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Editorial | Sweeping away rats’ nests | Rich Elfers
“If Lt. Sortland is allowed to not pay consequences for what he did in Lt. Huebler’s office, this department is going to be chaos,” warned attorney for the city of Enumclaw, Tom Kugler, at the end of 13 heated and contentious hours in the recent civil service appeal of police officer Eric Sortland for insubordination.
No matter what the decision of the commissioners, the testimony shows that the Enumclaw Police Department has been a rat’s nest for many years, long predating the administration of Mayor Liz Reynolds and her Administrator Mike Thomas. The reason for this story being newsworthy is because the Mayor has been willing to make some tough decisions about cleaning up city government since she took office in January 2009.
Cleaning out rats’ nests seems to be much of what Mayor Liz and her administration have been doing for the past three years. I know because I was on the city council during this time and saw the drama behind the scenes, and not just in the police department.Much of the two million dollars that had been given by King County to fix up and make the Expo Center self-sustaining had been frittered away on projects in no way financially helpful to the city.
After the council voted to dissolve equestrian branding, Mayor Liz hired a new event coordinator who began to bring in venues that positioned the Expo Center as a money maker rather than a money taker. CreationFest is just one big example.
Her goal has been to “run the city like a business.” Mayor Reynolds has empowered her administrative team to work together to bring about solutions.
New, higher fees were proposed by administration and passed by the council. Groups that used to get free or nearly free use of the fieldhouse and other parts of the Expo Center were put on notice that the city could no longer afford this practice.
In the last two years the Expo Center has gone from hemorrhaging $300,000 and more per year from the King County money to being on target to be self-sufficient before the projected year 2014. This is due to more efficient management, cost cutting, and with the approval of the City Council, using the King County money to fix up areas of the Expo Center that would bring the biggest return on our investment.
When the Great Recession hit Enumclaw, Mayor Reynolds made some very difficult cuts to city expenditures without having to lay off workers. She has had to cut $600,000 from her budgets each of her first two years. Last year, $800,000 was cut.
Mayor Liz did this by freezing salaries and hiring, and cutting employee medical benefits, marking the first time city unions agreed to major wage and benefit concessions. In the last three years the mayor and her administration have
cut approximately $1.5 million from the city budget. This is an example of the administration changing their management model to become more efficient for less cost to taxpayers.
Mayor Reynolds also pushed to transfer the library to the King County Library System. We could no longer afford to operate our own library. She felt the citizens deserved the same level of service that other communities and county residents enjoy. Again, this decision, supported by the City Council, was met with howls of pain and fear from some. Now, because of this tough decision, and because a majority of voters agreed, we will have a better library with better resources and longer hours of service.
These are just three examples of how the mayor’s administration has been willing to take the heat with tough calls in very difficult economic times.
The city is far better off and it functions far better now than when I served on the Enumclaw City Council starting in January 2008. This is mainly due to the mayor’s decisive leadership. As Mayor Liz has said to me many times, “City government has to get its own house in order.” That’s where she was going to start. That’s what she has done.
The recent messy picture of the city police department that comes out of the Sortland civil service hearing is really an example of the Mayor’s cleaning rats’ nests out of city government.