Demonstration in Waitsburg

Picketers gather at Preston Park off U.S. Highway 12 in Waitsburg on Monday afternoon to protest Nestle’s interest in building a water-bottling plant in Waitsburg. Some of the signs read: “Recall Mayor Gobel.” Information at a City Council meeting on Wednesday revealed Waitsburg Mayor Walt Gobel and City Administrator Randy Hinchliffe have been meeting with a Nestle water resources manager without City Council’s knowledge since this winter. A community meeting to discuss Nestle’s interest is planned, but a date and time have not yet been set.

WAITSBURG – Mayor Walt Gobel has resigned from his position with the city of Waitsburg effectively immediately, according to a press release he issued via email this afternoon.

Gobel, who has been mayor in Waitsburg since 2010, became the center of controversy following an announcement in July that Nestlé Waters North America is interested in building a water-bottling plant inside the city.

Council members during that meeting expressed their shock and disappointment that Gobel and City Administrator Randy Hinchliffe had already met with a Nestlé representative several times since February without their knowledge.

They were further shocked to learn that Nestlé’s contractors had already been in the city’s watershed scoping out the city’s springs to determine whether such a project in Waitsburg had merit.

“I’m a little bit dumbfounded sitting here tonight,” Council member KC Kuykendall said during that July 20 meeting.

Nestlé was ordered to stop all exploratory work in the watershed immediately while City Council considered the corporation’s interest.

Demonstrators protesting at the City Park the following Monday held signs suggesting that Gobel be recalled.

In his press release, Gobel said the actions taken by himself and Hinchliffe were based on what was best for Waitsburg.

“We both always kept an open mind, we were willing to listen to others, and we worked toward what was best for the community,” he stated.

“In this situation, Randy and I were not given an opportunity to explain the how or why of the sequence of events,” he wrote. “Councilman Kuykendall and most of the public present at the meeting were quick to jump to their own conclusions without knowing the actual facts.”

Nestlé asked for confidentiality until they had more of idea about whether Waitsburg would be a good fit for a bottling plant, and Gobel agreed to this.

But when Nestlé made a second request for continued confidentiality, Gobel refused and brought the issue to City Council, he stated.

When reached by phone this afternoon, Gobel added that he hoped his resignation would allow the city to “heal some of its wounds and get back on its feet again.”

“Neither one of us, Randy or myself, had anything to gain from this,” he said. “We were just doing our jobs and pursuing economic development for our city. I think it’s our obligation to follow leads, and until we get those facts how can you make an informed decision?”

Waitsburg City Council has scheduled a special meeting for tonight at 7 in Waitsburg Town Hall at 121 Main St. to further discuss Nestlé’s proposed project.

City Council member Marty Dunn is currently mayor pro tem and will fulfill the mayor’s duties until Council has time to select someone from its ranks to be temporary mayor, according to Gobel.

Then they will advertise and find someone to appoint until a new mayor can be elected next year. Waitsburg operates on an 1886 charter and holds elections each May for mayor and all five City Council seats.

As a final caveat to his constituency, Gobel wrote: “To those who have pushed for my recall, I say you won! You have won the battle, but if you continue to reject all possibilities of growth for this community, you will not win the war.”

“Our community will continue to regress as long as you maintain your ‘mob’ attitude when possible community development presents itself,” he continued. “After all, this situation is not the first time this has happened. I am embarrassed that our community has treated some of the presenters on possible community or economic development very rudely.”

Dian Ver Valen can be reached at dianvervalen@wwub.com or 526-8363 or 509-956-8312.

Dian is editor of the Union-Bulletin and Lifestyles magazine. She received her bachelor's in journalism from Western Washington University in 2003. She received her master's in communication and leadership from Gonzaga.