If you’ve been around here for a while — and I consider my nearly-10-years-in-the-valley “a while” — you know that the local news goes in cycles. Look back through the bound volumes of the Methow Valley News and you’ll see that valley institutions, organizations and personalities take their turns in the spotlight, then retreat into the background as other issues arise.
It could be the Town of Winthrop, the Methow Valley School District, county government, state and federal agencies, or Okanogan County Fire District 6: At some point, their actions generate more coverage and headlines because of the topics they are dealing with.
Lately, it seems to be the Town of Twisp that’s getting more attention. That’s not surprising. The town has been dealing with some pressing issues of intense public interest.
Let’s start with the town-owned Wagner Memorial Pool. There are few valley-wide attractions that are as popular and widely valued by people who live here. The pool needs to be replaced, and the town currently doesn’t have the resources to do that. Local nonprofit Friends of the Pool is spearheading plans to replace the pool, and to find ways to pay for it. The town’s involvement has been to keep the pool operating on a year-to-year basis, but that may change once the clatter dies down around the new civic building and regional emergency communications center.
That much-needed facility is finally breaking ground after nearly a decade of planning, public process and financing challenges. Last week, we posted some video footage and photographs of the old Town Hall being mercifully demolished on our Facebook site. That generated some contentious comments and a mish-mash of emoticons.
If you’ve paid any attention to this space, you know that I dislike the online commenting feature for a variety of reasons — mostly, I think it’s destructive rather than constructive, and a waste of everyone’s time. I’ve never allowed it on our website, and newspapers across the country have dropped the commenting option because it’s typically a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, conspiracy theory cesspool of rage and ignorance. So, do you have an idea how I really feel about it?
That said, we allow but monitor commenting on our Facebook page, where the comments seem to be generally less toxic, vicious and deliberately misleading than in other arenas. But not always.
Despite the temptation, there is nothing more pointless than getting into an argument with someone in the comments thread. Many of the commenters cannot be reasoned with or swayed by things like, let’s say, truth and rationality.
Yet, because I can, let me say a few things about the civic building comment stream.
The old Town Hall was not a treasured historic site but rather a crumbling wreck that had been dangerous and barely functional for years. If you were watching, you had to notice that it didn’t take much to knock it down. So, get over your misplaced nostalgia for a dilapidated building that desperately needed replacing. And, the new building is being financed almost entirely with state capital budget funds — not local property taxes.
There was also some suggestion that “real” Twisp residents do not approve of the new building, as opposed to the newer interlopers from the west side who, as one person put it, want to turn Twisp into Bellevue.
Puh-leeze. No one who has cruised both Bellevue and Twisp would ever confuse them. What’s more, the “real people” of Twisp, whoever they are, voted 70% in support of the mayor and incumbent town council members in the last municipal election. Hardly an angry uprising.
And now, bathrooms.
Really long story, very short: the town needs to provide public restrooms and has few options. The Town Council recently decided to re-open public access to the restrooms in The Merc Playhouse building. That’s when a simmering dispute boiled over in public.
Full disclosure: I’ve acted in and directed productions at The Merc and am a member of the Programming Committee that recommends plays to the board of directors. I also have covered the Twisp Town Council for several years. For a small-town publisher/editor, that’s not an uncommon mix of connections.
When I wrote about the council’s decision to re-open the Merc bathrooms, as a reporter it was incumbent on me to ask the Merc people what they thought about that. They were not happy, and said so.
There are no “bad guys” here. Honorable, responsible, likeable people who ordinarily get along well are currently sideways with each other on a tough issue with no easy solution. I think they’ll work it out, but expect more headlines while that happens. Then it will be someone else’s turn.