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Archive for the ‘City finances’ Category

One of the most disturbing charges made by T-PAC candidates is that the City of Bainbridge Island (CoBI) is in financial trouble.

“I believe we have struggled more than most due to 1) an excessively broad scope of services, 2) shrinking revenues, 3) lack of fiscal controls,” Arlene Buetow says on her campaign website.

Dee McComb says tackling budget issues and controlling expenses are a top priority for her.

“The City finances are unsustainable,Dick Haugan told Inside Bainbridge.

“The main reason I’m running is to introduce sound, fiscal management to our city,” he wrote in a Bainbridge Review ad.

“We need to fix this fiscal mess,”  he said in a mailing to shoreline property owners.

Those are serious allegations. But are they true? Not according to Moody’s Investors Service.

This past August, Moody’s assigned an Aa3 rating to CoBI’s general obligation bonds. 

The Aa3 rating means CoBI demonstrates “very strong creditworthiness relative to other US municipal or tax-exempt issuers or issues.”

“The rating primarily reflects the city’s continuing trend of improvement in its financial operations, moderately-sized tax base which has yet to return to growth, and above-average wealth levels of city residents,” Moody’s wrote in its summary rating rationale.

The rating also reflects the city’s strong management team and conservative financial policies.”

Moody’s listed as key strengths CoBI’s strong reserve levels, the trend of structural balance in the last three audited years and its low debt burden. (more…)

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When the news hit this week that the Kitsap County Republicans recommended Bainbridge city council candidates Arlene Buetow and Dick Haugan, there were denials, a revised list, and even a press release from Buetow, reminding us that this is a nonpartisan race. Trippwires went out, tut-tutting the 23rd L.D. Democrats for taking us down the path of partisan local politics. Bainbridge Notebook readers aired their views on this article.

Of course, the county parties have quietly made their recommendations on local issues for years, so that was nothing new. The Kitsap Patriot Tea Party even weighed in on our last city council race in 2011, recommending council person Steve Bonkowski. (I have no idea how they made their choices or whether Mr. Bonkowski solicited the nod.)

City councils don’t make laws on hot button social issues that typically fall into conservative and progressive camps. But they do work on policies, ordinances and budgets. A council member’s ideology will certainly inform the positions he or she takes, whether it’s City Hall spending and staffing, a city-wide plastic bag ban, support for the arts, or local environmental programs. For many busy voters, an endorsement by one party or the other is a shorthand way of understanding a candidate’s approach to government.

But electing a Democrat (or a Republican) does not guarantee that your interests will be represented at City Hall.  So, as Buetow urged in her press release, let’s look at Buetow’s and Haugan’s track records and stands on the issues.

Arlene Buetow

Buetow remains in the “too extreme” column based on her positions on issues, her documented dislike for our city government and the support she is getting from Gary Tripp’s ultraconservative T-PAC.

According to her campaign statement, she wants to “improve fiscal structures and efficiencies,”  or, in Republican parlance, “eliminate government waste.” She says the city has “an excessively broad scope of services,” again sounding like the Party of No that always wants to cut government services. (more…)

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At the June 5 council meeting, councilman Steven Bonkowski tossed aside an item on the agenda to consider whether to enter into an agreement with the Kitsap Public Utility District to manage the city’s water utility. Without any prior notice to the council or the public, Mr. Bonkowski took the podium and made his own presentation concerning water rates and the utility’s reserve. He proffered six motions for council consideration, including cutting water rates by 35% and refunding $3 million of reserves to ratepayers. Mr. Bonkowski took great exception to the analysis contained in a memo from City Manager Doug Schulze, saying it “misrepresents many issues,” and “failed” to respond to various aspects of council’s direction. The Bainbridge Review’s article about it is here. The Inside Bainbridge article, with more detail, is here. 

At the June 19 meeting, the council discussed Bonkowski’s proposals and put the rate reduction on the June 27 agenda. Council member Bob Scales said he may not be available that day and that it was customary for votes on significant issues to be scheduled when all seven council members will be present. Mr. Bonkowski said that the views of each council person were already known and indicated he would add the item to the agenda at the June 27 meeting.

I sent the following email to council today.

Dear Council:

It was discouraging to hear at last week’s council meeting Mr. Bonkowski’s opinion that the presence of dissenting colleagues is unnecessary when the council votes on important water utility decisions. That position is contrary to general principles of democratic process and also appears to violate Section 8.5 of your Governance Manual, which gives dissenting council members the right to state their reasons for dissent on the record.

