Gary Pollard’s service predates the neighborhood council charter. It has to – he helped write it. After 20 years as the Riverside Neighborhood Council chair, though, he is ready to pass the gavel.
“He has been an integral part of the neighborhood council program,” said Heather Trautman, the city’s director of neighborhood services and code enforcement. “He also has been instrumental in bringing issues to the awareness of the community.”
“Everything that’s happened downtown in the last 20 years … I can’t think of anything that we weren’t a part of,” Pollard said. “Now it’s time to turn that over to a new generation.”
According to Rod Minarik, public information coordinator for the city’s department of neighborhood services, Pollard will stay on in a limited capacity during the search for a replacement.
“Whoever steps in, they are going to get support from a number of people, a number of groups – and for sure Gary,” Minarik said. “I know he’s going to be there to help.”
Minarik, Trautman, Pollard and the neighborhood councils go way back.
According to Minarik, Spokane’s neighborhood council program originated as a city ordinance in July 1996. “The purpose, at that time was to improve communication,” he said.
The toddling program was still learning how to crawl when Pollard came on the scene; just eight of the 29 current neighborhood councils had formed by the time downtown banded together in early 1998. Pollard thought the program had a familiar ring.
“To me, it goes back to colonial days,” he said. “All the little towns would gather … and have town halls. That’s where our roots in our country’s government started.”
On his wife’s suggestion, Pollard suggested the council switch its name from West End to Riverside, to avoid confusion with the West Central council.
“What’s now the downtown used to be called Riverside, because of the river,” Pollard said. “Everybody liked it.”
Pollard was one of three chosen for the inaugural downtown board. “They pointed at me and said, ‘we want that guy,’” he said, laughing. “I thought … ‘what did I get myself into?’”
Neighborhood councils were popping up like weeds, all over the city, but nobody knew who was supposed to tend the garden. There was no clarified plan, no organized mission. No constitution.
Said Minarik: “This needed to be more than just an ordinance that you could do a 4-3 vote and get rid of it.”
Pollard was part of the push to replace the ordinance with something more permanent. In November 2000, their neighborhood council amendment became Article VIII in the Spokane City Charter.
Said Minarik: “Gary and others worked and worked to come up with a charter amendment; then [they] went out and promoted the idea … and it passed.”
With his position cemented and his role clarified, Pollard went to work.
The Riverside neighborhood includes the downtown commercial zone; Pollard estimates that there are fewer than 100 private homes in his neighborhood of roughly 4,000 residents.
“The residents don’t feel like stakeholders,” Pollard said. “They don’t have a dog in the fight.”
Pollard often found that the best way to serve the residents was through the business owners. He beat the streets, gaining concessions from local businesses to help turn downtown into a brighter, prettier, livelier place for everyone.
Said Pollard: “Whenever you can get a little bit of everything to satisfy everybody, even if there’s a little bit that makes them angry, you’ve got good legislation.”
“He thinks things through,” Minarik said. “And then he goes out and bridges that gap.”
Pollard was widely respected for his thorough, positive, evenhanded approach to every issue. “The City Council knew when he got up there, that he was giving them the [facts],” Minarik said.
To Pollard, the key is compromise – from both sides. “When a business comes to the council, they always end up with a better product, and they’ve got neighborhood support,” he said.
“He’s always looking to see what’s good for the neighborhood, and for the downtown,” Minarik said.
One of Pollard’s brainstorms led to CPR classes with the fire department; 80 downtown residents earned their certification.
“We get all kinds of visitors,” Pollard said. “Wouldn’t it be great if we had a lot of people who knew CPR in case something happens?”
In addition to his work with the Riverside Neighborhood Council and on the council charter, Pollard served on too many boards and committees to list. He will continue his work with the Community Housing and Human Services Board, the Affordable Housing Committee and the Second City Line.
“I don’t have the energy I used to, I’m 74 years old,” Pollard said. “So I pick and choose.”
Trautman can’t remember ever seeing Pollard without a smile on his face. “He’s always laughing,” she said. “He just gets joy out of life.”
“Gary’s the face of Riverside,” Minarik said. “I’ll miss him. Working together with a guy for 20 years who was always so helpful and contributing, oh, my gosh, he’ll be missed.”
Pollard never held a paying position in city government; he was strictly a volunteer. So why did he give up so much of his time, put in so much effort?
The area around Pollard’s apartment was a blight when he first moved in nearly 30 years ago.
“If my wife wanted to go to the store I’d tell her to be back home a half-hour before sundown,” he said.
“Now I step out and I look up and down the street, and I see people,” he said. “People going to the Fox, going to the Bing Crosby, maybe going over to the Knitting Factory or to the Davenport for a meal.”
“There’s hustle and bustle, all varieties of people going places,” he said. “That’s my reward.”
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