Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA CITY HALL – City Councilmember Susan Ornelas tonight proposed that the McKinley statue’s fate be put to a public vote. The suggestion opens the door to an advisory ballot measure or mail-in ballot on which Arcata voters could affirm or override the council’s recent decision to have the statue removed.
During Council and Staff Reports, Ornelas asked her fellow councilmembers whether they wished to agendize discussing "some type of voting system" on the matter. In a straw poll, Councilmembers Brett Watson and Michael Winkler immediately agreed, forming a council majority.
Ornelas defended the council’s Feb. 21 decision as “representative democracy,” and one arrived at after thoughtful consideration. But she said she had heard from frustrated citizens who felt that the council "didn't serve democracy."
"People want to be heard," she said. "This is a big issue."
Councilmember Paul Pitno, a staunch McKinley foe, opposed reconsideration. “Just so you know, no,” he said flatly.
Mayor Sofia Pereira agreed to agendize the matter. “The fun continues,” she said.
City Manager Karen Diemer said she will bring an agenda item forward, but that she hadn't heard any instruction to include language rescinding the council's 4–1 vote to remove the statue.
"That was was not my intent, and I don't intend to promote that tonight," Ornelas said.
She advocated for a "multi-tiered education program" for better appreciating local history.
Ornelas likened re-examining the statue matter to the study of alternatives for the Plaza center which would be done anyway in the project's Environmental Impact Report.
'I support an advisory vote'
In a memorandum to her fellow councilmembers titled “The McKinley Statue – a suggestion by Susan Ornelas,” she states that “Citizens want to have their opinion be heard. Can we put something like the following on the ballot to an advisory vote?”
States Ornelas’s draft ballot language, “The Arcata City Council voted to remove the McKinley Statue from the Plaza center. Where would you like to see this historic statue?”
The multiple-choice ballot includes possible destinations of the Arcata Veterans Hall, a corner of the Plaza, Phillips House Museum, the Plaza center, a local history museum such as Fort Humboldt, the McKinley Museum in Canton, Ohio, McKinleyville and “other” with a write-in choice.
The suggested ballot language would certainly be further shaped and refined by city staff and the council before appearing on the ballot.
States Ornelas, “A vote like this will give the Council a more nuanced understanding of the intent of the citizens of Arcata regarding the statue… I think it is fair to let the citizens have a say. I support an advisory vote in December. This gives the community time to have an educated discussion. It is all part of a process.”