This is not the only recent violation of good process and best practices by council members, and by citizen committee members appointed by the council majority. I have learned via emails obtained in a public records request, that before Mr. Bonkowski made his June 5th water utility presentation, he obtained help and research from UAC member Eric Turloff. Mr. Turloff’s out-of-view assistance was conducted with the knowledge of UAC Chair Arlene Buetow, and UAC member Jeff Kantor, as well as council member Dave Ward, all three of whom were cc’d on several emails. This is in direct violation of BIMC Ch. 2.33 (which governs the Utility Advisory Committee). That ordinance provides that “The committee shall act in an advisory capacity to the city council…” The ordinance does not allow for a few committee members to act in advisory capacity to a few council members. Rather, the committee must act as a whole to advise the council, also as a whole. Further, section 2.33.060 provides: “Meetings shall be open to the public.” Discussions via email, phone or in person by a quorum of three members of the UAC would be a meeting which was not open to the public, and thus violative of section 2.33.060.  (more…)

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When it first appeared on the scene in 2009 during the waning days of the Kordonowy administration, the Bainbridge Ratepayers Alliance was vigorously criticized by supporters of the Winslow Way reconstruction project, a few Council members, the Chamber of Commerce, citizens, and various downtown business people. Remember the disapproving letters to the editor and signs in a few merchant windows, telling them to knock it off?

Times change. A couple of years of aggressive lobbying by president Dick Allen, secretary Sally Adams and their supporters–who include past and current Council members and Utility Advisory Committee members—so effectively turned public opinion against the City that voters elected an entire slate of Ratepayer supporters to Council: Dave Ward, Sarah Blossom, and Steven Bonkowski (all of whom advocated for water utility divestiture during their campaigns, and were endorsed at a campaign event co-hosted by Sally Adams. Two of them, Dave Ward and Sarah Blossom, also accepted campaign contributions of money and volunteer services from Alliance members).

In the process, the Ratepayers Alliance transformed from a seemingly populist, if secretive, handful of people focused on remedying unfairness in utility rates, to a group of secretive, behind-the-scenes operatives who appear to be fixated on disabling the City and recouping their legal fees in a largely unsuccessful lawsuit.

The “Ratepayers” have become the “Alliance.” (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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At last week’s City Council meeting, four new Council members–Sarah Blossom, Dave Ward, Steven Bonkowski and Anne Blair–were sworn in, and four others–Hilary Franz, Barry Peters, Bill Knobloch and Kim Brackett–were bid warm good-byes. Sadly, the occasion was marred by some good old-fashioned political hackery. A memo (posted below) surfaced at the meeting, purporting to give advice to an unnamed voting bloc of four on the incoming Council, on such statesmanlike topics as the lying habits of City employees, how to force a management shake-up at City Hall, and how to sandbag Council opposition. 

According to information obtained by Inside Bainbridge, outgoing Council member Bill Knobloch was behind the memo. Inside Bainbridge quotes City Manager Brenda Bauer as saying Knobloch used the copier at City Hall and “immediately after he left, [a] staff person who walked past him into the room to use the copier found the document in the originals tray. They shared it with another staff person or two who came into the copier room, and then it was given to me.”

When contacted by Inside Bainbridge, Knobloch denied responsibility, saying, “I am not the author of that document.” Knobloch added that “we should not be conjecturing about something that we had no way of knowing,” and repeated that the accusation was “totally false.” Inside Bainbridge reported that he “questioned the reasoning behind sharing the document at the Council meeting: ‘What good is that especially since it was a festive evening?’” I’m willing to entertain the idea that he didn’t write it, or wasn’t the only author, but at the very least it seems clear he was involved with crafting and conveying the message.

I got my hands on it after the Council meeting and was so disgusted I wrote the email below to members of the new Council. I promptly received two or three emails from another citizen who has been active in trying to shred the City for the past couple of years (I can’t bring myself to name him, but let it be said he loves to clog our inboxes with his anti-everything musings.) This citizen gave it the old spaghetti on the wall trick, throwing up as many defenses as possible to see what sticks. His argument boils down to one point: this is politics, honey, so get used to it.

As to the voting bloc to whom the memo is addressed, an educated guess would be the three new members whom Knobloch publicly endorsed: Dave Ward, Sarah Blossom and Steven Bonkowski. The identity of the fourth might be gleaned from the public reaction of Debbi Lester, who has been aligned with Knobloch on several hot button issues in the past few months, such as divestiture of the City’s water utility and the swamp surrounding the in-sourcing of the Civil Service Commission’s Secretary/ Chief Examiner position. After I read the memo, I communicated with Councilors Hytopoulos, Scales, Franz and Peters, who were uniformly disgusted and outraged. In contrast, Lester made light of the episode when contacted by Inside Bainbridge, saying, “Everybody should go have some eggnog and chill out.” (more…)

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Given the filing of the lawsuit  today by Winslow ratepayers (Bainbridge Ratepayers Alliance), I am at the City Council meeting to see whether they will approve the financing of the watewater treatment plant in spite of the lawsuit. After public comment, the Council went into a lengthy recess (apparently to discuss the lawsuit). When the Council resumed its meeting, Council member Bill Knobloch moved that items concerning the financing for the wastewater treatment plant on the Council’s agenda be removed due to the filing of that lawsuit. The motion failed, with Mr. Knobloch voting in favor of removing those items, Kim Brackett abstaining (stating she doesn’t have enough information to vote on it), and the other Councilors voting against it.

(more…)

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