I’ve mentioned before that I’m buying a house in Centralia, and that means I will soon be paying property taxes to support several essential services.
Doing such will make me a stakeholder in the goings-on of the city, library district, fire and police departments, and schools. And speaking of schools, there is a very large issue that could crop up in just over a week that affects every taxpayer in Centralia.
The Chronicle reported today that 89 percent of Centralia School District teachers voted in favor of holding a vote to strike in eight days if a new contract with the district isn’t reached.
The teachers’ union and district are at odds on several increases the union wishes to receive, such as health insurance benefits and professional development days, and the district seems unwilling to provide. This is unfortunate because good negotiations require both sides to make concessions.
The frustrating thing is that we will never truly know specifics of what is being discussed because bargaining sessions are closed to the public, and state law allows this to happen. It prevents taxpayers, whose money is funding the school district in the first place, the right to observe for themselves what is going on, which is essential in negotiations regarding taxpayer dollars. The Chronicle did the best job it could to explain the situation and talk to people in person, but I can guarantee that anyone reporting on the issue isn’t welcome to observe negotiations for themselves, either.
We’re provided a glimpse into what currently governs the district and the teachers’ union’s relationship as the district has provided a copy of the contract currently in place. I’ve been reading it, and you can find it for yourself here. Grab a cup of coffee and read it all, or read a couple salient points below.
Page 4, Section H, “No-Strike” states: “The Association, its representative and individual employees represented by the Association are specifically prohibited from engaging in a strike and the District agrees not to lockout its employees for the duration of the Agreement.”
That’s fairly common language and is becoming more so nowadays even in private enterprise. So if teachers are threatening a strike, that must mean there is no contract in place, right?
Not so sure about that. The second paragraph of Page 37, Section A, “Status of Agreement” states: “The parties fully understand and agree that if a collective bargaining agreement settlement is not reached before the August 31, 2015, deadline, then the existing contract remains in force until an agreement is ratified.”
So according to the contract signed and dated Dec. 17, 2014, by the assistant superintendent, union chief negotiator, school board president and union chairperson, that contract is indeed still in effect right now.
If I’m reading the contract correctly, if the union does decide to go on strike, they would be breaching their contract. Plus, Washington state law prohibits public employees from striking; however, there is no penalty specified. The only true way to stop a strike would be to seek an injunction in county superior court, from my understanding — then it would be up to the judge whether or not to order teachers back to the classroom.
As a future property tax payer, this situation concerns me. We all must understand that there is a finite amount of money that flows into the public school system, set by an amount given by such entities as the state, local property taxes including levies and bonds, federal grants and so forth. Increases to some portions of the budget, if more money does not flow in, means cuts to another portion of the budget.
Now all this could be rendered moot by the union and district coming together to approve a contract at the 11th hour. If they do, they should be applauded for not disrupting the school year and causing dozens of parents to spend even more money trying to find childcare for their children.
This comes at a time during which there seems to be a general malaise in public engagement, and I used to observe this when I used to cover education as a reporter. Very few people showed up to the school board meetings. Even fewer engaged in public comment, which is provided at every regular public meeting of the school board.
This situation is happening in Centralia right now, but it should serve as a wake-up call to members of any community to get involved in their schools in any way they can. Volunteer, call a school board member and talk policy, donate some money to the classroom — there are dozens of ways to get involved.
Right now, we’re seeing what happens when enough people don’t get involved, and that’s the true tragedy behind all this. An informed and involved public is the backbone to supporting a strong community.
You may hear people say that if you don’t support the teachers who are asking for what they are asking for in the negotiation process, then you don’t support education or the kids in your community. This is a fallacy, because you can support and appreciate teachers while at the same time asking for fiscal accountability, i.e. being allowed to observe the bargaining process and form your own conclusions.
Not supporting education is to not attend a school board meeting, to not meet your teachers and to just pay your taxes and not be involved in the educational process whether or not you have children. A true supporter of education and the future of the community is active in the educational arena.
It’s my prayer that when all is said and done, a contract is approved that is fair for teachers and taxpayers alike, and that this entire episode shocks the public into becoming more proactive in their educational system.
Very few places in the Northwest exist that are easily accessible by vehicle that allow a sweeping 360-degree view of mountains, valleys, sunsets and more. One of them exists right here in Lewis County.
