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Posts Tagged ‘Local Government’

mad-men-elisabeth-moss-3_610The dustup over the keeping of minutes by city committees continues. On July 30, City Manager Doug Schulze sent an email to all city committees and commissions, passing on the advice from the city attorney that they are to conduct themselves as if the state Open Public Meetings Act applies to them. Staff will continue to provide the mandated public notice via the city’s website and distribution lists after receipt of an agenda from the committee chairs. Schulze reiterated current city policy on the taking of minutes, asking committee members take the minutes and provide a copy to the city staff for posting on the city website.

At the end of 2010, citizen committees and commissions were advised that, due to budget constraints, the city could not longer provide staff support for the taking of minutes.

Utility Advisory Committee (UAC) Chair Arlene Buetow responded to Schulze in two emails. The first email expressed disappointment that he had not said in his correspondence that this was a new interpretation of state law.

The second contained an ultimatum: either provide staff support for UAC minute-taking or she will cancel the upcoming UAC meeting.

Arlene Buetow’s emailing habits have already been covered here. But on the subject of minutes, there’s something to be said in her defense.

Women know how often eyes turn to them whenever minute-taking comes up at meetings. Men who might be enlightened and wonderful in other parts of their lives, suddenly come down with a Mad Men style sexism when there are secretarial duties at hand.

The UAC has five members: four men and Arlene Buetow. Come on men. Get off your hands and help her out. Here’s a helpful tip from a couple of male former UAC members who did manage to prepare minutes, while fully participating in meetings: (more…)

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Inflammatory emails released by the city pursuant to a Public Records Act request reveal behind-the-scenes strategizing and advocacy among some Utility Advisory Committee (UAC) members, frequent emails about city business from UAC Chair Arlene Buetow to certain council members’ personal email addresses, testy exchanges between Buetow and City Manager Doug Schulze, and scorching criticisms by Buetow of city staff, UAC colleagues and citizens with whom she did not agree.

Buetow assumed the chairmanship of the UAC in March of 2012 and is now running for Bainbridge city council.

Under her leadership, the UAC’s mission has expanded well beyond the scope of the city’s UAC ordinance. She regularly emailed council persons Sarah Blossom, Steven Bonkowski, David Ward and/or Debbi Lester at their personal email addresses, with extensive comments on utility issues. Those four council persons often vote as a bloc on a variety of contested issues. When they were running for council, Ward, Blossom and Bonkowski were critical of the city’s management of utilities. Their candidacies were supported by the Ratepayers Alliance, a group that sued the city in 2009 over utility issues. Sally Adams, secretary of the Ratepayers Alliance, was occasionally included as a recipient of Buetow emails.

Except for routine matters like scheduling and a thank-you note to Anne Blair, Ms. Buetow did not include council persons Bob Scales, Kirsten Hytopoulos or Anne Blair in the emails produced to me.  (more…)

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On June 5, after an extended break from blogging, I attended a city council meeting to hear discussion about a proposed agreement with Kitsap Public Utility District to manage the city’s water utility. Along with others in council chambers, I watched in disbelief as council member Steven Bonkowski jettisoned the agenda item we’d come to hear and instead made his own presentation about the utility. Although City Manager Doug Schulze was scheduled to discuss the contract, Bonkowski would not allow him to speak to the issues or defend himself from critical remarks Bonkowski made about his work.

Because the unorthodox maneuvering seemed orchestrated with several council colleagues ahead of time, I was curious about the preparation that had gone into Mr. Bonkowski’s presentation. I was particularly interested in the input he had received from the city’s Utility Advisory Committee (UAC). I went to the city’s website to look at UAC minutes, and learned that none had been submitted since October of 2012. As a result, I made requests under the state’s Public Records Act for documents relating to the city’s utilities and the UAC. As the city began producing installments of responsive records, I realized some council persons were receiving a lot (so far, over a hundred) of emails about city business at their private email addresses. I also saw that UAC Chair Arlene Buetow was the author of many of those off-the-grid emails.

I wrote in a previous post about the records I’d received to that point. I’ve also written a piece for Inside Bainbridge, which I’ve posted on Bainbridge Notebook as well. Last week, I posted an article about advice concerning the state Open Public Meetings Act, given at the July 24 council meeting by Interim city attorney Jim Haney.

Contrary to accusations by Buetow supporters, I did not make these records requests to dig up unflattering information on Arlene Buetow, who is currently a Central Ward candidate for city council.

Unfortunately, that is what I found.

Reading these emails has made me heart sick. They reflect a persistent disrespect and hostility toward city staff, citizen volunteers, council persons, the city, the democratic process and even, horrifyingly, the recently deceased.

Some emails reveal violations of city policy and ordinances, if not state law. Others indicate a practice by some of our leaders of communicating privately on important city issues, cutting out the public, and council persons or committee members with whom they do not agree. Most land in a gray area—offensive but not necessarily unethical or illegal. (more…)

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The following article of mine was published by Inside Bainbridge on July 18, 2013. I am re-publishing it here to have it archived on my blog.

Documents released by the city pursuant to a public records request reveal that Arlene Buetow, Central Ward City Council candidate, lobbied four members of the Council at their private e-mail addresses on behalf of her homeowners’ association. Shortly after she sent three e-mails to the four requesting an exemption from the city’s business licensing requirements, Councilmember Dave Ward made a motion to do just that at a regularly scheduled council meeting.

