Changing Civic Dialogue in Gladstone Now Reaching Some New Low Levels

Former Gladstone Mayor Wade Byers

Gladstone and its 11,400 people at the confluence of the Willamette and Clackamas Rivers in the heart of North Clackamas County is not what it used to be. The spacious home of the founder, Judge Harvey Cross, once considered one of the finer buildings in town, became a funeral home and is now housing Mr. Rooter, a sewer pipe cleaning operation.

Gladstone does have serious roots. It hosted the first State Fair, the first Clackamas County Fair, and the Northwest’s largest Chautauqua meetings, attracting thousands before 1900. We’re talking some serious roots here.

As the town has changed, so has its level of civic discourse. In 1896 it hosted a grand Chautauqua featuring famed orator William Jennings Bryan. Theodore Roosevelt visited before it was incorporated in 1911. By 1920 it had a population of 1,069 with basic employment at the mills in Oregon City and West Linn.

Those days are gone now. The mills are closed, the community is now famous for its auto row on historic McLoughlin Boulevard and its great fishermen’s hog lines on the Willamette River. But there’s not a whole lot going on. Unless you go to a city council meeting or follow city goings-on.

Wade Byers was Gladstone’s popular mayor for so many years he became an institution. But even institutions eventually change, and Wade was finally replaced by the voters in November, 2014. Byers was a popular, steady hand on the municipal wheel as he steered the city through change and growth.

Ever since then, though, little Gladstone has created some big controversy. The city library has been a real hot spot with some folks wanting it improved (for a substantial sum) and others suggesting it is not worth the money. Bond elections have come and gone, the county has gotten involved, challenges are ongoing, and feathers are ruffled.

None of which holds a candle to the latest imbroglio, where a losing city council candidate in the November election, Bill Osburn, is now leading a recall against two city councilors — Steve Johnson and Council President Kim Sieckmann. (Osburn ran and lost against another councilor, Linda Neace.)

At issue is a little piece of property which seems to have some confusing labels: It is a 10-acre city park, but it is zoned for commercial use — you know, like selling stuff or maybe a car repair garage, something a tad more crass than a nature park.

Actually the park is not really at issue: rather what Johnson and Sieckmann said about the property during a bond campaign which saw an 80 percent favorable vote for park money in November. It’s their words which have upset Osburn.

Osborn has accused Sieckmann, in particular, of making “slanderous” and “unethical” statements which tended to intimate the 10-acre park will likely be sold or otherwise changed from its current undeveloped state, a popular place for wildlife sightings.

Sieckmann denies the accusations. He is going to fight the recall, he said. Osburn, however, is not giving up. He has enlisted several volunteers from the corps of folks who campaigned for the park bond, no doubt including some members of the Friends of Gladstone Nature Park, proud preservationists all. Osburn says voters were misled.

What would Bryan or Roosevelt or Byers do? Two are long gone and the most recent local statesman, former Mayor Byers, who has lived in the area all his life, isn’t talking. Yet. Stay tuned for this one.