Monday marked Mayor Jeff Gowing’s sixth and final State of the City address to Cottage Grove.
Last month, Gowing announced his intention to run for Oregon House District 12 as a state representative and said he would not be seeking another term as the city’s mayor.
This in mind, Gowing reflected on his time growing up in Cottage Grove and serving in local government.
“A lot has changed. The city has changed, his issues have changed and, over the years, I have changed,” he said.
He thanked the many people who have shared their patience, trust and knowledge with him.
“I did not change on my own. You all helped me,” he said.
He pointed to the diversity of thought in his friendships cultivated over the years which aided in his transition to being more accepting and understanding of multiple viewpoints, ultimately enabling a deeper pride in his community.
The city council, too, Gowing praised as cooperatively navigating the needs of the community.
“We may not always agree or have the same ideas, but we respect each other’s views,” he said.
On a personal note, he thanked Pete and Angie Lightcap for seeing his potential in his teenage years.
Gowing also acknowledged local lumber company Weyerhaeuser not only as his place of work for 33 years, but a “great steward of the community”, participating in local events, providing grants to nonprofits, scholarships to high school students, donating lumber to Habitat for Humanity, addressing the local housing crisis and most recently allowing the city to store bridge beams on their plant site.
He specifically noted Plant Manager Brent Czaban’s flexibility with Gowing’s schedule to allow him to commit to his mayoral duties and presented Czaban with a Certificate of Appreciation.
Gowing then recognized the Woodward Foundation and Chris Woodard for their commitments to easing hardships during the pandemic.
“They donated $100,000 to the Community Foundation to distribute, with $90,000 for specific nonprofits and the remaining $10,000 in discretion of the Community Foundation. This is a true example of supporting the community you live in. And it’s a great example of why Cottage Grove is such a strong community,” said Gowing.
He then listed city accomplishments in the past year which “will have a major impact in the community for years to come”.
He highlighted the Safe Routes to School project, the completion of the effluent storage pond, the reconstruction on the Community Center and the renovation and reopening of the library as high points.
He also mentioned challenges such as staffing and material shortages.
“But even short-staffed, police calls for service were handled, roads were plowed and permits for construction work processed,” he said.
Gowing reserved the rest of his speech to focus on demonstrations of “civic charity” in the community.
“Currently, there’s a shortage of civic charity,” he said. “Throughout our nation there has grown an overwhelming movement of polarization, contention and contempt, so much that former examples of true bipartisan statesmanship have all but disappeared.”
He cited former Federal Judge Thomas Griffith as commenting that the country and constitution is built for vigorous disagreement, but it cannot withstand contempt.
“He went on to describe the content of contempt as a hatred or distrust, even desire to destroy people in their beliefs rather than spend effort to understand and try to find common ground to achieve the shared goals of the community,” Gowing said.
Gowing turned to stories in the past year which demonstrated that civic charity still exists in the Cottage Grove community.
He shared a story of a young man who came to a recent clinic at the Community Center, cold, wet and distraught. The people attending the clinic rallied to find the man food and a coat while someone called a church to pick up warm clothes and shoes.
“The young man was able to get rest, take a shower, change into dry clothing and enjoy a plate of warm food,” Gowing recounted.
In another case, Gowing recalled a report of a family in crisis who relied on the kindness of neighbors to help, despite a language barrier, and connect the family with local law enforcement. The presence of police officers at first created anxiety for the mother and young boy in crisis, but officers exercised patient attention to easing the family’s concerns before addressing their needs and getting them to safety.
Even city staff deserved recognition for their civic charity, said Gowing, for eagerly using the new water monitoring system to warn residents of leaks or water overuse, which has saved many from surprise expensive bills.
In another example, Gowing pointed to 57-year-old woman he referred to only as “Hope”, who has been living unsheltered in the community for eight years.
He described her commitment, as a volunteer, to keeping Community Sharing’s mobile shower and warming shelter running.
Through conversation, staff learned she was in need of counseling, which was sought for her.
“Hope has been seeing the counselor every week for the last few months,” said Gowing. “She has applied for and now works as one of the staff through Community Sharing to operate the warming shelters and has been working every night that they’ve been open. … Hope’s success continues as she signed up with Carry It Forward and has completed the front door assessment, which allows people to get into a housing list. She is looking forward to permanent housing and working to improve her life.”
Gowing also brought up a future council action item to create a special line item for a special trust fund to accept expense funds donated from the results of efforts by Bruce Kelsh of the Presbyterian Church Earth and Social Justice Committee.
“The funds are to be used by police officers while in the line of duty that come across someone that is in need of a small act of kindness,” said Gowing. “These funds can be used by officers at their discretion to address an immediate need.”
Finally, Gowing recognized the efforts of those who spent hours discussing, planning and preparing to bring back social events and activities.
“I’m not sure everyone understands the depth of discussions that are held and opinions shared just to prepare for such events we had this [last] year,” he said. “Each of those involved demonstrated in the discussion civic charity as they considered the fears and concerns of everyone and put together plans to successfully hold safe and fun events.”
Such stories, Gowing said, give him optimism.
“As we face challenges in the coming year and years to come, I’m optimistic the members of this community can continue to increase their civic charity,” said Gowing. “The stories I have shared are just a tiny glimpse of the civic charity that exist in Cottage Grove. Let’s not lose sight of that civic charity in our community. No matter the challenges or issues, we will be able to always treat each other as friends.”
Gowing finished with a quote from President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address on March 4, 1861:
“We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passions may have strained and must not break our bonds of affection.
“As mayor of the city of Cottage Grove, I want to express my sincere appreciation to everyone in the community for their individual efforts to make the community a better place to live for every person. It will be only together as friends that we will be able to address the challenges that face our community. Thank you for letting me serve this community as a counselor and as your mayor. It has truly been an honor and a privilege.”
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