Black Diamond has great Audit Exit, but stumbles regarding Council mediation
In the midst of a long list of headaches over the past near year and a half of doing business with a contentious Council, the City of Black Diamond found a glimmer of satisfaction in a job well done despite allegations to the contrary.
On Thursday, April 13, an Audit Exit Conference special meeting was held for the City regarding an Accountability Audit for years 2013 and 2014 along with a partial for 2015. A Financial Audit was also held last May for years 2013 and 2014. The good news was that all is well with the City books. While minor tweaks were suggested and made by Finance Director May Miller, it was still stated that Miller was doing an excellent job and that it was a “clean audit” with no findings.
Making note that the partial audit of 2015 would cost taxpayers extra for the audit, Johna Thomson stated during public comment at the Thursday, April 20, meeting, “Please stop wasting tax payer dollars.”
Yet another comment made during public comment regarding wasting taxpayer money came from Judith Carrier, who felt that Council mediation was a waste of time and money. She accused Mayor Carol Benson of blowing through taxpayer money with no value to the people. A little later in the meeting while discussing whether the Council would approve a claim check for Dr. Daniel Singer, Mayor Benson stated Dr. Singer had approached the City to help with mediation as he had worked with the City before.
“I picked him to see if he could get some cooperation and some conversations going between all five councilmembers,” stated Benson. “Nobody knew that I was going to hire him. None of the five.”
She went on to say that she had written a letter that went out to all five Councilmembers stating the she had hired Singer (who then sent a letter to all Councilmembers stating that he would call them) and that there was no secret as everyone was notified.
In the Interoffice Memorandum written to all Councilmembers dated on March 29, 2017, Benson let them know that Singer had been hired to have one-on-one conversations with the Council as well as “key City leaders to help identify concerns, worries, or issues that our City needs to address to help in the successful transition of where we are today, to where we want to be in the future.”
After introducing Singer in the memorandum, Councilmembers were told that “AWC [Association of Washington Cities] and MRSC [Municipal Research and Services Center] have approved the credentials of Dr. Singer and have agreed to pay for his services.” They were also encouraged to feel free to be honest and open in their conversations with Singer. (Note: According to Mayor Benson, although in her letter to the Council she wrote MRSC, it was actually RMSC (Risk Management Service Agency) who approved the credentials and agreed to pay for Dr. Singer’s services.)
“The intent of this process is to improve our City, and to identify those areas that we need to consider during our future potential changes. If we are not aware of a concern or an issue, we cannot address it,” wrote Benson.
Meanwhile, back at the April 20th meeting, Councilmember Janie Edelman let the audience know that over a year ago all Councilmembers voted for mediation. “The Mayor tried multiple time to have people input. Here are some suggested names for mediators. She [Mayor Benson] got a couple of responses, but not from the Majority. So for you guys now to come up here and tell us basically shame on us that this is all subversive is baloney. This man approached the City to help us. He’s worked for the City before. This City is a train wreck and everybody in the State knows it. Everybody would like to help us get over this mess that we’re in. So he is the one that approached the Mayor.”
Edelman ended her comments stating, “My point is that the Mayor had tried. A man has come forward who has got a PHD in psychology. He’s trying to help us. And I think unless we allow this man to do his job, I don’t think any of us are in a position to be casting any aspersions right now. And it’s not a waste of our money.”
Nearly 2 hours into the meeting, Councilmember Erika Morgan moved that there was no valid contract with Singer so the voucher was not approved for payment. She went on to state that the City’s contracting authority was with the Council and that the Mayor could not contract on her own – before stating that she can contract on her own up to a limit – and that it had to be a line item in the budget, before stating that it was off budget spending.
When Morgan finished, Mayor Benson stated that the City was not paying the bill for Singer, but rather the bill was being voluntarily paid by AWC RMSA (Risk Management Service Agency), as they thought the City needed some help. RMSA also felt that Singer might be able to encourage some communication between the Councilmembers and Mayor. “These are not public funds we’re talking about.” She let Councilmembers know that she could make a contract with someone volunteering to try to help the City Council to become less dysfunctional
Morgan continued stating that the Council as a whole is not only the contracting authority, but it is also “the authority that accepts the money, or does not accept the money.”
Councilmember Brian Weber wanted to know if it was legal to accept the money if it was not a line item in the budget. Benson stated it was.
In the ensuing discussion, Benson stated once again that Council had already approved mediation last year. However, Council never selected anyone to mediate. “This is not going against your wishes,” stated Benson. “This is just selecting somebody because you wouldn’t select anyone…There is no question about whether it’s authorized or not, you already authorized it.”
“As far as I’m concerned,” Councilmember Pat Pepper stated, “any hope of working with this particular facilitator is flawed. We can’t enter into any sort of trust relationship when the facilitator was chosen by only one side, with no notice to the other side. The facilitator worked up a list of politically biased questions by talking to only one side of the dispute. The facilitator demanded meetings with Councilmembers who didn’t even know this was coming. In some cases, he was rude. He certainly ignored our request for more information. He then said he would come to a public meeting and try and make those persons who did not talk to him make an appointment with him.”
After Mayor Benson restated that the Council had voted already for mediation and RMSA to pay for the mediation and that the Council could not undo that. Pepper fired back “Not this facilitator,” to which Benson restated, “You never picked one. I have an obligation to pick one when you vote to get a mediator. I have an obligation to fill that position.”
Following comments made by Morgan, who was upset that Singer (who according to Morgan) called her out of the blue, Benson stated that she had given Councilmembers names of mediators after the Council had approved mediation. However, only two Councilmembers responded to her inquiry as to who should be the Council’s mediator – Edelman and Deady.
The day after Benson sent her Interoffice Memorandum to all Councilmembers, Dr. Singer sent a note to all Councilmembers as well along with the Mayor on Thursday, March 30. He stated that he was looking forward to their feedback on the enclosed questions and that he would be contacting them on the following Monday. Questions posed to all Councilmembers included:
What do you want to accomplish in your role as a City Council member?
Who do you listen too for guidance with City matters?
What does the phrase “Save Black Diamond” mean?
What does it mean to “Reform City Hall?”
What does the phrase “no growth” mean?
What does the phrase “growth” mean?
What do you need from the Mayor and city staff to move legislation along?
What do you think is causing the lack of communication between the City Council and the City?
How do you feel about meeting with the Mayor and/or staff to discuss the agenda items that will be and have been put into committee before the City Council?
Councilmember Tamie Deady questioned why the Majority Councilmembers, who ran on the principles of the questions Singer asked, had issues with the questions. Edelman added in her comments that, “You guys need to step up and talk to this man and see if we can’t come to some kind of a way of functioning as a legislative body. And quit the sniping.” Shortly after, a vote was taken whether to pay Singer with Morgan, Weber and Pepper voting no.
In a statement released by Dr. Singer, he writes, “My goal is to promote positive dialogue among the city council members about the City of Black Diamond. It is important for all to have a healthy conversation that reinforces goodwill where people can set aside their emotional differences and talk with one another in a healthy manner.
My role is to facilitate a process whereby the city council members and the community can begin to talk positively and help the city move forward. It makes no sense to stay at an impasse as that only promotes negative thinking and stagnancy, which is not acceptable.
Therefore, it is important to move forward which will help benefit the people at Black Diamond, as well as the outlying communities which understand what is currently going on in the city.
I am promoting and advocating for a healthy dialogue eventually about the important issues, which can move this wonderful city forward.
Thank you so much for reading this as we are all beginning to embark on a very important and valuable process. Daniel Singer PhD