Burley Mountain isn’t necessarily a short drive from even the closest town, but the road there can be driven the entire way if you have a high-clearance vehicle. You’ll be rewarded at the end and greeted by an unassuming cabin of sorts that is begging for one to come inside and sit a spell while gazing upon the mountains in the distance.
The gorgeous landscapes that surround the cabin have led many people to write about their experiences and leave notes for current and future visitors to read. A podium of sorts in the middle of the lookout contains capsules of other people’s adventures.
After resting in the cabin for a time, step outside and walk around for a bit. You can see Mount Rainier to the north, Adams to the southeast, St. Helens to the southwest and, on occasion, Hood all the way down in Oregon to the south. Bring a camera with a zoom lens so you can get some great shots of Washington’s majestic peaks!
I could go on, but I’ll let the photos speak for themselves when describing the awe-inspiring beauty of the Burley Mountain area.
Even the trip there and back takes you through some neat stands of forest. Very little traffic makes the drive somewhat relaxing, if not for all the washouts in the road. If you’re in a passenger car, you’re better off hiking the remaining 2.7 miles in from the four-way intersection, though.
So how does one get there? Take U.S. Highway 12 into Randle, then hit State Route 131 south. When you come to a fork in the road, take it left and follow the signs into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to Cispus Center. Pass Cispus and then find the signs for Burley Mountain about a mile ahead. Take the trip slowly and easily up the mountain because of potholes, ruts and other things that make your car hate you. A Forest Pass may be required, FYI.
I am in the midst of the process of purchasing a home in Centralia, and it’s pretty exciting stuff. It’s exciting to be on the golden path to home ownership, taking control of my financial destiny and all that wonderful stuff, but there’s another element that is equally exciting: being a property owner in a city that is in the midst of some pretty big revitalization.
There are several reasons why now is the time to buy in the Hub City, aside from the simple fact that the real estate market is picking up incredibly quickly once again. But a plethora of factors should serve to increase the general livability and sustainability of Lewis County’s largest city, many of which will directly benefit property owners.
Here they are, in no particular order:
Long-vacant properties are being bought and renovated. The Wilson Hotel in downtown Centralia is the most notable example of this, with the adjoining annex having already been renovated and turned into luxury lofts. As I touched on in a previous post, this can only help the economic sustainability of the downtown core, which in the past had relied on bars and now antique shops to keep itself afloat. This is a sure sign the cultural center of Centralia is diversifying, and it will be great to see another hotel bring out-of-towners to our region to discover what we’re all about.
Centralia College is in the midst of a major facelift. The only college in Lewis County is growing, not just in students and programs but in footprint as well. Its campus remains tucked neatly into an area just west of downtown, but if you’ve driven through campus you’ve noticed a major change as the college has vacated a couple blocks of Washington Avenue, a previous major north-south route through town, and is building a brand-new student commons where an ancient health sciences building once stood. It’s an interesting addition and necessary as the college has added several four-year programs in recent years, part of an effort to provide affordable education to more segments of people living here in Lewis County. It’s working, too.
The Northwest Sports Hub is seeing a lot of action. A new 76,500-square foot facility that hosts a variety of indoor sports has brought a lot of people from out of town week after week, infusing cash into the local economy and ensuring hotels and motels in the area stay well-occupied. I don’t have any hard numbers, but the evidence is there in that the Harrison Avenue corridor is significantly more packed on weekends and you can walk into Safeway without really recognizing anyone except the folks you know that work there. The increased revenue, sales tax and hotel/motel tax benefits everyone as much of this money gets infused right back into the community.
A new I-5 project aims to eliminate traffic choke points. This is big. Anyone in Centralia knows how terrible traffic gets around the Harrison and Mellen interchanges with I-5 especially in the late afternoon and early evening. The project is ongoing now and it involves some serious reconfiguration of the two Centralia intersections, and while traffic still sucks now (especially on the freeway at odd times) we should probably just be patient and wait for it all to blow over. When it does I think we’ll all be the better off for it.
Got any other reasons? Disagree on any of the above points? Let me know what you think.
During my time as a reporter at The Chronicle, I was always fascinated with the continued revitalization of downtown Centralia. Though I’m not a journalist anymore, I still maintain that fascination and am eager to keep up with the goings-on there.
Downtown Centralia has seen a great deal of success in the past couple of years especially, and it just takes one drive along Tower Avenue to see what’s going on. The marquee on the Fox Theatre is a microcosm of downtown, itself being a brand-new symbol of a historic property in the middle of a giant overhaul. Further along the street, fewer and fewer vacant spaces exist and some businesses that just got on their feet a few years ago are beginning to emerge as mainstays.
