Hopes were quickly dashed that perhaps the new year, 2017, would ring in a commitment to work together following a year, 2016, of posturing and contentiousness coming from City of Black Diamond Councilmembers, especially when it came to the 2017 City Budget.
At the end of 2016, Councilmembers Erika Morgan, Brian Weber, and Pat Pepper did not join Councilmembers Tamie Deady and Janie Edelman in voting to pass the City’s 2017 Budget, but rather opted for a temporary budget that would keep the City rolling along until March 31, 2017. It was hoped that a new budget could be worked out during the first three months that all 5 Councilmembers could agree upon that would take care of the rest of 2017.
During their January 5, 2017 Council Meeting, all Councilmembers agreed to hold workshops on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of the month until a budget could be worked out. However, during the first Workshop, held on Thursday, January 12, Morgan, Weber and Pepper began sending a different message.
As the meeting opened, Morgan went off budget topic by stating that the way Mayor Carol Benson was presiding over meetings was extremely troubling to her. She went on to point out that the Mayor was: “denying the results of the general election, refusing to recognize the majority of the vote of the Council is the City’s position, obstructing and interfering with Council’s business.” She continued by saying that the Council was the legislators and policy makers – not the Mayor’s employees.
Morgan continued with a number of other points including the Council setting the agenda for its meeting, Council setting its own rules, the Mayor has the ministerial duty to conduct the meeting according to Council rules, notice the Council with committee meetings and provide support with staff at the meetings, all meetings take place on City property, the Council is the full sole contracting authority for the City for any services including legal services, and recognize the Council’s authority. Once again, as has been pointed out all year long, Morgan insisted that the agenda for the meetings be approved by the “Council President” and the Mayor Pro Tem. She went on to say that because that did not happen for the January 12th meeting, “…I don’t think that there’s any real agenda here on the table.”
Disagreeing with Morgan, Deady stated that all Councilmembers agreed to have the meeting. Quickly following up on Deady’s comment, Pepper stated, “Work sessions are not a way to get an end run around the committee process. We will not continue to be harangued and pressured on the budget. The budget will be discussed in its proper venue, which is the Council Budget Committee. And I wonder, have we learned nothing over the past year. The Council has every legal right to expect you to accept the committee.”
Edelman wanted everyone to know that Morgan and Pepper read from prepared statements and that Weber knew in advance that there was going to be something said at the meeting. “What part of OPMA [Open Public Meetings Act] violations do you folks not understand? We have a budget issue that we need to get resolved. You guys need to step up and answer the questions that we have on how and why you’ve come up with these budget changes. And when we know there’s legal issues involved here, you guys need to defend your actions.”
Assuming from statements Morgan and Pepper made about not agreeing with the meeting, Deady wanted to know what Weber had to say about whether he wanted the meeting to happen. “We all five agreed to have this meeting,” stated Deady, “and at no time when Brenda Martinez [City Clerk] posted this on the website and let all citizens know about this, that a single one of you guys, Brenda Martinez just shook her head no, emailed her and said we do not want to have this meeting. So, this is a political move Erika Morgan, Pat Pepper? Correct? This is a political move.”
For his part, Weber stated, “I came prepared for this meeting tonight, I’ve got my budget stuff all ready to go…. One of the things that I felt was important before the end of last year is the fact that we came to a compromise on the budget. We came to compromise on a three-month budget that said we would have three months to the end of March based on a couple of conditions. One of them was a quarter of the budget be appropriated unless there was something higher with priority that would come to Council and we would go forth with that.
“The other caveat with that was the fact that none of the budget be spent for 2017 without a contract coming to Council. So, I find out late this afternoon that there is a contract out there for legal services from the City that didn’t come to the Council. Not happy.”
Feeling as though trust had been broken as he, being the “Chair” of the “Budget Committee,” had not heard about the contract for legal services, Weber went on to state even though he was prepared to speak on the budget, based on not hearing about the contract, he was concerned about the trust and no interaction. After stating his unhappiness that the Council “Committee” meetings were not noticed or able to be held on City property, he said that he would not be discussing the budget at the “tonight’s” meeting.
