru as the first major business at Gresham Vista Business Park, hiring a developer for the Rockwood Rising project; expanding youth activities including the free Summer Kids in the Park and Friday Night Basketball programs; establishing Nadaka Nature Park and the futsal fields at Vance Park; and bringing in services to the city such as the Boys and Girls Club, Friends of the Children, and Open School, and breaking the world record for chalk art at the Art Festival.

This year should be no different, Bemis said.

Friday Night Basketball will be expanded to include a Saturday night program at the new Friends of the Children building, and Hogan Butte will be transformed into a nature park.

“I have been speaking about this project for years because it really will, upon completion, immediately become one of the nicest parks in the entire region,” Bemis said, “with a staggering view of the Gresham skyline, Mt. Rainer, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and the Columbia River Gorge. I am thrilled to report that, at long last, the project is on pace, and we are scheduled to complete construction by December of this year, with an anticipated community celebration and grand opening to follow.”

Like last year, Bemis said the number one problem facing Gresham is its schools, which are lacking compared to other districts in the state.

“To my knowledge, not a single delegation has come to Oregon to learn about our approach to public education,” he said. “Don’t you think that’s a problem? Oregon has abysmal educational outcomes. There’s no other side of this coin and no excuse for failure.”

The challenges kept coming.

From homelessness to aging infrastructure, not having adequate state or federal funding is holding Gresham back, Bemis said.

The 250 or so attendees at the luncheon event applauded the mayor’s promise to bring in more solutions for people lacking resources who are sleeping on the city’s streets and sidewalks and in its parks.

“It is unconscionable to me that we let our homeless subsist in shantytowns,” Bemis said. “This is not the Gresham ethic. For years, Gresham has greeted this issue with compassion and solutions — in an environment short on both.”

Next month, with “modest” funding from Multnomah County, the city will invest in social work, vocational rehabilitation, clean-up and law enforcement services. The city will also partner with JOIN, an organization that works to alleviate homelessness through a housing-first model.

“Our approach to homelessness in Gresham is, and will continue to be, compassionate, but it will not be delusional,” Bemis said.

The Gresham Police Department’s Neighborhood Enforcement Team (NET) is adding an extra letter to become the Neighborhood Enforcement Action Team (NEAT) to expand its reach through community policing.

Two police officers are now dedicated school resource officers, tackling issues like truancy. In two separate instances, truancy investigations led to discovering the students had fallen victim to sex trafficking, Bemis said.

During his speech, Bemis paid tribute to the many other leaders in the city who make an impact on Gresham every day, and concluded his address with a story about Gresham police Detective Dan Marciano.

Four days before Christmas, Marciano and his wife and children were at a shopping center in Clackamas when they noticed some commotion in the parking lot. Marciano found a man in full cardiac arrest and dropped to the ground to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation. He continued CPR until medics arrived. The man in distress made a full recovery and was able to spend another Christmas with his family.

“This whole thing is all about helping each other when we need it the most,” Bemis said. “In a single word, it is my estimation that the state of our city is ‘poised’. We are self-reflective enough to honestly assess our gaps and needs and self-reliant enough to put in the work and continue to invest with optimism. We gladly answer our call to honor the responsibility of inheriting this great place and happily serve our shift as the stewards of this incredible community.”