Mount Rainier activists hope to build hyperlocal ‘Defund the Police’ movement

Now, as the national debate around policing has re-emerged – and the  “defund the police” movement found a wide audience – a group of activists hope to build a lasting, grassroots movement to pressure Mount Rainier officials to rethink how the city approaches law enforcement. 

Tentatively called Mount Rainier Community Action, the ad-hoc group of activists hosted a protest in Mount Rainier June 20, 2020, that served to inaugurate the hyperlocal movement. An estimated 200 people participated. The event featured music, marching, calls-to-action, speeches and eulogies for the victims of police violence. 

“I think there’s a lot of momentum in this moment to all of us develop and better understand how we can have an impact right in the community,” said Alicia Skeeter, one of the organizers, in an interview with Route 1 Reporter. 

Police reform issues are unique in American political discourse. While issues surrounding the intersection of racism and law enforcement are national-level issues, those with the most power over the police are local officials in charge of the police departments that patrol cities, counties and towns across America. Mount Rainier, which has had to endure its own issues with police accountability, is no different.

Mount Rainier hopes to catch up on audits this year

Mount Rainier city officials anticipate they will have their audits up-to-date by August 30. Until recently, Mount Rainier had not filed completed audits, as required by state law, since 2017. But in March, city officials received the first of the outstanding audits, which revealed serious oversight issues around the city’s financial management.

Extension given to interim Mount Rainier city manager

Latasha Gatling has been given another year at the helm of Mount Rainier’s government administration, City Council announced April 13, 2020. Gatling was hired November 2019 to fill in a vacancy left by the sudden resignation of former City Manager Miranda Braatz in September 2019. Gatling’s term has been extended through at least April 30, 2021, according to the announcement. Gatling was originally hired on an interim basis to serve until at least July 2020. Gatling’s resume includes past positions served as Councilmember at Large, Council President, and City Administrator for Seat Pleasant.

Audit finds major problems in Mount Rainier’s finances

A long-awaited audit of Mount Rainier’s 2017 finances uncovered eye-opening issues, including spotty record-keeping, poor oversight, a need for more administrative staff and a lack of official policies governing many spending decisions. While the audit focused on 2017, its authors said many of the flaws found still need to be corrected “as soon as possible.” During a three-minute discussion of the audit during its April 7, 2020, City Council meeting, Mayor Malinda Miles said “the data in that audit has to be obsolete by now.” “Hopefully over the past two years, a lot of what has been found has been fixed as they were going through and preparing to have the audit now,” said Miles. Interim City Manager Latasha Gatling aknowledged the city’s financial safeguards and policies still need work.

Just in time: Mount Rainier closes $1.5M property sale

Just in time to avoid the possible collapse of the commercial real estate market, the City of Mount Rainier completed the sale of 3200 Rhode Island Avenue for $1.5 million to IFG Group Development and Construction. The property is approximately 33,000 square feet of vacant land the city bought more than 10 years ago for an inflation adjusted $1.1 million. IFG Group plans to build a $30 million mixed-use apartment complex. The transaction was scheduled to complete this past Friday. By Monday, the money had not yet shown up in the city’s accounts, causing some concern.

Mount Rainier sells land to developers; $30M mixed-use project planned

It finally happened: Mount Rainier is selling a key downtown lot to a mixed-use developer for $1.5 million, city officials announced during a March 3, 2020 Council meeting. The buyer, IFG Group LLC, plans to build a $30 million, 110-unit mixed-use development on the site, with a targeted opening date of 2025. 

More than 12 years ago in December 2008, Mount Rainier bought several parcels of land at the intersection of Eastern and Rhode Island Avenues for an inflation-adjusted $1.1 million. The property has mostly sat disused, though there were well-meaning attempts to turn the lots into a pocket park. For years, city officials had hoped to redevelop the land. But impacts from the Great Recession plus the city’s own inexperience in real estate development hampered plans. 

Councilor Luke Chesek said during the meeting that the city learned a lot from its previous failures to sell the land.