Florence council considers new mural, commission vacancies

Nov. 23, 2022 - Contentious debates echo past controversies

Contentious debates echo past controversies

Nov. 23, 2022 - Florence City Council met for its main monthly meeting on Nov. 7, choosing during the meeting to cancel the one planned for Monday, Nov. 21. The council next meets for a work session with the Planning Commission on Dec. 5.

The first action item on the Nov. 7 agenda was to consider approval of Resolution No. 35, Series 2022, “a resolution for a permit to install a mural 424 sq. feet in size on the storefront of 1856-2 37th Street.”

The mural, which was submitted by local business owner Linda Wilcox, depicts an American Flag covering most of the front of Wilcox’s businesses, with a soldier kneeling with a rifle on the right hand side of the mural. 

In a letter to the council, Wilcox wrote, “The proposed ‘Linda Did it Deli and Espresso’ mural will only be in front of the deli, not the whole building. We will use high-quality paint and vinyl for our mural.”

Because it was under a porch, Wilcox said that damage due to weather conditions would be minimal, allowing for repairs to be made “promptly.”

“The reason for this mural is, for one, my father and my brother, who have both passed, were in the Army,” Wilcox wrote. “I was always raised to look up to all veterans. So when I decided to open up a deli, I wanted to honor our veterans in some way.”

The theme of the new deli will be “Red, White and Blue,” with “tiles on one wall with our local veterans’ names on them,” she wrote. 

Proceeds from the tiles would go to local veterans. 

As for the mural, “Having the flag on the front of my deli will let the veterans know how welcome they are.”

City of Florence Assistant Planner Clare Kurth gave an overview of the mural, stating that it met all criteria needed for a mural. The staff recommended approving the mural, as it met all codes. 

Questions were opened up to the council, with Wilcox and an associate answering questions.

“I come from a family of vets myself. I appreciate what you’re doing, I really do,” Councilor Sally Wantz said. “I wonder if you’ve ever considered the image on the right side, with the soldier kneeling. It looks like an AK 45, or a really big assault weapon. I understand the military use — I do. But [with] what’s going on in the country right now, I looked at that rifle, and I wondered if you would consider some other image besides the rifle.”

Wilcox responded, “Absolutely, yes. We’ve had a couple of people address that. We just wanted something on this, the mural. But there’s many, many things that we can use.”

“I really appreciate you considering that, thank you,” Wantz said.  

Councilor and Mayor-Elect Rob Ward said the mural was a great idea and looked forward to seeing it. 

“If they change a portion of the mural that is being presented, does that require them having to come to us again? Or do they have the flexibility to do that?” he asked. He later clarified, “I don’t want to have to have them come back.”

Kurth responded that in phone conversations with Wilcox, “There was a discussion to make sure that the image was not copyrighted, and that if we’re running into issues with that, it might change slightly. So I think that was actually already written into the findings. And it might change slightly, but it would still continue to be a silhouette of a soldier.”

The public hearing was closed.

“We have a resolution on the floor for a permit to install as described — as presented in the staff presentation,” Mayor Joe Henry said. “If you wish to alter that, we need to make an amendment to that resolution by the council.”

“Based on the fact that Linda has indicated they’re looking at other images, this wasn’t meant to be the only image. It was more of a representation,” Wantz said.  

Henry stressed that a resolution would be the design “as presented.”

“I can’t agree with that — I don’t think she’s even agreeing to that,” Wantz said.

Councilor Bill Meyer said that he was comfortable with the image, and that, “I have a difficult time imagining how you could strongly convey that this was a kneeling soldier, with a different outline.”

“I feel like I’m a really bad person here for not wanting this particular rifle on the mural,” Wantz said. She offered an amendment allowing Wilcox the flexibility to change the image.

Ward, Henry, Meyer and Councilor Woody Woodbury did not second the amendment, and a vote was denied. 

City of Florence Planning Director Wendy FarleyCampbell then emphasized that giving too much flexibility in allowing changes could allow artists to go well beyond the scope of submitted designs. However, she stated an amendment could be done to allow Wilcox to only specifically alter the image of the rifle. 

