BD Council passes 2017 Amended City Budget for the remainder of the year
Much to the surprise and hope of a packed out Black Diamond Council Chamber, Councilmember Brian Weber broke ranks with fellow Councilmembers Erika Morgan and Pat Pepper in order to finally pass the City of Black Diamond’s 2017 Amended Budget.
Following an hour long Public Comment period, which held many favorable comments regarding passage of the Mayor’s Amended Budget, Councilmembers launched into yet another hour of debate regarding the budget. Beginning the discussion was May Miller, Finance Director, who stated that the 2017 Budget was passed in December 2016, but was set to expire on March 31, 2017. Therefore, in order for the 2017 Budget to go forward, discussion during the March 2nd Council meeting was for an Amended 2017 Budget that would last for the rest of the year. The Mayor’s Amended Budget would incorporate different items proposed by Councilman Weber and agreed upon during the different meetings that had transpired over the last few weeks.
Councilmember Janie Edelman moved the item for a vote, which was seconded by Councilmember Tamie Deady. Mayor Carol Benson pointed out that Sections 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 were items she compromised and added to the Budget that Weber and she agreed to the week before.
Morgan followed with a discussion by reading from her notes. She stated that all contracts needed to be approved by the Council and that a repeal of the Black Diamond Municipal Code (BDMC) Section 2.9.1, which let the Mayor spend $15K without Council authority needed to take place as, according to Morgan, the item did not exist in the code prior to 2014. When she made the comment, “…so going back to the way most small cities do things, and sending all contracts to the council is a simple matter, rational and sane …” several people in the crowd chuckled, which caused Morgan to raise her voice.
Continuing, Morgan suggested a compromise that the Mayor agree to sign an ordinance amending the code regarding contracting and that Councilmembers Edelman and Deady agree to support the change. Morgan went on to state that once that ordinance is passed, the Budget could be acted on at the March 16th meeting. However, the Budget would only be acted on if the Mayor signed the ordinance into law for repeal of BDMC Section 2.9.1.
“The Council will never support giving the Mayor money so that she can continue to sign contracts without Council approval,” said Morgan. “The current abuse of the public funds by this Mayor totals now into a six-figure number.”
The comment by Morgan was not received well by the crowd. Shortly thereafter she motioned to “table” the 2017 Budget that was seconded by Weber, which again was not received well by the crowd.
Hard on the heels of Morgan asking for a tabling of the budget, she made a second motion to draft an ordinance amending the BDMC to reduce the Mayor’s professional services contract authority to zero dollars and bring it to the Council, which Weber seconded. After attempting to make a third motion to have the Council meet on Monday, March 6, in order to work on drafting an ordinance, Edelman told Morgan that she is not supposed to make three motions all at one time, but rather make one motion, second it, and then vote on it. She also pointed out that Morgan did not need to make a motion to draft an ordinance or resolution.
“What I do not understand and I want Ms. Morgan to explain it to me is why you want to hamstring the Mayor of her spending authority to get things done,” said Edelman, “when she gets absolutely zero support from the majority of this City Council. The reason that she’s been signing these contracts is because you guys have held her and the citizens hostage, you continually insult our City Attorney. You insult every attorney that we have hired because you take advice from someone who is not an attorney and ought to be run out of town on a rail. So no, I do not agree with your proposal in any way shape or form. If you guys don’t pass the Mayor’s budget tonight, that we have a motion and second on, then…that is on Morgan, Weber and Pepper.”
Edelman went on to point out that the Mayor’s budget was balanced and that there was more revenue coming in, but it was petering out due to all the “garbage” the Majority Councilmembers were forcing the City to expend on funds for PDRs and attorney fees.
Deady took exception to the Majority Councilmembers stating in their comments, “the Council ….,” when referring to any business before them. Deady once again stated emphatically that the Majority did not have permission to speak for her unless it was an open public meeting. In that capacity, she would be able to speak to whether she supported their ideas or not.
Bringing the discussion back around again to the three motions before the Council regarding the Amended Budget, Pepper turned her comments to concerns regarding legal services. While speaking about the Council’s contracting authority when it came to legal services, Pepper was challenged by Edelman to point in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) where the Council was given contracting authority. Pepper stated she did not have one.
