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Archive for the ‘Change of government’ Category

By Bob Fortner

Last year’s Council “fixed” the water utility problems…high rates were reduced to those proposed by the KPUD, overhead was reduced and a trial period was established. The Utility Advisory Committee would review operational data quarterly and report to Council in June 2013.

Without waiting for or seeking operating data, Council members Bonkowski, Ward and Blossom with the support of Mayor Lester are pursuing early re-engagement with KPUD regarding management or ownership of the City’s Water Utility. Using 5 years of financial reports, Bonkowski alludes to data on the other city utilities compared with water to support his contention that all is not right with utility management and therefore the early re-engagement is justified.

Perhaps in his relative newness here, he fails to factor in that the previous Finance Director was dismissed in August of 2010 after 6 years of fiscal obfuscation which contributed to our near bankruptcy. Bonkowski may have found what he believes are discrepancies or a “straw man” to justify divestiture. Basing the reengagement decision on an analysis of those records, without a previous examination of current data, seems inconsistent with his experience in the business world. (more…)

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Update 7/12–for a brief report of this item at last night’s council meeting, see my comment, which is third in the comment stream below.

I am reprinting below Gloria Sayler’s excellent piece on Council overreaching and disrespect of staff, which she sent out on her Island Observer listserv yesterday. To her analysis of possible violations Governance Manual, I add the state statute that prohibits Council members from giving orders to subordinates of the City Manager. 

The chip seal contract is back on the agenda for tonight’s Council meeting. It will be interesting to see whether Interim City Manager Morgan Smith will offer support for her Public Works Director, in light of the aggressive micromanagement by Council member Dave Ward.

Many important issues have been discussed in recent Council meetings but the question I am frequently asked is “Why is the Council/City so dysfunctional?”  Of course, there is no single reason but I think I understand some of the elements. First, government, even in our small City, is more complicated than one may think at first or second glance.

Another reason, related to the first, is on display almost every Wednesday night – the time involved.  Most weeks the Council meeting lasts 3-5 hours. If you think about any meetings you attend, most people have a difficult time maintaining their focus after the 2nd hour. (more…)

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At tonight’s presentation about the authority of Council members under the Council-Manager form of government by Seattle lawyer Steve DeJulio, Mayor Debbi Lester and Council members Dave Ward and Steve Bonkowski quickly shut down Council member Bob Scales when he tried to ask questions about the authority of individual Council members to act without a Council vote. Council authority has been a raw question since Lester, Bonkowski and Dave Ward hired a law firm to give advice about firing City Manager Brenda Bauer without obtaining a vote of the full Council. DiJulio’s presence was at Council’s request following the dispute over that issue.

DeJulio gave a crisp one-hour briefing on the laws governing the power and functioning of local government in our state. He told Council it has legislative authority to act by motion, resolution, or ordinance. A significant responsibility is to adopt a budget, also done as a legislative body in open session.

DeJulio explained that, under the island’s Council-Manager form of government, the Council has legislative authority, and the power to appoint the City Manager. State law specifically prohibits the Council from interfering with the decisions of the City Manager. The statute requires that the Council deal with staff solely through the Manager, except for purposes of inquiry, or at public Council meetings. (more…)

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I’m at the Council meeting tonight, starting to blog at the agenda item, “2012 Workplan Priorities.” Morgan Smith presented a list of high priority items for staff, including resolving outstanding labor claims and negotiating a new police guild contract, Rockaway Beach stabilization, increasing the annual roads preservation support by 50%, and updating the water and sewer utility plans. She also identified work the Council agreed on at the council retreat, which include an allocation process for the WSF funds, roads planning and police accountability. Click here for the list: 021512_2012_WORKPLAN_CC_021512

Melanie Keenan and Malcolm Gander informed the Council that they submitted a draft grant to Ecology for $200,000 to clean up the Unocal site. They want the Council to put the grant on the work plan. They mentioned that they’d been in touch with Dave Ward about this.

