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Bobby Magee speaks to the room about the proposed park memorial bench in honor of Heidi Fredette during the Jan. 8, city council meeting. From left, Magee, Councilmember Pat Morton, Mayor Pro Tem Bill Powers, Mayor Phil Oels, Councilmember Tom Cooley and Councilmember Stan Peiler. Photo by Ian Hoffmann

City is certified Firewise, memorial bench donated

The Portola City Council held its first meeting of the new year, with a light agenda and renewed energy to take on the months ahead.

Mayor Phil Oels opened the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by public comment from local Larry Douglas.

Douglas wished the room and council a Happy New Year and stated that he was grateful for both the new city manager and clerk moving forward. “It is time to move forward in the development in the general plan,” Douglas commented. “It’s also time to jumpstart our development agreements.”

City Council communications

This was followed by brief city communications, with Councilmember Stan Peiler saying, “The holidays gave me a bit of a break, and I have been able to reflect on this past year … I’m grateful for this position in the city, and I’m so proud to live here and love our city as well.”

Councilmember Tom Cooley noted his attendance at the annual city Christmas party at the Williams House in Portola and a board meeting at the Gold Mountain Community Services District.

Councilmember Pat Morton also attended the city Christmas party, and said, I really just stayed busy every day leading up to Christmas with the Angel Program, and we were able to serve 160 children this Christmas.”

Mayor Pro Tem Bill Powers reported that he and Cooley had met with Supervisors Jeff Engel and Kevin Goss, of districts 5 and 2, respectively.

The meeting addressed the arrangements being made for the city to be included in future payments toward a tax on a property that has been “on the county rolls for 40 years,” according to Powers.

Powers also attended a Plumas County Transportation Commission meeting and the Christmas party, and met with the Sierra Valley Rural Conservation District.

Mayor Phil Oels attended the transportation meeting and made the welcome announcement that the city of Portola is officially a certified Firewise city entering the new year to much applause.

Fire chief report

Chief Bob Frank of the Eastern Plumas Rural Fire Protection District gave a brief overview of the work done by the department in 2019.

“The department handled a total of 612 calls in 2019, with 285 of those calls to the city of Portola,” Frank said. He noted that he had been working with Kevin Sankey and Eastern Plumas Health Care in an effort to address emergency preparedness.

Frank also reported that he had been working with the new ambulance coordinator at the hospital, and that the department’s efforts to get AEDs around the community has led to EPRFPD gearing up to become a part of the Heart Safe program.

Frank went on to add that he will report to City Manager Lauren Knox on a bi-monthly basis to keep an open line of communication and said, “The fire department looks forward to working with the city of Portola this year, and many years to come. There are many things that the department is looking forward to building in the coming months.”

Captain Elaine Frank then commented on her recent attendance of the ASIST Suicide Prevention and Intervention workshop offered by Plumas Rural Services.

“It was an absolutely phenomenal class,” Frank said emphatically. “We are hoping to host these trainings with the help of Dana Nowling at Plumas Rural Services, and we have some programs in the works. We are also looking at youth mental health first aid, and potentially wellness days at local fire stations, where members of the community could come get their blood pressure or blood sugar checked.”

Chief Frank added that the department is always looking to move forward, saying, “We can’t be stagnant.”

City Manager Knox reported that she had been attending meetings of the Rotary Club of Portola, as well as meeting with area water district boards.

Knox also noted that she had been working closely with the city’s new information technology person, after the city wireless router went down the week prior, which blocked access to the city phones and computers, but was quickly resolved.

Council went on to address the consent calendar and minutes, with Councilmember Peiler moving to approve the items with one correction to the minutes. The motion carried unanimously, and council went on to the next item on the agenda.

Committee appointments

Traditionally, the council reviews appointments to council committees, boards and commissions annually, and following the annual reorganization of the council, the mayor makes any needed changes during the first meeting of each new year.

Mayor Oels made a few small changes, with recommendations from Knox and Cooley, keeping Susan Scarlett as a regular member of the Transportation Commission, appointing Oels as a member of the Emergency Services Policy Committee, and solidifying Peiler’s position on the Community Development Committee.

Cooley reminded the room that the FireWise Ad-Hoc Committee should continue in parallel with the operation of an MOU that the city had approved two months prior, with agreement from the council.

All changes were approved, and council turned to the last item on the agenda, the memorial bench donation in honor of Heidi Fredette.

Memorial bench donation

In 2019, the city was approached by Bobby Magee regarding a memorial bench donation in honor of Heidi Fredette to be placed in the Portola City Park.

Heidi Fredette was a resident of Portola who was abducted from her home and murdered in 1984 at the age of 13.

Members of Heidi’s family and friends have been raising funds for a memorial bench, and if approved, will move forward with ordering the bench, with hopes that it will be completed in time to be placed in the spring.

The proposed design is a concrete bench with curved back and armrests, and on the back, there is equine-related artwork and lettering that reads, “Upon moving to Portola with her family, Heidi Fredette was described as shy and funny. She was only 13 years old when she was abducted and murdered in 1984. Heidi loved horses. She owned two of them, rode them whenever she could, and took care of them when they were sick. With love from the Class of 1989 and her many friends, this bench is dedicated to Heidi, and abducted children worldwide. May their families never grieve alone.”

Heidi’s mother, Gayle Hossack, and her sister, Kathryn Fredette-Oliveri, were both present as Magee stood before the room, voice full of emotion as he gave his thanks to the council and City Manager Knox for her assistance in pursuing a memorial for Heidi.

Magee went on to recall how he had become close friends with a girl that was new to Portola as a young student at Portola Junior/Senior High School and laughed as he shared recollections of a young woman full of life and a sharp sense of humor.

“It was your typical eighth grade humor,” Magee smiled. “Heidi was never shy around her friends, and she’d even pull something called ‘the idiot test’ on all of us, every single day.”

Magee explained that all of these years, the many people affected by Heidi’s loss had never forgotten her and had each continued to grieve in their own ways.

“Two local girls, graduates from Portola High, Sierra Quigley and Alisha Proctor, really kicked all of this off,” Magee explained. “Sierra had stumbled across the grave a number of years ago and took an interest in it. Sierra then reached out to Heidi’s mom and asked permission to clean the gravesite and both girls went out there and did a wonderful job.”

Magee explained that several years later, he found Heidi’s mother, Gayle, on Facebook, and was put into contact with Quigley.

“From there, we were able to come together on Facebook and GoFundMe to raise the funds to make this happen,” Magee said. “In speaking with Heidi’s sister, Katherine said something that was incredibly bothersome to me — she said, ‘All of this time, we thought that we were grieving alone.’”

Magee went on, “That’s why we added that last sentence to the design — the entire community and Class of 1989 is behind you, and you are not alone.”

Long time Portola High employee, Donna Wahler, came to the front to add her memories of Heidi in school, and that “she was awesome, a wonderful kid.”

Councilmember Pat Morton, who was serving as the school librarian at the high school at the time, also recalled the young woman as a wonderful young woman who spent a lot of time at the school library. “That event was traumatic for the whole community,” Morton added.

Councilmember Peiler added his whole-hearted approval of the plan, with the comment that perhaps the city could help with some complimentary landscaping with the placement of the bench at the Portola City Park.

The proposal was approved unanimously to much applause, and with that, the meeting was adjourned.

The Portola City Council regularly meets on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. For more information, call 832-6803 or visit cityofportola.com.

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