Kent resident takes active role in city

By Diane Smith Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Kent resident Ed Bargerstock, a vocal critic of some of the city's decisions, has earned both praise and criticism for his active role in city politics. And although he's never run for public office, even some of his detractors say maybe he should.

"He should be up there, on the line, making the decisions," said Councilwoman Carol Neff. "That's not easy to do."

Councilman Robert Felton said he thinks Bargerstock, who refused to comment for this story, brings an unbiased view to council because he has never tried to profit from the city.

"We need about 10 more people in this city like him," Felton said.

But Felton said he respects Bargerstock for trying to keep attention away from himself and instead focus on the issues he brings to council.

Felton said he met Bargerstock, a South Willow Street resident, when he raised concerns about the assessment he would have to pay for road improvements. When an equalization board was convened to hear the concerns in 1994, Bargerstock was one of the residents who argued that one of the board members should be removed because she worked as a city intern.

"What first struck me was that he honestly was not out to gain anything for himself," Felton said. "It all started when he got an unfair assessment. He was a private citizen minding his own business."

Felton said he believed Bargerstock's concern about the staff member on the equalization board was valid and pushed for a Conflict of Interest Board to hear the concerns.

"I said, 'This guy's making sense,' " he said. "Why be afraid of the truth? I simply questioned, 'Was there a conflict of interest, yes or no?' I didn't even know who he was."

Since the controversy over road assessments, Bargerstock has turned his attention to other matters, Councilman Wayne Wilson said. Bargerstock has spoken out in support of the city's noise ordinance, addressed council about zoning violations and raised concerns about the city funding of the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce and its downtown management district.

Bargerstock, who operates an insurance agency downtown, also has raised concerns about insurance requirements for city-funded events.

"Quite honestly, some of the stuff he's brought up are legitimate concerns," Wilson said. "Some of them I didn't feel were necessarily as important as he did, but everybody has their own opinion."

Bargerstock, along with other members of the Bipartisan Committee for Better Kent Government, also fought unsuccessfully to change Kent's city manager form of government.

William Anderson, a friend of Bargerstock, is also a member of the committee and worked with Bargerstock on Kent's Charter Review Commission in 1995.

"He's very intelligent," he said. "I like him very much. He gets right to the facts. He's sometimes abrasive, and some people don't like what he has to say, but he's right a lot of the time."

Through the years, Felton noted, Bargerstock has gained credibility with him because he has brought a number of other concerns to council, and many of them have turned out to be valid.

"When you look at his heart, you see the good far outweighs the bad," Felton said. "People say, 'You play to his tune. He's a madman.' But is he really? Is he a loose cannon? Almost everything he has said has checked out. I wish he was wrong more often."

Councilwoman Marilyn Perkowski also noted Bargerstock has been active in the community, as a member of the city charter review commission, the Town and Gown Relationship Committee and addressing neighborhood issues.

Often, she said, he comes across as intelligent and knowledgeable. "I wish I were as oratorically gifted as he is," she said.

But she said there is a distinct difference between talking to Bargerstock one on one, where she generally finds him to be amiable, and when he addresses council, a time when his comments can be "verbally abusive." When he speaks that way, he loses credibility, Perkowski said.

"I don't understand why he has to be so loud," she said. "He talks so quickly I often hear how he is speaking rather than what he says. He loses a lot of my time and attention when he starts yelling and screaming.

"If he wants to be as vocal as he is, maybe he should consider running for council," she added.

Neff also said Bargerstock should consider running for council so he can understand the pressures of public office.

"He is one person, and he acts as if he is speaking for a whole group of people," she said.

Neff said sometimes Bargerstock goes too far, saying things she believes are personal attacks, and when that happens, he should be called out of order.

"I will not react just because he says black is white," she said. "There are some members of council who take whatever he says as gospel. I will not listen to him constantly badmouth individuals in the downtown section. Some people allow him to speak more than he should. Others would be called out of order."

At a recent council meeting, Bargerstock told council he "despised" the Downtown Management District. When Neff said he was out of order, Mayor Jerry Fiala said it was Neff who was out of order.

"The minute he started attacking people, he should have been called out of order," she said. "He had his chance to speak and he spoke. No one should be attacked."

However, Fiala said Bargerstock is a very concerned citizen who addresses concerns shared by others in his neighborhood and downtown.

He said council gives him no more latitude than others are granted.

"I think he has the same consideration of other residents, and when he gets out of line, as mayor and president of council, I will correct him," he said. "We owe him the same consideration we give other residents. He just does his research and his homework, and is more active than the average citizen of Kent."

Wilson agreed Bargerstock gets no more attention than any other resident, and said there are others who sometimes get more latitude than they should.

"It's sometimes difficult to tell when someone is making a point and when it's becoming a personal attack," he said. "Obviously, as an elected official, you don't want to tell anybody 'I don't want to hear what you have to say.' "

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