It remains to be seen whether economic success is happening on a large scale, but the most promising sign is that reports of businesses in the downtown core closing are very few and far between.
That’s why I was somewhat surprised when I saw that The Station, a coffee bar in downtown Centralia, shut down abruptly the other day. Staff posted a note on the door that the recently renovated and re-branded coffee stop — I believe it was the first sit-down coffee lounge in the Twin Cities, and I don’t count Starbucks in that category — that it was closed and they thanked customers for their business.
I’m not exactly sure what caused its closure, partly because I don’t work there and also because I didn’t stop there much. Maybe it was the fact that the coffee shop market in Centralia is pretty well diversified already, and maybe it was product quality. I’m not sure, but if anything, I believe it should have been in prime position to succeed if for no other reason than its location directly across Tower Avenue from the Fox Theatre (which has become a huge draw in the past year especially with its twice-monthly movie series).
It’s interesting that I bring that up because I really have never said (and I was the business and economy reporter at the paper) in the three years I’ve lived here that any portion of downtown has been primed for any remote amount of success. The economy sucked a lot of the life out of downtown for awhile, unemployment rates skyrocketed and it was downright tough to generate any amount of money.
But three big things that have all taken place recently have turned that story around almost completely:
1. The Fox Theatre’s continued draw in terms of tickets sold, events held and general interest in the continued renovation
2. The recent sale of the Wilson Hotel and the restoration project of the hotel and annex with a pretty aggressive timeline
3. Centralia Square Ballroom & Hotel’s renovation as a hotel and wedding venue that is booked to the gills
There’s a common thread among all those: renovation. People have ponied up some serious cash because they have a vision that their projects can succeed, and they’re doing it for the right reasons: aside from the business opportunities, they’re all investing in the heart and soul of a town.
Back to the now-closed coffee bar: if someone were to come in and turn that into something unique downtown, it might take off. But it has to do one or both of two things: draw foot traffic and make enough of a profit to be sustainable. Those go without saying, for sure, but I want to expound upon the foot traffic concept briefly…
I’ve always personally noticed that places that do well and stay open might not necessarily be making a ton of money, but they’re drawing a lot of people for whatever reason. A popular example where I lived in Springfield, Missouri was an 80’s-themed arcade called 1984. They only charged $5 for someone to play all the games they wanted all evening, and it was for that reason the place was packed every time I went.
It was a great idea because the fact the place was full all the time would draw more people over to see what was going on. Activity is contagious.
I’m not saying someone should throw an 80’s-themed arcade in downtown Centralia — okay, maybe I am — but if you see my point, it would be really cool to see something become a center of cultural activity that could sustain itself.
My friend Lucy, who co-owns Santa Lucia Coffee across Locust Street with her husband Justin, chimed in on my Facebook wall the other day that she would like to see Centralia College open an extension of its library there. That fits in so well with the theme of being a hub of activity and even extends it by bringing an entirely different sector of the population downtown that otherwise might not go: young adults who otherwise wouldn’t take a second look at an antique shop or other business they might have just glanced by as they rushed past in a car.
The culture in downtown Centralia is varying, and it is interesting to note that low-income apartments and luxury lofts are within mere blocks of each other. I wouldn’t call it gentrification just yet, but even five/six years ago there were no lofts downtown. Now you are attracting a sector of the population that, hopefully, will stay downtown. But more on that point itself in a future post as I’ll explore the concept of new urbanism and how I think it could benefit Centralia.
This has been just the beginning of a bunch of unfinished thoughts and concepts I had in a reporter’s notebook as I had wanted to do somewhat of a story series on the revitalization of Centralia. I want to start a series on this blog about rethinking the culture of Lewis County’s towns as it pertains to growth, the economy and our area’s perception. This is just the start of that, and hopefully in future posts that will be coming along quite shortly we can facilitate some cool dialogue.
My next blog on this subject will pertain to some challenges downtown Centralia faces with being removed from the I-5 corridor and whether or not the new sports complex will actually be a benefit to downtown. Stay tuned.
Got any thoughts? Leave a comment and let’s talk!
Saturday marked the first time in my life in which I have been completely unable to respond to something someone said to me in a conversation.
