Black Diamond Council hears from Citizens, but the struggle continues
Momentary hope for a good Black Diamond Council meeting where perhaps some business could take place was dashed early in their meeting on Thursday, November 3.
For those who have made the bulk of the meetings during the past 10 months, the greater majority of the meetings have begun with Councilmember Pat Pepper attempting to push the Majority’s “Council” Agenda as the “Official” agenda for sometimes over a half hour into the meeting before the rest of the business could even begin to be approached. Along with the disruption came plenty of raised voices – some at screeching levels – that set the audience’s nervous systems on high. Thursday’s meeting, however, had the beginning moments full of hope as the Mayor Carol Benson opened with three items – including the full Council finally voting to pass the claim checks without pulling any for “Committee” work.
Nevertheless, when conversation was taking place regarding during a Public Hearing on the 2017 Stormwater Management Program, the cordialness that the audience was settling into began to ebb away due to Councilmember/Mayor Pro Tem Erika Morgan’s sizzling comment addressing the Mayor, “Do you want to have this fight again?”
The next agenda item regarding postponed meeting minutes from July 12, July 21, August 18, August 23, August 25 and September 1 drew more frustration as the “Majority” (Pepper, Morgan and Councilmember Brian Weber) Councilmembers only passed the July 12 minutes before postponing the rest of the minutes once again to the November 17th Council meeting. One of the reasons for postponing again came from Morgan who stated that she needs to listen to each Council meeting audio over and over and over again for 12 hours to make sure everything is accurate as she has found some inaccuracies.
One of the bright moments of the evening came when all Councilmembers voted to pass the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Black Diamond Police Officers Association. The agreement had originally failed with a no pass from Pepper, Morgan and Brian Weber. They did vote to reconsider bringing the resolution back to the November 3rd meeting, at which time it passed.
The rest of the meeting found agenda item after agenda item being voted on by the “Majority” to be brought back to the November 17th meeting after first being moved to the Government Operations Committee. On the item regarding an Interlocal Agreement with the Association of Washington Cities (AWC) Risk Management Service Agency, which offers comprehensive property and liability coverage, Councilmembers were warned that if they wanted to talk about the Agreement in the Government Operations that would be fine – but they were not to make any changes to the document. They were told that the document was non-negotiable and that it was a take-it or leave-it situation.
As the meeting began to wrap up Weber handed out a motion he was proposing that would cancel the November 17th Council meeting as well as cancel “the public hearing on the Ordinances previously scheduled for November 17th.” He called for a Special Council meeting for Monday, November 28th with the agenda including “the re-scheduled Public hearing on the two property tax ordinances as well as other items submitted prior to November 11th for inclusion.” Three other items were listed in the Motion regarding placement of ordinances on property taxes, budget review, and public comment on the budget, which normally comes during Council meetings.
As the discussion vetted itself out, it was learned that the reason for the meeting cancelation was due to Morgan and Weber being absent that night. It was quickly determined that a quorum of Pepper and Councilmembers Janie Edelman and Tami Deady were available. Weber was also warned that that meetings were already posted and could not be changed. In the end, Weber withdrew his motion.
A couple of weeks earlier, all Councilmembers were available for a Town Hall meeting on Thursday, October 13, that had not only Black Diamond citizens attended, but also those living outside City limits. For the most part, questions and comments were aimed towards the “Majority”. First audience member to come forward in the little over 4-hour Town Hall meeting was citizen Robbin Taylor, who wanted to know when open meetings were held regarding the “Council” rules that have been in hot debate for 10 months. Morgan stated she had tried to call public meetings, but that she was denied, while Pepper stated there had been legal review of the rules.
Challenging the two Councilmembers, Taylor pointed out that the 6th draft was done on January 12th and that there were no notices about any open public meetings during the drafting of the Council rules. Although Morgan attempted to talk over Taylor, Taylor reminded Morgan that it was her time to talk. After several Points of Order from Taylor, Morgan finally stopped. “What we have is four people – two councilmembers and two people living in Bellevue – writing a very large resolution created completely outside of the public’s view,” stated Taylor, “then after it is passed, you tell us we are allowed to participate. That is not the intention of the legislature with the RCW…all deliberations are to be done in open public meetings.” She challenged Pepper and Morgan to email her if anything she stated during her time at the podium was wrong.
Ugly and exhausting is how Judy Goodwin described the start of most Council meetings with the fights over the agenda. However, according to Morgan, “It is the Council’s meeting. It’s the one time that the Council can get together and discuss…” Speaking to the “Council’s” agenda Benson admitted that there were times when majority members have had their agenda turned in on time – without the entire agenda packet, but that is a rarity. She went onto state that for the most part agendas from the Majority Councilmembers come in 2 or 3 days before the meeting. She also pointed out that there was a time when the Majority turned in their agenda at 12:34 a.m. – the morning of the day of the meeting. Goodwin brought out that there has been a lot of chaos in the city over the past 10 months, and then questioned – is this helping the City of Black Diamond? Are the citizens benefiting?
