OPINION: A Forest Grove city councilor says we should respectfully consider perspectives on topics like the mural.

COURTESY PHOTO - Kristy KottkeyAs a newly appointed member of the Forest Grove City Council, I have been on a fast learning curve. These words are my own opinions, and in no way should be considered the voice of other councilors or for anyone on the city staff.

This community has shown its ability to flex with unique challenges thrown its way. The city has helped businesses obtain loans, maintained city services, and managed an ever-changing budget. Our fire department partnered with other agencies to create systems that help the most vulnerable citizens in our town and recently navigated one of the most intense fire events in our history. Our police department has stabilized and now is staffed around the clock.

There is a lot happening right now, and emotions are raw and volatile.

Recently, the City Council voted unanimously to move forward with a proposal for a social justice mural to be painted at Forest Glen Park. Although the final image has yet to be approved, a debate has arisen on social media within the community and at the heart of this debate is the question: Who are we as a city and as citizens?

Read our Oct. 9, 2020, story about the social justice mural planned at Forest Glen Park.

The murals at Forest Glen Park were painted as part of an Eagle Scout project and in fact, replaced an aging mural there previously. These images, including the flag, have been in place beyond the maximum five years' time that was recently recommended as part of an emerging mural policy by the Public Arts Commission.

Some like the idea of refreshing this image and some don't — everyone has reasons that are unique and dependent on their past experiences. How can people with totally different philosophies find common ground?

Let me tell you a story about my friend and favorite nemesis, Mike.

Mike and I served on the same committee years ago. We had different political views, but a shared love of this city.

Mike has been talking with his friends and reading more about racial issues this past year, and found his views changing on some things with regards to race, equity and inclusion. He and I have had several talks over the past few days about this mural project and the importance of being open to change and growth.

Mike and I have disagreed about a lot of things, especially during the political season. It is our respectful and spirited dialogue that has made us stronger. Our ability to accept that we will not always agree is what makes our partnership and friendship work.

For the most part, the conversations about the mural have shown that most people are passionate but thoughtful, willing to listen, and open to change. Some things about this town have been exposed in a way that is going to require much more discussion, emotion, and collaboration. There may be some who don't yet understand the need for our city to work on ensuring we provide justice for all through our services and actions.

As a city, we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We need to hold each other accountable for the ways we talk to each other and about each other.

At the end of the day, we all want a stronger community. Let's all get to know our neighbors better so we can move forward together.

Kristy Kottkey is a Forest Grove city councilor and retired teacher in the Hillsboro School District.

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