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Tigard mayor opens doors to dialogue


Tuesday's Town Hall is the latest in a series of gatherings

Tigard Mayor John L. CookWhen Tigard Mayor John L. Cook walked into the Tigard Public Library Tuesday night, he didn’t know if anyone was going to show.

The Town Hall meeting in the library’s community room was the latest in a series of attempts by the newly elected mayor to get people more involved in their local government.

Cook said he told councilors not to wear suits and to sit among the audience.

“I want the councilors to hear the citizens and citizens to hear the councilors,” he said. “I want it to be a dialogue. Whether it’s ‘Why are you building a Walmart?’ or ‘Why did we partner with Lake Oswego for water?’ I want the citizens to ask it, and the council to be free to answer.”

It has been four months since Cook took office in Tigard, promising to make himself and city government more accessible to residents.

In February, Cook, a lifelong Tigard resident and the son of former Mayor John E. Cook, started a series of fireside chats, grabbing a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop and chatting with residents about whatever happened to be on their minds.

Cook has drawn about a dozen participants to the chats, where they have covered an array of issues. Tuesday’s meeting was a “grown-up version” of those discussions, he said.

Cook plans to hold two town halls this year, he said. He hopes to turn the evenings into regular events every few months where residents can come and speak their minds outside of City Hall.

Anyone can attend City Council meetings and address councilors, but few show up to discuss issues on the agenda or raise new concerns, Cook noted.

More often, when residents have questions, Cook said they will call or email city staff, rather than asking their elected officials.

“I’d like to see the council more involved in those (conversations) and out in the community,” Cook said.

This kind of community involvement is important, Cook said.

“That’s how it should be,” he said.

The City Council has hosted town halls in the past usually centered around a specific topic, Cook said. What little interaction there was in the past, never attracted a big crowd.

Cook wants to change that trend.

“Then we’re inviting them wrong,” Cook said. “It needs to be more engaging. I don’t want it to be that way.”

Tuesday’s meeting filled the Tigard Public Library’s George and Yvonne Burgess Community Room.

The meeting was packed with Tigard residents and community members from nearby towns including Lake Oswego and Tualatin. It was rife with at-times heated discussion about high-capacity transit and a proposed Tigard Walmart.

Cook said everyone comes at the issues with a different perspective, and it’s important to hear everyone’s views.

“I can’t always solve their problems, but I can listen to them and let them feel like they have at least been heard,” Cook said. “After just about every one of (the fireside chats) I have done, I have gotten a letter from one of the participants saying thanks for sitting down and listening —nobody has listened to me before.’”

Cook’s next fireside chat is set for Thursday, May 9, at Beveland Street Bistro and Café, 7357 S.W. Beveland St., in Tigard, from 3 to 5 p.m. A second Town Hall has not yet been scheduled.