“We owe the citizens better than what you all are getting right now,” stated Edelman a few minutes later.
Appalled and ashamed is what Mitch Neary described of the Council after having witnessed his first Council meeting. Not happy about the screaming and bantering he had witnessed, his stated that his concerns were for the police department and taken care of their members.
Melissa Ogelsbe questioned the “Majority” Councilmembers about having outside help. “In my opinion and others in Black Diamond residents you are following instructions and directions given to you by two individuals, is that correct? So you do not follow instructions or directions from Kristen Bryant or Brian Derdowski?”
Speaking about the items she has Derdowski and Bryant do, Morgan stated “I direct them because they will work for me for free. I give them outlines.”
Ogelsbe – “So they volunteer or they’re helpers for you?”
Morgan – “They are volunteers for me. You asked before, I’m sure that I do at least 23 hours a week of City work, but it’s probably twice that much.”
Ogelsbe – “They do work for you and they live in Bellevue?”
Morgan – “I have them do things like, I write things – and I have them proofread and test it…and to have some other eyes look at it.”
Ogelsbe – “So they do your work for you?”
Morgan – “That’s not what I said.”
Ogelsbe – “What about the people that are already working for you for the City – why can’t they look over your work – why can’t other Councilmembers look over your work?”
Morgan – “Because of the separation of power. By law City Councilmembers in these small cities in the state of Washington cannot direct or ask for anything, actually, in the law of the City staff. The City staff doesn’t work for the Council, the City staff works for the mayor. The Council is not allowed to have any employees.”
Ogelsbe – “…why couldn’t you go to them for advice?” Following an exchange that ended abruptly, Edelman and Councilmember Tami Deady explained to the audience how Councilmembers work with staff and the mayor.
For his comments, Bill Roth wanted to know about “Majority” Councilmembers violating the open meetings act. Morgan stated that they have been falsely accused and that there is no proof. Weber stated, “If I felt that I was truly violating a rule, I wouldn’t be doing it.” Pepper answered, “Yes we’ve been accused of a lot of things. If we felt like we were in violation of the open public meetings act we are not, we do not, we’re very mindful of that and we’re very careful with everything we do and with everyone. I would hope that the public and people making the accusations would understand that we are not and have not been and will not be.”
Last week, Bill Roth questioned Councilmembers Erika Morgan, Brian Weber and Pat Pepper about violating the open meetings act, to which then denied they had done….
Next to comment was Kristen Bryant of Bellevue, who spoke to several issues she viewed as troublesome within the City of Black Diamond. In the end, she stated, “I love Black Diamond and I won’t go away, but I think we need to look at how we’re treating everyone.”
Mayor Carol Benson responded to some of Bryant’s points by stating that according to the Municipal Research & Services Center (MRSC) and Association of Washington Cities (AWC), the mayor and the clerk put the agenda together. “And the reason we do that is because everybody on staff comes together with their information,” stated Benson. “We have a process – they come to a committee meeting that has two councilmembers there and present their information but before they present the item for the agenda it goes before the attorney who says if it is legal or not. Then it goes to the whole council for a vote.”
Pat Nelson asked, “When do we get the special interests group out of the city? We have two fearless leaders don’t even live in the City…and literally there’s cue cards to answers – not someone answering a question – like they had the questions in advance of what’s coming and they can’t read nothing, but the answer’s prewritten for them and I find it interest that we have people doing our homework for us outside the city, a.k.a. the special interest group – in my opinion. At what point in time, do we quit allowing Bellevue to dictate Black Diamond. If you care about it, leave it alone and let us deal with our own City.”
Questioning the “Majority” Councilmembers Erika Morgan, Brian Weber, and Pat Pepper, Keith Watson stated, “I deal with a couple of volunteer organizations and we don’t always agree, but we do get things done. It’s possible to do it. You don’t have to listen to somebody from a foreign city. Think for yourself. What are you going to do for Black Diamond. It hasn’t been much so far.”
Frustrated with the three Councilmembers, Brock Deady summed his comments up by saying, “From my standpoint you don’t listen to what people are talking about…It appears to me you’ve already made your mind up. The decision’s already been made regardless of what the people say, regardless of the advice of the attorneys, regardless of the input from the staff.
