Vote on name change delayed

Published on Wed, May 28, 2014 by Steve Guntli

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A record crowd turned out to hear the Blaine City Council’s ruling on changing Blaine’s name to Blaine Harbor at the meeting on May 27. The verdict? Not just yet.

The council voted 5–1 to defer a vote to approve referendum 1641-14, which would put the controversial issue on the November ballot. Mayor Harry Robinson said he didn’t feel comfortable voting on such an important issue without the full council in attendance, and since councilman Paul Greenough could not attend the meeting, the vote has been pushed back to the meeting on Monday, June 9. 

Councilman Clark Cotner, an outspoken supporter of the name change, was the only councilman to vote no on delaying the vote, but councilwoman Bonnie Onyon expressed her support for the referendum.

“I’d like to think the whole council would vote unanimously to put the issue on the ballot if they were here,” she said. 

The initiative was first proposed by the economic development committee, which Cotner oversees. The committee believes the name change will make Blaine more distinctive and a bigger draw for tourists.

The atmosphere in the council chamber was emotionally charged, as council listened to impassioned arguments from both sides of the debate in front of a standing-room-only crowd. Many in the audience arrived wearing custom-made T-shirts reading, “We Are Blaine.”

“Many times we’ve wished we had an audience,” Robinson said. “We appreciate so many people coming out tonight.”

For the more than a dozen people who stood to voice their opinions on the issue, the vote was split nearly down the middle. Most of the exchanges were respectful, but in two instances, the crowd grew unruly enough to require Robinson to bang his gavel for order, and the mayor was forced to chastise one speaker, Bill Becht, for responding to arguments from the crowd.  

The arguments themselves ran the gamut from deeply personal to purely financial. Supporters of the name change feel it will add a seaside village appeal to the town and will better honor Blaine’s rich maritime history. Detractors feel the cost of the name change would be high and without a guarantee of a payoff.  

What remains unknown is how much changing the name would cost. A remark by Greenough at a previous meeting suggested the name change could cost upwards of $100,000, while speculation on the low end is that it would cost around $500. Cotner, in an interview on May 19, said the actual number is likely to be on the low end. 

“I don’t know where they got $100,000 from,” Cotner said. “The actual number will be around $4,000 or $5,000, no more.”

A report presented to council on April 28 estimated it would cost $3,000 or less to put the issue on the November ballot. The report also included an estimate by North Whatcom Fire and Rescue that the cost to update the name for its contracts throughout the county would be minimal, and the same could be expected for other public entities in the city. 

Blaine citizen Ken Johns suggested the campaign behind the name change was premature and called for improvements in the town itself, bringing derelict buildings up to code and providing more amenities for citizens and tourists alike.

“I think the reasoning behind doing this now is flawed,” Johns said. “It’s the experience of being there, not the name, that makes a place worth visiting.”

The council’s decision to postpone the vote was met with a few scattered boos from the crowd, but most people seemed to feel that having a full council present could only be a benefit. 

“I think it went really well,” said Sheila Dalry, who spoke in favor of keeping the current town name. “We got to hear both sides of the issue. It was very productive.”

Cotner thanked the audience for attending, and encouraged those in attendance to come to the economic development committee meetings, which will be scheduled soon. 

“I’m really happy, honest to goodness, that so many people came,” Cotner said. “I hope to see you all out again.”

The next city council meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 9 at 6 p.m. Meetings are held at 435 Martin Street on the fourth floor. 

For more information, please visit the city of Blaine’s website at ci.blaine.wa.us.