Barry Peters reminded the Council that the UAC brought forward a recommendation to examine the SSWM fee structure and recommends that the Council put that on its work plan.

Debbi Lester moved to affirm the proposed work plan, Bonkowski seconded. Passes unanimously. Bob Scales is absent from the meeting.

Anne Blair suggested if there is a plan to divest the water utility this year, it needs to be on the work plan.

Kirsten Hytopoulos says that to have a full conversation of the cultural element they need to have more information. We don’t know who will be our manager, or whether we will be manager-less, she says, so she doesn’t think they should open up broader conversation about the social services or the cultural element. They just don’t have the capacity, even though that conversation is overdue.  She says, we’ve lost the opportunity of having a conversation this year about who we are and where we’re going by undertaking a city manager search this year. (more…)

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From their first days in office, Dave Ward and Steven Bonkowski, along with two-year council veteran Debbi Lester, executed a plan to fire City Manager Brenda Bauer. The plan was developed and acted upon behind closed doors, without lawful authority. All three denied the existence of any such plan when publicly asked by council colleagues.

The timeline:

January 1, 2012 (Sunday)–Newly elected council members Ward, Bonkowski, Sarah Blossom and Anne Blair take office.

January 5 (Thursday)–Ward calls the offices of Inslee Best and speaks with firm partner Rod Kaseguma about Bauer’s Employment Agreement. “Mrs. Johnson” sends an anonymous email to Bauer, telling her she was about to lose her job and should resign rather than wait to be fired. (more…)

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Update 2/10/12: I have checked the Council’s meeting minutes. Although the threesome claimed they engaged Inslee Best on Debbi Lester’s mayoral authority, she was not mayor on the day the firm was hired (Jan. 5). She was elected mayor at the Council meeting on Jan. 11, when most of the firm’s work was already done. Although under our Council-Manager form of government, the mayor is ceremonial and has no more power than any other Council member, this debunks the threesome’s main argument that they acted lawfully.

 In a remarkable display of inexperience, Council members Dave Ward, Debbi Lester (who is also taking a turn as mayor this year) and Steven Bonkowski engaged the law firm of Inslee Best in January for advice about their plan to fire City Manager Brenda Bauer, without informing the full Council or the City Attorney.

At last night’s Council meeting, Councilor Bob Scales revealed that according to an Inslee Best bill, Ward, who took office at the beginning of the year, contacted the firm on January 5 to discuss an employment agreement. By law, the City Council has authority over only one employee, the City Manager, and it became apparent during the ensuing discussion that the law firm was retained for advice about Bauer. Click here to read the bill: Inslee Best invoice. (more…)

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Yesterday a “Transition Addendum to Employment Agreement” was posted to the City Council’s next meeting agenda. With it, the word is out: City Manager Brenda Bauer’s time with the City of Bainbridge Island is indeed coming to a close. Although the Addendum isn’t effective until the Council votes on Wednesday night, it signals that the Council, which has been meeting in extended, closed Executive sessions over the past several weeks, has reached an agreement with Bauer on the terms of her departure from the City.

The skulking, anonymous Mrs. Johnson of threatening-email fame was correct back in the beginning of January when she sneered that Bauer’s “employment is coming to a close.” She was also right when she wrote “you do have a choice on how you leave.” But Bauer’s choices have turned out to be much better than Mrs. Johnson’s resign-now-or-you’ll-be-sorry taunt.

In fact, judging by the generous terms of Bauer’s leave-taking, she might have had a taunt or two of her own (I’m guessing it was along the lines of “until you find a new manager, you need me more than I need you.”) Under Bauer’s original Employment Agreement, she was entitled to six months’ severance if she was fired without cause (which is narrowly defined in the contract). If she quit, she got nothing. Hence, Mrs. Johnson’s effort to entice her to resign. (more…)

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