Life might be going at a slower pace than usual during the pandemic, but the Black Diamond City Council had an agenda full of city business items during their first May meeting.
But after officially voting on awarding several construction contracts to various firms and accepting three grants for myriad purposes, the council as a whole made one thing clear — that politics should not get in the way of city businesses, and that they were uninterested in returning to the days of four-hour meetings filled with bickering and empty of productivity.
One of the most exciting pieces of news delivered at the May 7 meeting came from Financial Director May Miller, who said that the city is weathering the COVID-19 pandemic rather well, at least in a financial sense.
According to Miller, Black Diamond saw 2019 bring in nearly $1.76 million into the city coffers, “a record year for revenue,” she said, and “definitely over budget,” rounding out the year with a general fund balance of $3.5 million.
Not only that, but the city also saw an additional $1.1 million come in during the first three months of 2020, a good $277,00 more than the revenue Black Diamond saw in the January through March of 2019.
All this additional cash certainly helped the city when the novel coronavirus took a hammer to some projected revenue in the city’s 2020 budget.
“There wasn’t much revenue coming in” between when Gov. Jay Inslee made his stay-at-home order in March and when the city started opening up on May 5, Miller said, “so that definitely would have had an impact” on the city’s budget.
“But what I knew was, we were going to stabilize, because our cash carry-forward was so good, and our first quarter was so good,” she continued, adding that Inslee allowing construction to re-start before much of the rest of the economy only continued to help Black Diamond’s budget. “We will have a couple of slow months, but we started out way ahead.”
Black Diamond has also moved forward with putting together a fire and EMS levy study, which will be necessary to determine how the city continues its relationship with Mountain View Fire and Rescue, its local fire department.
There’s been more than a little tension between the two entities for more than a few years, with the fire department claiming Black Diamond has historically been underpaying for fire and emergency services, and city officials saying there’s little — if any — wiggle room in the budget and expected revenue to pay for what Mountain View is asking for.
According to city documents, the fire department was paid around $540,000 in 2019, though Mountain View claims it actually cost them around $1 million to fully serve the city.
Because of this discrepancy, Mountain View’s fire commissioners voted to terminate its contract with Black Diamond in two years, although they made it clear the fire department and the city could continue to work together in order to find an equitable solution.
Mayor Carol Benson said three firms have contacted the city and expressed their interest in completing the study, and a task force comprised of Benson, Fire Chief Greg Smith, the city’s Master Development Review Team head Andy Williamson, Councilwoman Tamie Deady, and Miller will be reviewing the proposals set before them.
“We plan on moving this thing along as fast as we possibly can,” Benson said.
DE LEON ADMONISHED
The April 23 city council meeting was more than a little contentious, with Councilwoman Kristiana de Leon calling for fellow Councilmen Chris Wisnoski and Patrick Nelson to either resign their seats, or be somehow removed from the council, because they attended the stay-at-home order protest in Olympia on April 19.
At the time, the council seemed divided — some other members said Wisnoski and Nelson’s decision to participate in a large gathering and disregard social distancing recommendations was irresponsible. Others clearly thought de Leon was the one who crossed the line when she said “when you directly and literally stand with Proud Boys, Neo Nazis, and Confederate Flag Wavers and similar groups in solidarity, it leaves us no other conclusion that your actions speak louder than your words at the dais.”
Both Wisnoski and Nelson have denied having any involvement with extremist groups and held they were well within their Constitutional rights in attending the rally; Wisnoski said he went to get more information about the state’s plan on re-opening the economy, and Nelson travelled there with a group of religious leaders.
This time around, however, the council appeared united against de Leon, and made it clear that the city council will not return to the chaos that enveloped it some years ago, causing city business to screech to a halt until a new council was formed.
“These types of statements are very hateful, in my opinion,” said Councilwoman Melissa Oglesbee, who did not comment on the issue during the April 23 meeting. “To accuse anyone of acts of violence and be part of a neo-Nazi group from a photograph, to me, is far more reckless and lacking in judgement” than attending the large event, which attracted more than 2,500 people.
Oglesbee also pointed out that de Leon’s call for Wisnoski and Nelson to be removed from the council was antithetical to de Leon’s championing of a resolution encouraging inclusivity and decrying isolation and hate in response to a spat of white supremacist propaganda popping up around the Plateau.
“Black Diamond is… non-partisan, and we took an oath to uphold the Constitution. I believe this current council represents a variety of residents with different nationalities, religion beliefs, and politic views,” Oglesbee concluded. “I feel it’s in the best interest of our residents to work together for the city’s goals, major projects, and infrastructure improvements for our future without the distraction of personal opinions.”
Wisnoski said he’s more than willing to work with anyone on the council, so long as individual politics are put aside.
“I put my hand out across the aisle to all of my fellow council members and promise that I will work with you on anything that is city business,” he said. “Otherwise, you can all the T.V. spots you want, you can put [out] all the newspaper articles you want, but it’s not going to do the city’s business, and that’s what we’re here to do.”
Councilwoman Erin Stout was the one who drew the comparison between the city’s last two meetings and the chaos it experienced a few years ago.
“There has recently been a disruption on the city council that threatens to return us to that ‘us against them’ mentality, and there has been enough disruption,” she said. “I would encourage all of us to move forward with our responsibilities in our committees in support of the staff and getting the best outcomes for Black Diamond residents.”
In response, de Leon said she was “saddened” that her fellow council members saw her statement as “bullying or politicking or… even a throwback to a few years ago,” and that her issue about Wisnoski and Nelson’s actions came from a place of community health and safety.
“That was a huge influence in why I felt the decision to attend a large gathering during a pandemic was inherently a wrong and dangerous decision,” she said. “I don’t expect us to agree with everything all the time. That is not my point. My point was public health and safety, and the kind of message it send to the community when we choose to go about expressing our opinion in ways that harm others.”
At the end of the meeting, Deady stressed that she would like to see these sorts of personal issues be brought up behind closed doors — or, if necessary, in a mediation session with the mayor — before they’re brought into the public sphere.