Embarrassed as so many fellow citizens after having voted for the “Majority”, Sam Kerley spoke to a conversation he had with Weber when Weber was campaigning last year. “What he [Weber] said was, you know what he really wanted to accomplish in all of this was – he wanted to make things so miserable for Yarrow Bay that they would absolutely just get up and leave and they would go somewhere else, become somebody else’s problem.” Kerley went on to state that he thought the “Majority” Councilmembers were puppets. “My question to you is, who are you trying to drive out? You trying to drive out Yarrow Bay or are you trying to drive out the citizens?” After a large round of applause for Kerley’s statemen, Weber came back with he wasn’t trying to drive anybody out.
Towards the end of Judith Carrier’s comments, she was challenged by the Benson about having an issue with the City attorney. Carrier agreed that they felt they weren’t getting the very best advice from Kenyon Disend attorneys due to the roll the company played in the City’s Master Plan Development’s (MPD) roll.
“I agree with you that when we had them before, we didn’t like their advice,” said Benson. “but this attorney that we’re using right now has a totally different background. The attorney that we had before, Chris Bacha did not have municipal background. So the attorney we have now is totally different.”
Councilmember Janie Edelman also let the audience know that when the City advertised for attorneys, only three applications applied where normally there would be a dozen applicants. “Nobody even wants to come work out here,” said Edelman. She brought out that the firm the “Majority” wanted to hire had no municipal experience whatsoever. After the process was run, the best qualified was attorney was Kenyon Disend.
A couple of other comments that came out included Judy Goodwin calling for a mediator. “We need to hear from somebody outside [where] that middle ground is.” Johna Thompson commented, “It’s really got to come from the three of you deciding to follow the appropriate rules and listen to the people who are taking the time to come and talk to you.” She went on to challenge “Majority” Councilmembers to make the emails they claimed were coming from citizens in supporting of them be made public so everyone could see for themselves.
Making her way to the podium for a second time, Robbin Taylor spoke to Morgan’s comment about wanting a democratic process. “The Council majority of Morgan, Weber and Pepper constantly spring legislation on the public at the last minute and without advanced notice,” said Taylor. “This gives the public no prior ability to study or ability to provide feedback prior to the meeting and leaves us unable to comment on these items during the public comment period. Can you explain to the audience and myself how this hit and run method of governing furthers the democratic process and public participation?”
Morgan stated that she felt that the City drifted away from their responsibility of noticing the special meetings and agenda placement. “At first back in February, when we started this process it seemed like it was difficult, but it seemed like it was beginning to work….I have said also before that I personally try to hit each encounter without any prejudice or without payed any attention to rancor and the dysfunction that has gone on and try and start with a fresh slate. It is true that at a certain point, and I can’t remember exactly when it started, that I began to feel that while there was no hope that when we sent our agenda in the 10 days before that the statuary responsibility would be followed through on.
“So it’s very unfortunate that this is happening for the public and it will still happen for the public because I don’t have, we don’t have everybody’s email and we don’t have any way to put it on the website. So we have an agenda that’s got the Council approval and the Council [Council meaning Morgan, Weber, and Pepper] behind it and then there’s this other agenda, it’s like we’re working two cities in a split …in a shadow government. You are absolutely right [speaking to Taylor who interjected shadow government].
“And if the statutory responsibilities were being upheld when stuff came in, the shadow government would be stopped. But that isn’t the agenda of this mayor.”
Taylor – “ So who’s the shadow? I look at you as the shadow government.”
Morgan – “I understand.”
Taylor – “Actually, no. I take that back. Derdowski and Bryant are the shadow government. They’re the ones who are running – two people in Bellevue have three votes on this Council. And they’re the ones that are running it.”
Morgan – “That’s an interesting way to look at it.”
Taylor – “It’s the way it is.”
Morgan – “I’m going to agree to differ with your assessment.”
Taylor – “I know that, but I would like since you’re reasoning for the Council rules was for the Council to take accountability and responsibility for their work. I would like for a change to see this Council majority quit shifting the blame to the Mayor and Council minority. I’d like you to start being accountable and taking responsibility for the chaos you’re creating in this City and for the grinding to a halt the City business that has taken place … things have ground to a halt.
“And I’ve gotta say, Mr. Kerley making the comment about what Derdowski said is not far from what my theory has been is that Derdowski believes if he can bankrupt the City, that the City goes away, that it stops the development because the contract will be broken. And I can guarantee you that is not going to happen.
“If the City goes bankrupt, goes into receivership, and dis-incorporates, the development will continue because those development rights go with the land. They’re registered with the land. It’s not going to stop. And if you’re following Derdowski’s advice, his reasoning is – make it so miserable that YarrowBay leaves, but what’s going to happen is, it’s going to run the City into the ground and YarrowBay’s going to still be here.