Enthusiasm filled the air as the newest Councilmembers – Erin Stout and Melissa Oglesbee – took their seats with veteran Councilmembers and got down to business for the City of Black Diamond during the Thursday, January 4 Council meeting.
Prior to their first Council meeting as newly elected Councilmembers, Stout and Oglesbee prepared themselves by spending hours following their election talking to not only fellow Councilmembers and the Mayor, but also many hours speaking to staff. In all, 31 agenda items stood before the Council ready for action on January 4th. All previous Council minutes were passed along with claim checks and payroll.
Of the 21 legislative items taken care of, Councilmember Pat Pepper voted no on all but five items. She approved an agreement with the City of Enumclaw regarding jail services, agreed to a Chip Seal Project with TIB, accepted final approval for the Roberts Dr. roadway improvements, approved reappointment of Dave Ambur to the Planning Commission and agreed to Judy Watson in the position of Civil Service Commission.
The last four items of the night dealt with rejecting a lawsuit brought against Mayor Carol Benson, who won her re-election bid with a comfortable lead, and discharging Anne Bremner, who was hired by Pepper and Erika Morgan to go after the Mayor. Another rejection was the invalid contracts for Attorneys Jane Koler and Dan Glenn, who were again hired by Pepper.
Then came the cancelling of a resolution passed by Majority members Pepper, Morgan and Brian Weber in their attempt to recover legal costs for their part in the Bremner lawsuit and Oakpointe’s Third Party claims. And as if that was not enough, Pepper’s request for payment in defense and indemnification costs associated with the Recall Petition were canceled and denied. Despite being told she could not vote on the final two items as it would be a conflict of interest, she defiantly voted no anyway.
While generally, the meeting ran along with amicable discussions between Councilmembers and none of the 31 agenda items were put into committees, however, there were a couple of strong points made on within the meeting. One came while addressing the resolution covering pulled, denied or tabled vouchers and approving $15,000 contracts that had not previously been approved. Pepper objected stating the “previous Council” never had the chance to see them. She went on to state that when added up, the “unauthorized” spending “by the Mayor” was over $1.2 million. She continued to state the Council had contract authority and that it was improper to approve prior spending where the “Mayor acted outside of the law.”
Councilmember Tamie Deady countered stating that the contractors did the work and they should get paid for it. She criticized that simply sending vouchers out and never having them coming back for consideration made no sense. Councilmember Janie Edelman stated that the previous Council failed to do their job by not approving the vouchers when they came before the Council.
“This was all for work that was already preformed,” said Edelman. “It was all work that was contracted through and by the development agreement. We have an obligation as a City to fulfill those requirements… We’re going to move forward, Ms. Pepper, and we’re going to ratify these tonight, we’re going to ratify the contracts that were associated with it and make sure that these contractors are paid. We owe that to them.”
When new member Oglesbee felt that the agenda item before her was a little foreign and containing a lot of big numbers, she made a motion to wait until the next Council meeting to deal with the resolution, so she could look into the funding a little further. Finance Director May Miller quickly came forward to shed a light on the matter in an effort to help Oglesbee and Councilmembers understand the importance of not waiting another couple of weeks on the vouchers.
According to Miller, “many of the vouchers that were pulled, denied, or held were for TIB grants that had resolutions in place and were already 100% reimbursed, or for MDRT contracts, primarily for the Roberts Drive roundabout engineering, also 100% reimbursed.” Other contracts were also in place where project partners had paid in advance for the Springs Project. She let Councilmembers know that it was important for them to pass the resolution the night of the meeting rather than waiting.
In her comments, new Councilmember Stout encouraged the Council to pass the resolution, so that the books could be cleared up, by paying the bills. Shortly after her comments the Council voted to pass the resolution regarding pulled, denied or tabled vouchers and approving $15,000 contracts all except for Pepper, who voted no.
First to give department reports was Andy Williamson. After giving a quick update on Community Development information, he quickly changed hats. Wearing his MDRT & Economic Development Director hat, Williamson responded to some comments made earlier in the meeting that according to Williamson were not quite accurate. He stated that he took personal offence to comments about polluting the creek that runs along Roberts Dr. with regards to the water project.
Earlier in the meeting during public comments, Kristen Bryant claimed that there was a failure to identify wetlands on Roberts Dr. and that only after there was construction impact to the wetlands, and with citizens sending in their own wetlands report, did a wetland silt fence go up. Responding to the accusation, Williamson let everyone know that the water project was managed extremely well. The project brought fire flow to everyone from the Dinner House to the Rock Creek bridge and for the first time in 50 years there was legal fire pressure at the fire hydrants. “Why would we not want to do that,” exclaimed Williamson.
He went on to state that these are the people that did not want the water treated. He pointed to the Department of Ecology, who gave a state permit for the storm water, erosion control and the project was managed by the State. “If there was an issue that was wrong, call the State Department of Ecology,” challenged Williamson.
He went on to let everyone know that the Department of Ecology came out and did “full blown inspections.” Defending City staff and the professionalism they work in while managing projects, he challenged anyone who wanted to know the facts to go look at the records on the water project that were maintained. Regarding the records, Williamson stated, “That’s the facts, that’s truth.”
Meanwhile, the Tuesday, February 13, 2018 ballot measure regarding the Recall of Councilmember Pat Pepper is alive and well with ballots being mailed on Wednesday, January 24, 2018.