Answering Weber’s concern regarding the contract for legal services, Benson stated, “Yes, that contract is going to come before you at the next meeting. There was nothing in that that said the contract had to come to you before it was signed. That all contracts would come to you, that’s all that was said. It didn’t say before they were signed. We needed to hire an attorney to defend the lawsuit, and David Linehan did not have the time to do it. So, he found an attorney that was willing to take the lawsuit and I signed the document on Monday [January 9]. It’s on the agenda for meeting next Thursday [January 19].
“These six meetings that we scheduled for going over the budget were scheduled at the last meeting [January 5] and you all agreed to them. I did not violate any contract that I made with you. We did what we had to do so that we could answer the lawsuit today.”
A couple of minutes later, Edelman wanted to know what the Majority Council’s end game was. “You guys think that we’re supposed to kowtow and accept your bullying. You guys accuse us of being bullies, you guys are the ones bullying us. We recognize that we are the minority. You guys can run roughshod over us, and so be it. You’re the majority. But when you do things and approve things that are illegal…there is no way that I’m ever going to vote with you folks when you do things that are illegal whether they’re conceived outside of the Open Public meeting venues, whether you come up with things that violate the Revised Code of Washington our own municipal code. I’m not going to go with that. And if you can’t come in here and defend what you guys are saying you want done in the budget, but you’re going to pick up your toys and go home now. I think you need to grow up. I think you need to man up. You need to do your job.”
After a few more minutes of back and forth heated discussions not pertaining to the potential budget debate before them, Deady brought the discussion around again questioning Weber about his budget. “It would be a courtesy to have a work study so that we can all have input on this budget and the citizens. The goal here is to have work studies so that Brenda Martinez can put on the agenda for a public hearing so that people can comment on these work studies with your budget. But if you three decide that you’re not going to have them now, it’s a waste of your time to have them here, but in your meetings…Work studies are the best place to do this where all five of us, May Miller, and the Mayor and Brenda and your citizens are here to have input. Your work studies have three members that you say are on it, two members show up, it is not the best venue for something like this to get done.”
Confronting Weber one more time, Edelman asked whether he would discuss his changes to the budget at the meeting at hand, Weber replied, “I think I made myself perfectly clear with my statement before. And as far as this budget goes between now and March any kind of amendments or revisions or work done on this budget is all going to depend on the Mayor.”
Following a flurry of attempts to quickly adjourn the meeting by Pepper, Morgan and Weber, Deady brought it back to an agreement amongst Councilmembers that they needed to hear from citizens. However, Pepper continued to push for adjournment stating that citizen comments were not on the agenda which had only two items: Discussion and Review of 2017 Budget – 2017 Mayor’s Budget Ordinance and 2017 Councilmember Weber’s Substitute Budget Ordinance.
Citizens spoke their minds in the last 16 minutes of the 44-minute meeting. Some of their comments included Brock Deady stating that the Councilmembers needed get over all their “petty little things” and “get to it…We’re here to work on the budget…and get to it right now.”
Robin Taylor, “…I am firmly, even more firmly cemented in my belief that it is the agenda of you three, Kristen Bryant, and Brian Derdowski to break this City. To destroy this City government. To destroy the entity of Black Diamond.”
Daryl Buss, “How can us as citizen’s trust you guys to do what you said you were going to do when you decide to change things all of the sudden. That’s not right. We should be here to discuss the budget.”
Jackie Buss, “Erika Morgan spoke one truth, she’s going to hold the City hostage. That’s the only truth I’ve heard from her mouth. And it really is disheartening…Think about how you are wasting people’s time. Our City needs you guys to get off you butts and do something. Thinks about it.”
Judy Goodwin, “I see the Mayor really being under attack from the three Majority Councilmembers, and to me it looks like a political move to discredit her so that when the election rolls around one of you can run for mayor and have all these things lined up the Mayor has done, the Mayor has lied about this, the Mayor has done this. The Mayor has acted legally and I really appreciate, Mayor Benson, that you came forth and talked about the contract that Brian brought up earlier. And I really think you need to document all of those things. Because from my point of view, you are responding in a logical way to the questions from the Majority and your reasoning seems quite valid to me.”
Bob Edelman, “It would be nice to come to a work study and have a work study break out.”
Gary Davis, “Please get to work.”