“Well Mr. Mayor, I don’t have a problem with what was presented,” Ward said after FarleyCampbell’s comments. 

Meyer followed, “Nor do I. You know, Mr. Mayor, a soldier going to war is a difficult thing. The reality is a soldier going to war needs that weapon, uses that weapon — it does not trigger me to see that on there.”

Henry then called for a roll call vote on the resolution as presented, which was seconded. The mural was approved, “as presented,” with a 4-1 vote, with Wantz voting against. 

If Wilcox does decide to alter the image, she will have to resubmit and have the design reapproved. 

The second action item of the night was recruitment for the city’s Planning Commission, which now has two upcoming openings after the resignations of commissioners John Murphey and Ron Miller. 

According to Kurth, the city charter states, “The mayor shall appoint committees of a council provided by the council rules.”

When discussion on the matter began, Ward stated that the Planning Commission was “probably the second most important element of the city,” in terms of committees. 

“I remember when the council would interview people as part of the process,” he said. “I would hope that that would be a part of our recruitment process, to where we could have the opportunity to speak to whoever is applying at some point.”

Henry said, “I’m comfortable doing it without interviews. For the most part, these are people somebody knows — or that we know.”

Woodbury explained that often councilors give feedback to the mayor, “and I think that works pretty well.” But the process has been criticized in the past for its lack of transparency with the public, limited feedback from all elected officials and dangers that any mayor could use the appointment process for unethical gain. 

“My only concern would be, you have an application, but you don’t really have an opportunity to talk to the applicant, unless there’s an interview process taking place,” Ward said.

“You would like to amend the process, you can do that by making a motion,” Henry said.

Ward made a motion that “We have an opportunity for the council to have a brief interview with whoever the applicants are. We’re talking about committees where we would have four applicants for, I assume, two positions. That would be my motion.”

Meyer asked for clarification on when interviews could be held, but City Manager Erin Reynolds stated there was a short time frame between December and February on the current schedule.

“I’m slammed, I’m not going to second the motion,” Meyer said after checking his calendar. 

Wantz, Woodbury and Henry also declined to second the motion, and Ward’s amendment was killed. 

All five councilors voted to approve the city to begin recruitment, with no public interview process laid out. 

In other news from the meeting, Henry announced the city would become part of the Oregon Mayors Association (OMA) task force on homelessness, which was created this past May.

In a letter submitted to the Oregon Mayor’s Association (OMA), Henry wrote expressing support for the taskforce, and expressing interest in funding available to cities to help with the statewide issues with homelessness. 

He wrote that, “if funded,” the money would “provide meaningful solutions to this complex and chronic problem.”

According to Henry, the city could receive “somewhere in the $350,000” range in supporting funds. 

“It's been an issue for many, many months, even years, and the problem that we've had in the past, we didn't have the resources to deal with it,” the mayor said. With the money, “I think if we combine that with some of our own resources and volunteers, we can at least make a dent.”

Meyer called homelessness “one of the toughest issues that we as a city face,” and thanked Henry for working on the issue. 

In public comments, local climate activist Michael Allen submitted his seventh submission of a climate petition, which “requests that the city council produce a resolution that pledges to join forces with community, county, state and federal entities to address our climate crisis.” 

He added, “Now we further request the city council to designate a commission that includes a wide range of interested parties in order to develop a comprehensive climate action plan for the City of Florence.”

For the consent agenda, the council approved authorizing the city manager to enter into a fourth renewal of the existing agreement for a two-year period with the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce for tourism marketing, visitor information center management and events management services. 

Finally, Florence Police Chief John Pitcher received a round of applause after describing an incident officers responded do regarding a pipe bomb incident. The suspect, who had exploded at least one bomb, had threatened to blow up another at their household before officers were able to talk the suspect down. 

“Our officers did an outstanding job,” Pitcher said, later stating, “I can’t praise our guys enough.” 

For more information, visit ci.florence.or.us.