As City Hall Turns — a look back at 28 years serving Walla Walla

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Councilman Jerry Cummins retires

Walla Walla City Councilman Jerry Cummins retires this year after 28 years as a city leader.

As I leave service on the Walla Walla City Council after 28 years, I want to put a few of my personal thoughts in writing to the citizens of in hopes to clarify some of my ideas and hopefully cast a different light on City Hall.

I remembered the name of a daily “soap opera” my mother watched titled: “As the World Turns,” so I have titled this article, “As City Hall Turns.”

First, people who serve on your local City Council, in my opinion, are not politicians but are local public servants. You see many of them every day in your normal daily lives because serving on City Council is only a part-time local elected position.

You may see them in local parks, stores, on the street or worshiping next to you on weekends in one of our many local churches.

City Council members are a vital part of the city and are governed daily by the decisions they make and are charged the same utility rates set by Council because we all work, live and play in Walla Walla.

Secondly, the city does a great job in screening and hiring employees that serve the citizens in the multiple departments from police, fire/ambulance, parks and recreation, streets, sanitation, library, development services, engineering or the many parts of administration.

All total, the city has 285 full-time equivalent employees. Sure, like every employer in our country with this many employees, you may find a few who are not as motivated as you would like, but I assure you the vast majority go to work each day with the sole purpose of serving the public and doing an outstanding job.

Next time you see a city employee, please thank them for what they do to keep you safe, keep your water flowing or making your local neighborhood park beautiful.

Additionally, helping to support our dedicated staff provide the best programs and make the best decisions for the public are approximately 79 volunteers who serve on 12 citizen commissions and advisory board. These committees range from Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory; Civil Service, Historic Preservation; Housing Authority; Infrastructure Improvement; Lodging Tax Advisory; Parks, Recreation and Urban Forestry; Planning; Public Library; Sustainability; Transportation Benefit District and Water & Wastewater.

Individuals serving on these committees do so without compensation and serve as public liaisons for the sole purpose of advising administration, staff and the City Council regarding issues affecting the cities programs and services. For those interested in serving on one of these advisory committees, contact City Clerk Kammy Hill at City Hall.

During my 28-years on City Council, the overriding theme of citizens seemed to always be repairing infrastructure or city street repairs.

In the past 8 years, following several years of studies which seemed to end in being shelved because of lack of funding, citizens have seen a great improvement when City Manager Nabiel Shawa and the City Council implemented the Infrastructure Repair and Replacement Program along with the Transportation Benefit District designed specifically for the beginning of reconstruction of our underground infrastructure of water and sewer along with repairing the surface of streets.

Both of these infrastructure repair programs were adopted through funding approved by citizens. The IRRP is funded by approximately $32 added to the monthly utility bill and the TBD is funded with a .004% sales tax on goods and services purchased within the city limits of Walla Walla.

In 2010, the city was budgeting approximately $150,000 for asphalt/street improvements. Next year in 2020, the city will be spending over $7 million on street repair. A vast difference and a lasting change to infrastructure repair to our streets and infrastructure.

Going along with the IRRP and TBD funding for above ground street repair identified above is improvement to the city water and wastewater systems. Again, 10 years ago the city was losing approximately 33% of our freshly treated water from the time the water left the water treatment plant before it was passed through customer water meters.

The Department of Ecology told Walla Walla our leakage should be no more than 10%. You need to remember our city is over 150 years old, and our infrastructure is old also.

Since beginning conservation measures, including replacement of old meters to new radio-read meters and replacement of many identified leaky waterlines under streets using IRRP and TBD funds, our water leakage has been reduced to approximately 19% and the city is aiming at reaching our goal of 10% soon.

I had the pleasure of reviewing the planned water improvement projects for next year and it will make a significant improvement.

In conclusion, Walla Walla is a wonderful place to live and my wife and I have found it a tremendous place to become involved with others. We were just a “couple of kids” when we moved to Walla Walla in 1968 and the community welcomed us from the first day we arrived.

We had several opportunities to move because of our occupations but no other community had the appeal and quality of life we enjoy here.

I sincerely want to thank you, the electorate, for allowing me to serve on your City Council for the last 28 years. I will carry the knowledge I have gained and the relationships I have built during my service on council for the rest of my life.

My time is up on Council. I enjoyed my time on Council but it is time for new ideas and new people to take over as interested public servants to carry on.

In summary, I hope I contributed more than I extracted. Thank you for the great opportunity!

Jerry Cummins served 28 years on the Walla Walla City Council, including several terms as mayor. He can be reached at wwballoon@gmail.com