The last time there was a public meeting in Bremerton to discuss the possible removal of trees on Fourth Street between Park and Pacific, it was literally standing-room-only inside the mayor’s sixth-floor conference room.
The next time there is a meeting in Bremerton regarding the possibility of removing trees on Fourth Street, the public isn’t invited.
Instead, a newly formed “Tree Committee” will meet behind closed doors at 4 p.m. Monday, July 15, at the city’s Public Works and Utilities Oyster Bay facility.
Milenka Hawkins-Bates, an administration division manager from Public Works, will lead the committee.
“In my past life I was the public works director for the city of Sonoma and was responsible for the street trees and the trees in the cemeteries and parks,” she said. “We had a very active tree committee that I was involved with and I feel comfortable that I can work with all of the city departments, businesses and community members.”
Hawkins-Bates said that her boss, Public Works Director Chal Martin, who has called for the removal of the trees on Fourth Street, is not on the committee “per se, but I will be briefing him and if needed he will attend meetings.”
Martin has said it’s only a matter of time before the trees will have to be removed. Hawkins-Bates said Mayor Patty Lent is also not on the committee, but will be attending the July 15 session.
When asked why the meeting is closed to the public, Hawkins-Bates said, “The July 15 meeting is a meeting that we will be using (to)meet each other, set the mission, establish directives and deliverables so it is really a ‘roll up your shirt sleeves’ and brainstorm type of meeting.”
She said a second meeting will be open to the public with citizen comment and meeting dates will be posted on the city’s website.
City Clerk Shannon Corin, who is not involved with the committee and wasn’t even aware of its existence, but is an expert on public meetings and records laws, said it’s perfectly legal to hold a closed session of this sort.
“It doesn’t fall under the Open Public Meetings Act,” Corin said. “There aren’t any city council members on it and it doesn’t set any policy. It only becomes a public meeting if the council is there and there is more than a quorum.”
Other city staff members of the committee include forester Bill McKinney, Tom Cressman, from parks maintenance, and Colette Berna, also from the parks department. The remainder of the group includes John Albers, who owns Albers Vista Gardens, Jim Trainer, a community forester and arborist, Emily Russell, a landscape architect, and Tom Brobst, an arborist.
Hawkins-Bates said that members of the committee were selected based on their experience, willingness and availability.
“I feel strongly that we have the right mix of folks for the committee,” she said.
The public works department already removed two large cedar trees on Fourth Street a couple of months ago that were buckling the sidewalk, but Martin conceded this week that the job was left unfinished since the sidewalks still present a tripping hazard.
“With regard to the two big cedar trees, you are right, we have more work to do there,” Martin said.
All of the remaining trees on the stretch of Fourth Street in question, meanwhile, have yet to buckle the sidewalks or pose any real hazard.
The same cannot be said for many of the other sidewalks within the city, including several stretches within a block of city hall.
It was just over a year ago that city street crews cut down 30 globe locust trees along Fourth Street between Naval and Warren without any notification to the public or city administrators. The crews left the bases of the trees in place, but eventually cut down the trunks to street level several weeks later.