Those of you who know me well know that I can usually talk to anyone about anything, and come up with pretty quick responses. Such was the case Saturday, when I volunteered at the Centralia Outreach Center’s monthly food pantry ministry, in which members of Destiny Christian Center, Bethel Church and other churches including mine team up to give food boxes to the underserved and needy in our community.
By 9 a.m., a line of more than 40 people formed around the Destiny building on North Tower Avenue in Centralia. Men, women, kids, teens, you name it — they showed up and waited their turn, and one of my responsibilities was to serve coffee to them with my friend Megan.
We chatted them up and I got to know a few of their names. Some didn’t want to talk, but most of them enjoyed a laugh or two. I was glad to help provide a moment of relief for people that were very obviously down on their luck.
After handing out coffee, I went and helped people carry food boxes to people’s cars in the Destiny parking lot. It was a chance for more conversation: one woman talked about car troubles and what she was doing to fix them, another man talked sports — then came the moment.
I began to carry a box full of food for a young man in a Seattle Seahawks sweatshirt. Couldn’t have been any older than his early 20’s. He had a cigarette in his hand and was generally friendly.
We walked down the sidewalk from the outreach center as I asked him in an upbeat voice, “Where are we going with this?”
I chose to spend my Independence Day evening in a town a short way off the beaten path. Pe Ell, Washington is not big by any means, and most people just pass through it on their way to the coast from Chehalis.
But tonight, the town banded together to put on a fireworks show that would rival those of larger cities. A friend and colleague of mine was part of the pyrotechnics team that put on the show — and I must say they did a tremendous job.
Thanks to the good folks at New Harvest Assembly, and all those who donated to make the show possible.
I’ll let the photos take it from here!
Just trying my hand at some more star photography in completely manual mode on my Canon Digital Rebel T2i with a Rokinon 14mm lens.
I shot this with a 20-second shutter speed at ISO 200 and f/2.8.
On a late November day in 2011, I took a phone call from a man in Springfield, Missouri, working as the digital content (read: web, mobile, etc.) manager for a television station there.
It was a call that would change my immediate future. You see, just a month or two earlier, I had felt the need to leave my job at The Chronicle, a newspaper in Centralia, Washington, and do something bigger and better that could enhance my career.
I answered the call. Two hours later, I wrote a resignation letter and told my friends and family I would soon be off to Missouri where I was going to work for a television station.
Maybe it was a need for validation. Maybe I sought effusive adulation. I don’t know, but at any rate, I was convinced a job at the #1 TV station in a city 10 times that of Centralia would validate my career and be a springboard for me to work in a similar capacity in Portland someday.
I moved to Springfield, and things were great…
…for six months.
My parents, whom I was close geographically to in Springfield, decided to move to Louisiana, where Dad got a job. My supervisor left, and even though I applied for his position, I was passed over for it (and to be frank, I never forgave the powers-that-be for doing so…again, read the need for validation above). Over the coming months, I felt relegated to a lesser role than I had known when I first arrived to the TV station.
The glass case that held my dreams shattered under the weight of something known as reality. It crashed loudly, shattered into pieces that could not be repaired, and left a mess in its wake.
I could never come to terms with the fact my job kept me behind a desk, in a building, doing something I increasingly did not want to do. I began to wonder why I moved in the first place.
I left my church in search of a new one, although the reason for that was not connected to my job at all — rather, that was a matter of personal need. But for most of 2013, I began to put my faith in Christ on a shelf of sorts, knowing that I believed in God and communicating with him at will, which became increasingly less.
An opportunity arose in mid-August (I think) of last year to go visit my parents in Louisiana. They had just bought a new house and were attending a small Assembly of God church in a town just off Interstate 20. Life for the most part was decent for them.
I visited my parents’ church and was instantly struck by the contrast between it and a megachurch across the freeway. Not even half the pews were full, the pastor himself led worship, and the building was aging. Yet I noticed something when an elderly man walked up to the stage and led those present in three hymns, one of which was “Revive Us Again.”
We began to sing.
Hallelujah, Thine the glory
Hallelujah, Thine the glory
Revive us again
The music wasn’t great, the singing may have been a bit off key, and there wasn’t anyone raising their hands — but this man stood up front vigorously leading the worship. I sang along, and in the middle of the song, I felt a sort of calm in my heart that I had not felt in awhile.
