Battle over the 2017 Black Diamond Budget races toward December deadline
In a surprise move by the majority members of the Black Diamond City Council (Erika Morgan, Brian Weber, and Pat Pepper), a 24-hour notice was given for a special meeting to be held on Thursday, December 22. Main focus of the meeting was to try and pass a “new” budget prepared by Councilmember Brian Weber.
Originally, a special meeting agreed upon by all Councilmembers at their final Regular Council meeting for the year on Thursday, December 15, was set for Thursday, December 27. As a result, City staff was in a scramble in order to go through Weber’s 9-page document making sure it would be workable and most importantly – be a balance budget.
Finance Director May Miller, who already had a lot on her plate working to prepare a number of requested contract documents, was in a scramble to switch gears and put full concentration into Weber’s budget. Preliminarily, she compared the “substitute” budget with the City’s formal budget and found that the numbers in the “substitute” budget were not lining up or balancing.
For instance, currently the City has been approved for a $1.1 million grant for work on Roberts Dr. that the City has initially spent $200,000 on. According to Miller, Weber’s Budget shows the City receiving the Grant Revenue, deleting the expenditure for the Project entirely, and then just adding the grant money into a “savings” account.
“The city can only receive Budget Grant Revenue if it also budgets Grant Expenditures. You can never just add Grant money to “savings,” said Miller.
As the system works, the authorized Grant work needs to be completed first, before the City bills the State for reimbursement. Grant money can only be used specifically for that authorized Project expenditures and cannot be applied anywhere else in the budget. By the end of the special meeting, the motion to pass the “substitute” budget was withdrawn until the Council reconvenes again on Tuesday, December 27 – if not sooner.
During their very contentious meeting on Thursday, December 15, Mayor Carol Benson read a letter from Association of Washington Cities Risk Management Services Agency Risk Management Services Agency (AWC RMSA) regarding whether Councilmembers Pepper, Brian Weber, and Erika Morgan would be covered in the lawsuit filed against them by CCD Black Diamond Partners LLC. RMSA wrote the following, “…that AWC RMSA’s Coverage Agreement does not cover the allegations and claims in the lawsuit. Therefore, AWC RMSA will be unable to defend or indemnify the City, the City Council, or the defendant City Council members in that lawsuit.”
RMSA further noted that – “These are the plaintiff’s [CCD Black Diamond] allegations only and have not been proven. They may be incomplete, exaggerated, or false. AWC RMSA has reached no conclusion as to the truthfulness of any of the plaintiff’s allegations.”
A second letter read in part by Benson came from Allied Law Group who was calling for everyone involved in the lawsuit to not destroy any forms of communications both paper and electronically stored information – of which a number of various types of communications were listed and described in detail. “Should we discover that information has been destroyed that should have been maintained…we reserve the right to ask the Court to hold the destroyed party in contempt of court and to be prosecuted for the illegal destruction, as well as to have judgment awarded against such party, an adverse finding made as a result of the destruction… and any other sanction or remedy available under the law.”
As the meeting progressed, Pepper introduced a professional service contract for a parliamentarian. When all was said and done, Mayor Carol Benson stated that Pepper had no authority before tearing the resolution and contract up. In another attempt to push more legislation through, Pepper called for the suspending of the rules in order to the bring Lighthouse Law to the City through a resolution approving legal services. At one point, upset with Councilmember Tamie Deady’s comments on the matter, Morgan made a comment about recessing the meeting until the next day.
Shortly thereafter, Brian Derdowski, who was coaching the majority members, was told by the Mayor that he would be removed if he did not shut up. Later in the meeting after causing several more interruptions, Derdowski was quietly taken into the hallway by Black Diamond Police Sgt. Lynch and Commander Martinez. All returned quietly several minutes later.
While still on the subject of “hiring” an attorney, Councilmembers Janie Edelman and Deady were able to pass through legislation regarding the City not paying for the lawsuits against each of the Councilmembers Morgan, Weber, and Pepper. As each of their names were read off, they attempted to vote against the legislation, which legally they could not do regardless of their stating they could vote on their behalf. Mayor Benson broke each of the ties.
