Kirwan wants Hermiston mayor's seat

<p>John Kirwan</p>

A persistent critic of Hermiston City Council announced his candidacy for mayor at the Monday council session.

John Kirwan, 37, a safety coordinator for Union Pacific at the Hinkle locomotive shop, frequently takes the council to task for decisions he said council makes without sufficient public approval, such as planning expensive upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant and giving $50,000 to Agape House’s new homeless shelter.

He is also unhappy with council handling of the Hermiston Police Association demand for an inquiry into Chief Daniel Coulombe’s management style.

Kirwan referred to council member comments shortly after they received the demand, in which some seemed to take Coulombe’s side. Mayor Bob Severson said he supported the chief “100 percent” and Councilwoman Jackie Myers publicly thanked Coulombe, saying, “You did exactly what you were brought on board to do.”

Kirwan said the council should have taken a more neutral position, or at least expressed some support for the officers.

“The police department might be doing this because there is a legitimate concern there,” he said.

Kirwan has yet to file his candidacy with the city of Hermiston. He said he is waiting for state filing paperwork to be ready in January. Finance Director Bob Irby said nobody has filed for the spring election, in which four council seats and the municipal judge position will also come open.

The No. 1 reason Kirwan wants to be mayor, he said, is to increase public participation in city government.

He said issues such as lawsuits should be immediately disclosed to the public; as an example, he referred to a tort claim of excessive force by police delivered to the city this week. As with other lawsuits, the city did not volunteer that information.

“The government is supposed to be representative of the people and transparent,” Kirwan said. “The citizens are the customers of the council.”

Mayor Bob Severson’s two-year term expires at the end of 2012. If he files for the election, Kirwan would first appear on the May primary ballot.

Kirwan is the vice-chair of the local United Way board of directors. A Hermiston resident for 11 years, he has yet to serve in public office. He is married to Rhonda Kirwan and they have three children.

Kirwan won, through his position at Union?Pacific, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration Governor’s Award for an outstanding safety and health leader. He also holds the American Association of Railroads’ Hammond Award for safety achievement.

Also Monday, the council approved a new overlay zone for downtown Hermiston. The zone applies to an area from Highway 395 to Northeast Seventh Street; from the highway to Northeast Fourth it radiates a block and a half out from Main Street. Past Northeast Fourth, the zone narrows to Main street and the alleys on either side.

The overlay zone is proposed to create a more inviting, pedestrian-friendly downtown. The zone allows uses not permitted in the city commercial zones. Upper stories, for example, can be used for residences, as can ground floors if the residence is not within storefront space.

Thirty percent of new building storefronts must be windows. And store entrances must be set back from the sidewalk, have an awning or some other distinctive feature. The zone also allows displays of merchandise, sandwich boards and outdoor dining on the sidewalk.

The city also cuts merchants a break on their parking requirements in the zone, to increase density. For example, they may use on-street parking as credit toward their parking requirements.

The zone is the first step in what the city hopes will be a redesigned downtown. Several public improvements are on the drawing board, such as extended crosswalks, accent-pavement parking and a “festival street” in front of city hall. Those improvements, however, require money that has yet to be found.

Mary Corp, owner of Kay C’s Art and Collectibles on Main Street, and rentals farther east on Main, is one merchant who supports the plan.

“I think this plan will allow us to have a framework to move forward,” she said.

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