It wasn’t some major earth-shattering spiritual moment in which I started crying and fell to my knees, overcome with emotion. Rather, it was as if a bell resonated in my heart and I listened to its clear tone ring out above all the noise in my life. From that point forward, my faith in Christ was revived as I sang a hymn that in my mind had been tucked away for years.
I probed inside my mind and I realized the mess the dream that had shattered left was cleaned up, just as if nothing had ever been there.
Over the coming months, I began to foster an intense desire to move to the Northwest, a region I knew in my heart I was inexorably tied to. I knew I wanted to return home to the people and territory I felt dear.
A job ad appeared for a business and education reporter at The Chronicle — my former position before I left for Missouri. I applied.
And on a late November day in 2013, I took a phone call from a man in Centralia, Washington, working as the editor for the newspaper there.
That too was a call that would change my immediate future. But it wouldn’t change just that — my response to it meant a permanent change in one important facet of life.
By accepting the job, I acknowledged I would start over again in Centralia — and that I would forever forgo that dream of enhancing a career with the goal of climbing up the ladder. I knew I would instead have to focus on a rather rural area that I had a big love in my heart for.
In the months that I have been back, the Lord has been at work. I have returned to the church I attended before I left, I have made new friends in addition to connecting with old ones I love dearly, and God is opening doors to impact the small community in which I live through teamwork and vision.
Connecting with people in this community has been easier and more impactful than I could have ever imagined, and I have surrounded myself with people who share a similar passion for the people of the Lewis County area. They serve to encourage and invigorate me.
I saw the movie The Fault in Our Stars on Saturday, and it brought forth a salient point. Without giving too much away, one of the main characters reveals that they are scared of oblivion, stating that when one dies, they are largely forgotten, and that they wanted to make a big impact on people when they are alive and be remembered in a big way, by many people.
My desire had always been to do just that: to be a person who showcases his intelligence to many and solves some sort of grand problem in the world or invents some sort of product that changes people’s lives for the better. I had always wanted to make a grand impact on society somehow and deluded myself for many years into thinking I was going to do so.
But as in the movie, when the person’s love interest tells them that the person has their love and that should be enough, the perspective I used to have has similarly shifted.
The lights and busy streets in my visions have faded to a point in which they no longer exist. They have been replaced by rural roads snaking through farmland, forests, mountains and serene areas, with people interspersed throughout who just want to offer a friendly word or share about life as it is.
My desire today is to somehow benefit the community in which I am a part, and I don’t even need to play a grand role in doing so. I have realized that I can impact one person, who can in turn impact another and the result can be exponential because of many people working together.
And that’s the real reason I have come back to Centralia — not just because I love the area and I wanted my old job back, but to bless this area as part of a team that can change things for the better. I truly believe it is going to happen.
I am a blessed man, and I am given a tremendous gift in which I enjoy this life day by day with a renewed sense of purpose and faith.
I took a test shot of sorts using the HDR feature on my Moto X phone today. Some people love the camera, others hate it — but I found it to work rather decently for what I wanted to do, and that was to see if I could get a usable shot of a building that was in essence blocking the sun.
Everything looks better in black and white, I think.
During my time as a reporter at The Chronicle in Centralia, Wash., I covered several beats, but the most complex certainly dealt with business and nonprofits. My reporting would reach its climax in November 2011 as it was discovered $465,000 was gone from the Lewis County Historical Museum’s endowment fund.
Half a million dollars missing from a fund that people contributed to — and several donated to upon their death — is a big deal. I received a tip on this November 1, 2011 and went hard to work to get to the bottom of the issue.
It was alleged that the museum’s executive director, Debbie Knapp, made personal transactions using at least $137,000 of that money (“$137,000 Traced to Transactions Allegedly Made by Debbie Knapp From Museum Accounts,” by Christopher Brewer, The Chronicle, Dec. 30, 2011). It was money that should not have been touched by anyone, but also should have been overseen by a board of directors that by all indications did not do their jobs. Knapp has since confessed in court to theft charges and will reportedly spend a year in the Lewis County Jail.
In my reporting, I obtained documents that showed the financial state of the museum. These were difficult to access at first. A financial committee that had been organized to look into the finances had been assembled, and only after museum members voted in all new board members after my first report on the drawdown became public (“Museum Endowment Fund Loses More Than $450,000; Independent Audit Forthcoming,” by Brewer, The Chronicle, Nov. 1, 2011) did there begin any significant movement on figuring out how the money disappeared.