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Group urges involvement in Black Diamond's future
There is a movement afoot to change Black Diamond’s form of city government from a strong-mayor to a council-manager. The Black Diamond City Council is attempting to change over 50 years of rich history without citizen involvement.
At (a July 9) special meeting, Council member Carol Benson initiated and attempted to pass a poorly written resolution to change the form of government in Black Diamond. Her resolution was not on the meeting agenda or in the council packet; it was not vetted through the city attorney or any city committees, and it did not include any plan for a public hearing.
The democratic way to take action of this magnitude is to get citizen input. Where is the transparency the council says is so important to them?
Thankfully, the resolution was temporarily withdrawn but it (was to be) discussed again at the July 19 council meeting. The city attorney and new interim city administrator swayed the council to consider the total impact to the city, pointing out that the process should go through a committee and legal review. Examination of the financial impact to the city should also be considered, as well as the addition of the opportunity for public input.
Why the attempt to hurriedly change our city government? Why was this done in a special, lightly-attended council meeting on Monday, July 9 (council meetings are normally held on Thursday)?
Was the purpose to undermine civic involvement? The rush seems to be to place the matter on the November 2012 ballot. This type of rogue behavior seems to be indicative of Councilmember Benson who was appointed to Position No. 4 in March 2012, not elected.
And what is the financial implication of this action to the city? There will be costs to our citizens to place this one item on the fall ballot. Are the majority of citizens willing to pay this extra expense when it would be less expensive to combine with multiple city races in 2013? Where will the City Council find funds to pay for the city manager that a council-manager form a government requires? Are the citizens of Black Diamond willing to be taxed equally to pay for this position? Who is looking into these financial issues? Is the City Council considering these concerns?
Perhaps the issue of unequal taxation for Black Diamond residents is where the council should be devoting their time. The 801 households of “old town" Black Diamond, who pay utility taxes on city water and sewer and stormwater, pay for city services. However, the residents of the Lake Sawyer annexation area, who use Covington Water and Soos Creek sewer, only pay the stormwater tax, a small contribution to the enterprise funds compared to old Black Diamond. Why is the council not addressing this inequity rather than attempting to change our government?
In response to the council’s request for a city administrator, Mayor Rebecca Olness recently hired an interim city administrator. Again, part of the funding for this position is from enterprise funds which Lake Sawyer residents only pay stormwater fee. Per the Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC), this strong mayor with a city administrator form of government “is really a hybrid of the council-manager and strong-mayor forms, since it borrows some of the characteristics of each. There is a single elected executive to represent the community and provide political leadership – assisted by a professional manager” and it is growing in popularity, particularly among cities with a population of less than 10,000 (Black Diamond has a population of 4,160). Ninety percent of Washington cities with a population of less than 5,000 have a mayor-council form of government.
According to the MRSC, the trend today is for cities to be formed and/or changed to the mayor-council government with a professional city administrator – which is exactly where Black Diamond is today. Why would some members of this council attempt to change a system that is working for Black Diamond?
In Black Diamond, we want to vote for our mayor. We want the mayor to be directly responsible to the voters. We don’t want the council members to decide amongst themselves who will be mayor, as in the council-strong form of government.
The citizens of Black Diamond are encouraged to take action on this issue. Please consider attending the next council meeting on Thursday, July. 19 and let the council know that an issue as big as changing the form of government in Black Diamond is not indicative and at the very least it needs to be looked into further and there needs to be a public hearing.
We must speak up and let this council know that a special election is an expense we don’t want to bear. The pros and cons can be evaluated over the next year and after all implications are known we can proceed, knowing we are knowledgeable of what the change means to the city.
Please, get involved, email the council members. Attend the meetings on the first and third Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. Watch for special meetings of the council as listed on the city’s website.
Your voice matters. Even if you are not a resident of Black Diamond, but you are directly connected to what happens here – Black Diamond needs your voice.
Bill Boston, Mario Sorci, Geoff Bowie and Kristine Hanson
Members of PROUD – Planned, Recognized, Orderly and Unique Development