Back to the attempts to hire Lighthouse as the City attorney, furious with the majority Councilmembers, Deady questioned, “So the three of you have already discussed this and you’re ready to vote. Erika Morgan doesn’t even want a discussion, Brian Weber doesn’t want a discussion. They’re prepared and they read this before we even got it – is that correct Pat Pepper?” Pepper stated no. Deady, “Then why would they vote on something they haven’t even read?” Following Deady’s blow up, a five-minute recess was called.
During the recess Pepper, Weber, and Morgan refused to leave the chamber, but rather attempted to continue the meeting on their own. Morgan made her way to the Mayor’s seat where she picked up the Mayor’s gavel and called the meeting back to order. Derdowski encouraged the action for the three to continue the meeting since the Mayor “gave up” her chair.
They decided to take a vote on the attorney issue with the three of them voting in favor of hiring a City attorney. As they moved on to the consent agenda, Mayor Benson grabbed the gavel that Morgan was pounding. Following a bit of struggle back and forth, Morgan finally let go and stating as the rest of the crowd filtered into the meeting room, “I was trying to get her [Benson] to hit me with the mallet.”
Deady came back a little calmer questioning the Attorney document. Morgan stated that the item had already been voted on insisting that she had the authority to run the meeting “when the presider leaves her post.” City Attorney David Linehan asked Benson if why she had left the room was because the Police Chief was clearing the room for safety reasons, Benson answered yes.
Deady asked Weber if he had a chance to read the document he said, “No.” She also questioned whether Morgan read the document, “I read it this afternoon.” Deady then brought out that all three councilmembers in the months prior stated the Mayor could do the serial contracts for the Attorney – which they were objecting to now, but was on City audio.
During a call for the vote, the majority Councilmembers stated the vote was already taken, however, after being told the vote did not count as a recess had been called, Morgan continued to insist that the vote was taken. Morgan also insisted, “It was recorded [referring to a recording on a cell phone], it was recorded, it was recorded. It doesn’t matter. You can break the law all you want. It’s just another nail in your coffin.”
Taking up the 2017 Budget during the last hour of the four and a half hour meeting, Weber motioned to adopt the Budget, to which Edelman seconded. But before a vote was taken, Weber also amended his first Budget motion by making a motion for his “substitute” budget.
Although the “substitute” budget was only 9 pages long, it introduced major changes to not only the City’s 79 page 2017 Budget document, but also how the City works. It also had not been brought before the citizens or City staff until the meeting at hand. When asked why he couldn’t just accept the City’s budget, Weber stated “Why? Because I’m putting some strings on the piggy bank.” He also stated that he had no intention of obstructing at all, to which the crowd laughed.
The budget process went through 6 workshop meetings and two Public Hearings, yet all during the process there was little input or questioning brought forward by the majority over the several month period. Meanwhile, the “substitute” budget called for new positions and the release of already established positions. New appointed positions included a Development Environmental Review Officer as well as a City Administrator for the last 6 months of the year.
When the vote came forward to pass the “substitute” budget, it passed with Morgan, Weber and Pepper voting in favor. However, Mayor Benson told the Council that she would deny the “substitute” budget as it was against Black Diamond Municipal Code. This puts the Budget into a need for a super majority of Councilmembers voting in favor – which would mean that either Edelman or Deady would have to vote for the “substitute” budget.
And what does AWC RMSA have to say about the budget and its passage by the end of the year? “As your risk pool, the AWC RMSA reminds the City that adoption of the budget prior to the end of the year is required by law. Councilmembers have taken an Oath of Office which generally includes a statement that the councilmember shall uphold the laws of the State of Washington. Failure to adopt the budget ordinance before January 1, 2017, could be viewed as knowingly violating state law. Additionally, knowingly violating state laws can cause individual councilmembers, or the City, to not receive coverage under the RMSA’s Coverage Agreement should a lawsuit be filed for not having an adopted budget prior to the end of the year.