Prayer will no longer be on the docket in Vader. On Thursday night, the Vader City Council voted to ban the practice of performing a Christian prayer at the beginning of the public meetings.
Councilor Judi Costello was the first to speak out about the practice of invocation, stating her belief that conducting a prayer at the beginning of city council meetings represented a violation of the necessary separation of church and state.
Councilor Jason Dailey also disapproved of the invocations due to issues arising from the constitutionally prescribed separation of religion and government.
Councilor Andy Wilson noted that he was also against the practice, although he cited time constraints as the lone reason.
On the other side of the aisle was Councilor Joe Schey, who said that he supports councilors and community members who wish to pray and believes that the practice is in fact constitutionally protected. However, Schey added that he would support whatever decision the council deemed appropriate.
Mayor Ken Smith was the lone city representative to speak in favor of the invocations, but he too noted that he would support the will of the council.
There were no comments from the crowd regarding the practice of meeting invocations.
Pedestrian safety was a topic that garnered much more discussion from attendees and the council. Previously, the city of Vader had asked the Washington State Department of Transportation to put flashing lights at the crosswalk where A Street crosses Highway 506.
On Thursday, Rick Keniston, a representative of the WSDOT, showed up at the meeting in order to have a dialogue with the council and community members. A flashing yellow light was conspicuously set up in the corner of the meeting room near the American flag during the meeting, prompting Keniston to ask if it was put there as some sort of hint.
Mayor Smith replied, “Yes. It’s a visual aid.”
Keniston said because there is little history of pedestrian collisions or vehicle accidents in town, his department’s preference is to begin with the cheapest safety measure and work their way up if it proves ineffective. Because of that preference, Keniston noted that the WSDOT would not pay for lights at the crosswalk, although the city could pay to have them installed if it so desires. He also noted that the equipment would have to be approved by the state and not sourced independently based simply on frugality of cost.
Later in the meeting, a city resident asked that the flashing light be removed because it was giving her a headache.
Councilor Wilson said he believes there are at least two locations in town that could use additional pedestrian safety measures, noting that they are, “Where people do most of their socializing.”
In response to WSDOT’s reluctance to amp up the safety measures in town until a record of accidents has been established, councilor Dailey said, “We just don’t want to wait until someone gets run over before we do something.”
Keniston said that the WSDOT is willing to restripe the crosswalk at A Street and Seventh Street (Highway 506) with reflective paint during previously scheduled chip seal work this summer. He added that a bookending pair of bright yellow pedestrian signs will also be placed on both sides of the street and facing both directions in order to alert drivers to the crossing.
Looking beyond the city streets, the city council discussed the topic of commingling stormwater and sewage. Historic and compounding pipe failures are currently allowing large quantities of stormwater to enter the sewage system. That malfunctioning system causes stormwater to back up during heavy rain and puts an undue level of stress on the sewage treatment facility.
Many efforts have been made to fix the problem in the past but, “The obvious reality is that no matter how much research they did looking at the historical detail is that it didn’t work,” said Mayor Smith.
Some council members believe that there are broken pipes yet to be discovered on the west side of the railroad tracks in town that lead to the stormwater backup. To date, about 20 percent of homes in Vader have been checked for compliance and quality, but there is still a growing list of known addresses with their gutter downspouts plumbed straight into the sewer line. That practice is explicitly illegal and only serves to exacerbate the problem of the broken pipes.
Problems with the city’s pipes and drainage first came to light in 2004 and about $1 million was spent that year to try to fix isues in another part of town. Those efforts led to moderate improvements in the system, but so far there has not been an adequate solution to the overall problem.
During the meeting, Mayor Smith made note of a manhole cover that used to launch from its prescribed station during high water events and subsequently released a geyser of stormwater mixed with raw sewage onto the city streets. Smith implied that recent work on those stormwater problems must have had some positive impact because the manhole cover stayed put all winter long even though regional rainfall was close to record levels.
Still, Mayor Smith said steadfastly that it is now up to the city to figure out a way to fix the problem themselves.
“Nobody is standing here with a bucket of money. We’ve been dependent on these engineers for years now and look at where we’re at,” noted Smith.
The city council approved a measure that will allow Smith to begin organizing a volunteer committee to search for additional leaky pipes and begin the search for a company to conduct a video probe on sections of pipe suspected of leaking.