A little further along in the meeting Weber stated that he would support the Amended Budget if there was a compromising offer included for a Request for Proposal (RFP) for legal services. Ensuing debate turned to discussion once again regarding taking away the Mayor’s spending authority before the passage of the Amended Budget.
Asking Pepper if she was “black mailing” the Mayor by attempting to force the Mayor to put in place a spending ordinance (to which Pepper answered no), Mayor Carol Benson stated very firmly and calmly, “Councilmember Pepper, listen. That would violate the court order, I could tell you that right now because that would mean I would have no spending power. And the court has said that I have spending power. So maybe you better reconsider what you’re talking about here. This is black mail sure and simple, that you won’t pass a budget unless you take away my spending power. That’s not going to happen. You’ll never get the vote.”
Edelman further asked where the papers were for the “emergency” ordinances being brought forward. She stated that she was not going to vote on anything unless she had a piece of paper in front of her with the information the Majority Councilmembers were talking about as she did not trust them.
Eventually she brought discussion around again to adopting the budget. Edelman pointed out that the Mayor had agreed earlier in the meeting to advertise for yet another City Attorney, and that interviews would take place in front of the Council as well as the citizens. Several minutes later Weber came forward and stated he would pull his second on “Tabling” the Budget. Two hours plus into the meeting, a roll-call vote witnessed Weber voting in favor of the Amended 2017 Budget along with Deady and Edelman. The crowd erupted in cheers and applause along with a standing ovation.
Shortly after passage of the Amended 2017 Budget, Majority Councilmembers tabled a 2017 Budget amendment (until a new attorney could be hired) that was needed in order to accept a grant from the Washington Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) for a project on Roberts Drive that included some patching and asphalt overlay. That item behind them, Council moved on to take up the business of amended contracts for HWA GeoSciences, RH2 Engineering, Inc., and Parametrix for the Master Development Review Team (MDRT).
The items discussion opened with Pepper wanting to pass the amended resolutions. Edelman stated that she did not support any of them as they had been rewritten and were making political statements. She also questioned whether the Majority Councilmembers had legal review of the rewritten resolutions.
Benson asked whether Pepper had called the consultants about the contracts, to which Pepper stated no. Benson pointed out that the MDRT contracts were negotiated for a 2-year term and if Pepper had not contacted the consultants to negotiate, how would she know if the consultants would even sign them. “I’m hoping that they will. They’re 45 days,” stated Pepper.
Deady also did not support the rewritten MDRT resolutions. She stated that Pepper had not spoken to staff, the City Attorney or the consultants. There was also concern from Deady that the Majority Councilmembers would vote on something that has major issues that could lead to lawsuits for the City.
Andy Williamson, MDRT & Economic Development Director, questioned Council in how they were going to pay for the new RFQs as Oakpointe had already paid for RFQs and would not pay for them again. When Edelman asked what attorney reviewed the amended MDRT contracts, Pepper stated she did not have an attorney even though City Attorney David Linehan had offered.
Weber wanted to know what the Council would do in the interim while going through mediation of the MDRT contracts with Oakpointe. Benson stated that if the Council chose to accept her original 2-year contracts that had already been brought forward to the Council, then the Council would not have to go through mediation. However, if the Council chose to go with the amended 45 day contracts, then Council would have to go through mediation with Oakpointe.
“I would like to call for the vote,” stated Pepper. “I would personally take the mediation, 45 days of mediation.”
Williamson additionally pointed out that should the Council choose to adopt the 2-year contracts, the Council still had the option of pulling out of the contracts at any time. By passing the 2-year contracts, the Council could still go into mediation with Oakpointe and if at any time the Council did not like how things were going, they could pull the contracts. As Williamson stated, it’s a clearer way to take care of business. It was also viewed as being more efficient than renewing the contracts every 45-days. When the vote was taken, Majority Councilmembers Morgan, Weber and Pepper chose to go with the 45-day contracts and mediation with Oakpointe.
During public comment, a question was directed to City Attorney Linehan regarding mediator costs. Linehan stated that a good mediator could cost between $400-600 per hour.