Editor’s Note: The Courier-Herald is publishing a three-part debate between Black Diamond Mayor Carol Benson and her opponent Judy Baxley. Last week, candidates answered questions concerning the city, and what they would do as mayor to address any issues. This week, Part 2, is a chance for candidates to rebut their opponent’s statements. Part 3 will wrap-up with final statements. You can read Part 1 here.
Question No. 1:
One of the biggest issues Black Diamond is currently facing are the Oakpointe housing developments. What is the executive branch’s role with the developer and its projects, and what do you think the city is able to do presently to ensure both it and its residents benefit from the developments?
Defending past actions and ignoring her administration’s problems is not the kind of leadership that we should expect from our mayor.
Last week I posed several questions that will need to be answered by our next mayor: Should the development agreement be renewed or allowed to expire? Should the city agree to the developer’s request for a new taxing district to pay for their infrastructure? What is being done to make sure that traffic congestion won’t become intolerable? Why doesn’t the city have qualified staff to review the projects? Why are our environmental regulations not being enforced?
The incumbent has not demonstrated that she will put the public interest first on these important questions.
The incumbent has not met her responsibility to update the city’s Comprehensive Plan. She refused to fill the position of planning director and instead hired an expensive consulting firm. She has cancelled numerous Planning Commission meetings.
The incumbent refused to implement development impact fees that were already included in the development agreement. Many citizens are still angry that tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure costs were pushed onto the public. The mayor’s denial of this issue is masked in legal arguments that are not valid. Highly qualified outside attorneys and impact fee experts agree that the city had the right to collect these fees.
A survey of permits over the last few years shows that the city has not done thorough reviews of the Yarrow Bay/Oakpointe development. This has many negative consequences including pollution in Rock Creek and Lake Sawyer.
As your mayor, I will do everything in my power to lawfully control and manage all development projects. I will work with the council to create a professional technical and legal review team that is independent of developer and political influence.
Carol Benson: Judy Baxley’s responses to the paper’s questions last week are not true. It is the same rhetoric that the “Save Black Diamond” (Brian Derdowski and Kristen Bryant) newsletters have been spouting for years. Brian Derdowski has admitted in a recent lawsuit that he is running three campaigns in Black Diamond (Baxley, Hanrahan and Young). He even joked once that he could get a frog elected in Black Diamond. He has no respect for the citizens of Black Diamond.
Of course we have an experienced staff member to review the MPD permits. Andy Williamson, our Master Development Review Team (MDRT) director and Economic Development director has lived in our city for over 35 years. He was on the Planning Commission before running for City Council. He served three terms, 12 years on the City Council. He has worked for the city for over 10 years and has a vast institutional knowledge of the MPD’s. He will be hiring a building inspector and a planner just to review permits issued in the villages.
Question No. 2:
The past two years have seemed to put a financial strain on the city, with multiple lawyers, lawsuits, public disclosure requests and other related costs draining city resources. As mayor, what financial strategies can you suggest to bolster the city’s coffers over the next two years?
Carol Benson: Again, the answer by my opponent is misleading and completely inaccurate. We were recently audited by the state of Washington and the audit came back clean with no adverse findings. We have hired only well qualified municipal attorneys who are here to protect the city from litigation. I have not hired a city administrator because I am well qualified to fill that role and it saves the city $130,000 a year. I only get paid $12,000 a year. The “Save Black Diamond” Mayor Gordon and council members, (Erika) Morgan, (Brian) Weber and (Pat) Pepper have already cost the city over $500,000 in legal fees. Funds that could have been used to purchase a much needed fire truck.
A vote for Judy Baxley is a vote for Brian Derdowski and Kristen Bryant who live in Bellevue.
Judy Baxley: The incumbent stated that the state auditor gave the city a “clean audit”. This is not true. The city received four correction recommendations in 2013-2015, and has not received the final audit for 2015-2016. Readers may wish to confirm this for themselves by going to: http://portal.sao.wa.gov/ReportSearch.
Audit reports available on this web site were published between January 2005 and today. You can search for them using the simple and advanced search options on this page.
How can the council or the public trust a mayor that can make such a false statement about something so important?
The incumbent routinely overspent her budget over a two year period. This violates state law. When the council adopted a budget that would have enforced this basic requirement, the incumbent vetoed that budget. Only under legal pressure did the mayor finally have to acknowledge her responsibility, but the overspending appears to have continued.
It is not true, as the incumbent argues, that the council has refused to approve necessary contracts. In fact, the council has requested competitive bids and detailed performance requirements. The incumbent refused this reasonable request and simply signed contracts with whomever she wanted without a vote of the council. Those contracts total over $500,000 and have created a potential personal liability for the incumbent.
The incumbent is betting on development activity to save the city’s finances and keep taxes and fees in check. Nothing could be further from the truth. Numerous “Cost of Community Services” studies demonstrate that revenue from this kind of development is exceeded by costs. The city may see a very short term benefit from construction material sales taxes, but soon after the increased demand for services will be crushing.
As your mayor I will not naively rely on growth to solve the city’s financial management problems. We will enforce development fees, stop wasteful contracting, stay within the budget and reduce taxes and fees.
Question No. 3:
Aside from the developments, various lawsuits, council rules and governmental relations, what are some other large issues you believe the city is facing? As mayor, how would you address these issues?
Judy Baxley: The incumbent’s failure to understand her duty to follow city policies has put into jeopardy the city’s standing with outside granting agencies.
The incumbent has not met her responsibility to draft updates to the Comprehensive Plan. She refused to fill the position of planning director and instead hired expensive consultants. She has cancelled numerous Planning Commission meetings.
The incumbent has refused to transmit important reports for council approval. Her partisan political manipulations have damaged working relationships that are vital for the city to gain regional cooperation and funding.
It takes two to tango. Regardless of ones’ views about the current chaos that this administration has created in City Hall, we can all agree that a fresh start without all the negative baggage is the way forward.
As your new mayor, I will end the obstruction that this incumbent has fostered. I will allow the City Council members to have the security codes to access their mailboxes, allow them to meet on city property, and instruct my staff to assist them and fully answer their questions.
I will restore the positions of city administrator and planning/development director. They will be fully qualified and professional, and can be funded by reducing expensive outside consultants and attorneys.
I will instruct the finance director to end the current practice of spending beyond budget limits without council approval. I will stop the invalid practice of making contracts without council approval. I will reform our voucher payment system so that it complies with state law.
With your vote we will succeed in creating a transparent city that doesn’t rubber stamp demands from big developers; a fiscally conservative city that keeps taxes and fees low and doesn’t take on massive debt. A city that maintains and improves the quality of life of every resident.
Carol Benson: One last time, the answer by my opponent is misleading and completely inaccurate. I conduct meetings according to parliamentary procedures and Roberts Rules of Order. It is the “Save Black Diamond” majority council members, Morgan, Weber and Pepper that refuse to follow the rules, which has caused the city and these three council members to be sued individually for over 130 violations of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). Pat Pepper’s actions have been deemed sufficient by the Superior Court for her to be recalled and go on the ballot December 5. Judy Baxley is part of the “Save Black Diamond” movement and will only answer to Derdowski and Bryant. I believe she will hire Derdowski as city administrator for $130,000, wasting even more of our local tax dollars
If you want to know the truth, come to the candidates forum on October 17, at the Black Diamond Community Center. Then you can hear in her own words what she has to say. I will be there to tell the truth. You may have noticed that “Save Black Diamond” almost never signs their falsehoods, half-truths and distortions. They are hiding who they are and Derdowski is in control of everything they do. I do not use ghost writers. I take responsibility for what I do.