On April 14, Buetow sent an e-mail to the personal e-mail addresses of Councilmembers Steven Bonkowski, Sarah Blossom, Debbi Lester, and Ward—who constitute a quorum of the Council—attaching a memo explaining her objections to a recently adopted ordinance that included homeowners’ associations among those entities that must obtain a business license. Buetow, who identified herself as president of the Tiffany Meadows Homeowners’ Association, said the license requirement subjected homeowners’ associations (HOAs) to “superfluous and unnecessary staff review.” She argued that the Council never meant to include HOAs in its ordinance.

On April 15, she sent another message to the four Councilmembers at their personal e-mails, writing, “Dave Ward asked me to provide details on the timing of this Ordinance through Council and how that relates to the Notice being sent out to the ‘affected parties.’” She attached portions of previous Council minutes at which the licensing provisions were considered and adopted.

Although I submitted a Public Records Act request for Councilmembers’ e-mail records, as of July 17 I had received no records showing how Ward communicated his request to Buetow. In fact, I have not received any e-mails from Bonkowski, Lester, or Ward on the topic of the HOA business licensing provision. (more…)

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The conversation at the Council meeting tonight began with council member Anne Blair talking about the many communications the council has received from citizens and staff about the choice for Interim City Manager. She also indicated that she and others on the ad hoc committee who brought Mike Caldwell to Bainbridge had been surprised at his remarks about change during his interview.

There was a smattering of citizen comment–about equal for and against Caldwell.

And then the surprise. On a motion by Bob Scales and seconded by Kirsten Hytopoulos, Acting City Manager Morgan Smith became Interim City Manager. The vote was 4-2, with Scales, Hytopoulos, Anne Blair and Sarah Blossom voting in favor, and Debbi Lester and Steve Bonkowski voting against. Dave Ward was absent.

I want to give a shout out to Sarah Blossom, who broke with her usual voting bloc. She said she’d been in favor of giving Caldwell the nod, but was voting for Smith because in the time it would take to find an outside Interim, the council may well be close to finding a permanent City Manager. (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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The State Auditor’s office has dismissed a complaint filed against the City by former Civil Service Commission Secretary/Chief Examiner Kim Hendrickson. Her complaint alleged violations of whistleblower laws, open government laws, and Civil Service Commission rules, specifically targeting former City Manager Brenda Bauer and Council member Bob Scales.

“Your concerns regarding the City are outside our audit authority,” wrote Jan Jutte, Director of Legal Affairs for the Auditor’s office.  “Our office has no authority to examine compliance with civil service or local government whistleblower laws.” (more…)

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On February 29, Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Russell Hartman denied a request by the Ratepayers Alliance to require the City of Bainbridge Island to pay more than $3 million in back storm and surface water management (SSWM) fees and interest.

He also held that the Alliance is not entitled to recover its legal fees and costs from the City. Unless appealed and overturned, that ruling may well be the biggest blow to the Ratepayers Alliance yet, because it forecloses the possibility of recovery of their legal fees, even if they prevail on the remaining issues in the lawsuit. (more…)

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Now that our City Manager has been dispatched by the newly constituted City Council, another item on its to-do list may well be a reconsideration of whether to divest the City’s water utility to the Kitsap PUD (KPUD).

Current mayor Debbi Lester voted against retaining the utility back in December when the Council majority decided to keep it for an 18-month period to determine whether the City could run it as cost-effectively as the KPUD. Three of the new Council members—Sarah Blossom, Dave Ward and Steven Bonkowski—made divestiture a key part of their campaigns. While he was on the Utility Advisory Committee (UAC) and also running for Council (and while the UAC was deliberating on its water utility recommendation), Ward also accepted a campaign contribution from Dick Allen, a leading member of the Ratepayers Alliance which has sued the City and included divestiture on its list of demands.

That foursome forms a Council majority that might be interested in re-visiting the water utility issue, which seemed mostly dormant during the City Manager contract renegotiation. This week, various publicly circulated emails have heated up the rhetoric. (more…)

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UPDATED: As of 4 p.m. on May 20, with 200 additional votes left to be counted, the Kitsap County Auditor reports that the change in government  is passing with a vote of 69.76%. The school bond is still just short of the supermajority, at 59. 57%. Over 9000 people cast votes on these measures (9205 on the form of government vote, and 9414 on the bond). On another note, our change of government vote was featured on KUOW today, with Mayor Kordonowy and change of government campaign member Bob Fortner giving their comments by phone. Click here for the audio.

The voters have spoken and they want real change in local government. Last night’s unofficial vote count from the Kitsap County Auditor gave the change of government measure an impressive lead at 71.4%, out of  7511 votes counted. The school bond measure is falling short of the required 60% supermajority, at 57.68%. Results will be updated today at 4 p.m. when ballot drop-offs and late mail-ins will be counted. 

Change-of-government supporters celebrated at the Treehouse last night, noshing on pizza and salad and marveling at the wide margin of victory. Council members Debbie Vancil, Kim Brackett, Bill Knobloch and Barry Peters were in the crowd of about fifty. Shortly after the results were in, state Representative and former Bainbridge Councilor Christine Rolfes, dropped in. Rolfes sponsored a bill in Olympia that enabled the change-of-government measure to be on the ballot in May, instead of during the general election in November.   

(more…)

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