Chaos and anger has defined the last seven months of Black Diamond City Council meetings, but the outrage residents expressed flared hotter than ever on July 21 as a century-long tradition looked to be put on the chopping block: the city’s three-day Labor Day Festival.
Groans and cries of disbelief followed Councilwoman Erika Morgan’s announcement that she would like a few extra days examining the special event permit the council is required to pass in order to host the festival on public property.
When a vote was called, council members Brian Weber and Pat Pepper joined Morgan in not approving the permit, making history in the process.
“We have never in the history of this city not had Labor Days approved on the day it came before council. Ever,” Mayor Carol Benson said.
Weber held that the council majority was not attempting to cancel the festival.
“This is about the process. I’m looking forward to going to Labor Days,” Weber said, saying he knows how hard the organizers of the festival work to get it off the ground. “This is not about trying to cancel a 102-year old celebration.”
After dozens of “point of orders,” “out of orders,” and pounds of the gavel, Benson called a five-minute recess that was greeted with hearty applause by residents.
As the council chambers cleared, people gathered outside to watch a discussion between Morgan and a resident about the festival turn into a something resembling more of a schoolyard yelling match than adult discourse.
Little explanation was offered as to why the permit wasn’t approved by the majority of the council.
“When I look at this, I find a few things that I need to scrutinize more carefully,” Morgan said at the meeting.
Morgan said she looked for past permits for the Labor Day festival, but could find none.
Community Development Director Barbara Kincaid ensured Morgan that the past permits for the celebration were in the city’s system and that these permits have all been approved by the council in past years.
Morgan also said the current permit wasn’t in the night’s agenda packet and that other times, there were draft permits in the packet; Kincaid replied that the permit wasn’t there because the permit wasn’t approved yet.
Another issue Morgan had was about the Black Diamond Elementary School baseball field, where festivities are traditionally held.
Morgan appeared to allege the city does not have permission to use the ball field for the celebration.
The resolution summary statement reads that the city has secured permission from the Enumclaw School District to use the ball field.
“What is written on this paper isn’t exactly what I remember, what I recall, what I reiterated on the 14th with Mayor Benson,” Morgan said. “I think it’s important for the written record to be the actual facts, and so that is one of the things I need to check out.”
Kincaid said the written record does accurately represents the facts.
“That ball field area has actually… been deeded to the citizens. That’s what you’re referring to when you say the school district doesn’t really own it. I have the title chain and the deed,” Kincaid said. “It is legally dedicated to their (the citizens) use.”
Deady asked council members Weber and Pepper why they wouldn’t approve the permit.
“Research indicates that it will not be an issue to wait until our next regular meeting to act on this permit,” Pepper said, offering no reason why she thought the permit should be put on hold.
Weber replied that the issue here is the council’s process, stating this was not an attempt to cancel the festival.
Melissa Oglesbee, who organizes the festival and is the chairman of the Black Diamond Labor Days organization, said there absolutely is a need for the council to approve of the permit as soon as possible.
“The insurance for this event has already been paid for,” she said. “That’s $2,515 that we’ve already written a check for. It’s paid for and nonrefundable. We are collecting sponsorship money from businesses, companies, friends, residents from (Black Diamond) that are gifting us checks and money to make our programs and… to provide a city event that the community can enjoy. If it’s not approved for this event, then unfortunately we have to find a way to put this money back.”
Oglesbee said if the council approved the permit by the next council meeting on Aug. 4, there would be enough time to put on the festival, because that’s when all the programs and schedule of events will be cemented.
“It’s not a personal attack on Black Diamond Labor Days,” Oglesbee continued. “I just feel this is unfortunate because in the years past, they have agreed on this, and it’s becoming more of a personal attack against the issues that they’re having, the City Council and the mayor.”
• The postponement of the $10,000 DKS Associates claim voucher, which has been held in council since March. Although the city originally paid DKS, without council approval, the city must ask for the money back.
Weber said it was against Black Diamond Municipal Code to pay a company without a formal contract. Kincaid said the council can fold the $10,000 into another contract that the council needs to approve to finish the city’s Comprehensive Plan.
Mark Linehan, the interim city attorney, said the city can still be sued for not paying DKS for the work the company has already done on the comprehensive plan, despite the city’s municipal code.
• The postponement of the city’s six-year Transportation Improvement Plan, which has been on the city’s agenda for several meetings. Weber and Morgan said they still have questions and concerns about the plan.
Public Works Director Seth Boettcher said several of their questions would be answered when the plan is approved by council and put in the hands of engineers.
• The postponement of former interim city attorney Yvonne Ward’s voucher for $14,784.
Weber said there seemed to be line items in the bill that exceeded the scope of what Ward should have done as an interim city attorney. Morgan echoed Weber’s concerns.
Pepper accused Benson of hiring Ward to help set the stage for a lawsuit, calling Ward’s findings on the council rules and procedures, passed by Weber, Morgan and Pepper last January, “false and outrageous.”
“All that was achieved by all the taxpayer money that you spent on Ward was to create a false case for someone to do a lawsuit against the city,” Pepper said.
Ward said in a phone interview Monday that she was hired to ensure Black Diamond was compliant with local, state and federal law and the memos she wrote address the legal issues she found in the council’s newest rendition of their rules and procedures.
“It’s not uncommon for people to get upset when they hear something they don’t like, but their responsibility requires setting aside personal feelings and complying with the law, even if they disagree with it,” she said.
• The denial of a resolution authorizing DKS Associates to finish its work on the City’s Comprehensive Plan.
• The denial of a resolution hiring Linehan as the city’s attorney.
Morgan asked Financial Director May Miller where the city’s legal budget currently sits.
Miller replied the city has spent roughly 62 percent of it’s legal budget, and that if public disclosure requests taper off or the city hires an attorney who can handle public disclosure requests at a fair rate, the city should stay within it’s budget for the rest of the year.
• There was confusion over the Talmadge, Fitzpatrick and Tribe bill, which Benson said the city has not received.
Pepper said she was assured by the firm’s secretary a bill had been sent.
The council hired Talmadge, Fitzpatrick and Tribe earlier this year on a 3-2 vote to answer questions concerning the council’s authority to change its rules and whether the council can hire and fire a city attorney.