In 2009, the Nestlé company wanted to come to our town and establish a water bottling plant. Their proposal involved taking over “first rights” of Enumclaw’s water supply. Revelation of secret negotiations between Nestlé and the administration brought outrage from Councilwoman Liz Reynolds and the public. Many feared the multinational company would steal Enumclaw’s pristine water and control the city. Additionally, there was concern over the terrible reputation that Nestlé had earned for the sale of contaminated baby formula in Third World countries, Eventually, the administration and the council backed down and voted “no” to Nestlé coming to town.
Thus began my education into the politics of emotion in Enumclaw.
The second major blow-up occurred a year after the Nestlé debacle. The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission served an $11 million penalty on the city for lack of proper maintenance of its gas utility. The city administration at that time had ignored a certified letter of warning from the WUTC over this issue. The public was not only enraged, but also fearful of the level of safety of our gas pipelines. Eventually, at the cost of at least $100,000, the city complied and fixed the problem to the WUTC’s satisfaction. The penalty was averted.
The third incident that raised the city’s ire was the whopping 55 percent sewer rate increase to pay for cost overruns on the brand new $32 million sewer treatment plant in September of 2009 just before mayoral and council elections.
What I call the “Turf War of 2011” was another item that roused residents’ ire. Two football games had been played on the old football field during heavy rains and destroyed much of the natural turf. This was highlighted by a picture of the field sent to The Seattle Times, causing the high school to play on the Orting High School field for its last two games. A large number of irate football fans including the head football coach filled the council chamber to demand a new artificial field, although it was the school district that was in charge of field maintenance, not the city.
Even though the city took a lot of public criticism for not caring about the kids, it held steady and demanded that the $500,000 turf replacement in 10 years would not be dumped upon city taxpayers. In the end, grants, matching funds, and donations covered the cost of the new turf while the school district’s constituents, a much larger and broader based group, will cover the future cost of replacement.
The most recent major emotional issue was annexation of the library to the King County Library System. This issue ended only a short time ago when voters approved the annexation by 50.71 percent – just 34 votes.
What did I learn from these issues that stirred the emotions of residents?
To lead a city requires that the council and the administration must do what is best for the city, even if it’s not popular. The council needs to have a list of priorities that help them choose what is really important instead of what
some pressure group is proposing. Those decisions must be made after all the facts are gathered both pro and con, comparing costs versus benefits.
That requires political courage and a clear set of prioritized goals.
Getting all perspectives out to the public is vitally important to make good decisions. Emotions are important, but reason must prevail. That does not always happen, either at the city or the national level.
Good government requires that decisions should not be made from either liberal or conservative ideology, but from the answer to the question, “What’s good for the majority of the public, and what gets the job done?”
Good government requires thoughtful, elected representatives, an informed public and a media that tells the real story behind the issues. Lacking any of these three parts, and the city and its constituents suffer. Emotions can drive a city’s destiny, but clear priorities and reason must prevail.