Monday, February 6, 2012

Renton Cedar River Library Initiative Petition | Invite & Heed Voter Voice to Decide Library's Future

Hi Colleauges,

Grassroots Op-Ed

I reside in Renton. I volunteer my modalities to certain causes for my passion to speak influence to people's community space. To that end I'm volunteering with the Citizens for the Preservation of Renton's Cedar River Library.

Before I'm a resident or volunteer, I regard myself as a constituent with a vocational contribution. I apply my vocation to work as a communication consultant, narrative health researcher, photoblogger, and writer to benefit health, education, and the public commons.

Recently I submitted letters to the editor and op-eds to local media outlets. To date four media outlets published variations of this letter (see below links):

Letter to the Renton Reporter (above)
Regarding the proposed move of the Renton public library, I invite Renton residents to sign the library initiative petition to put the proposed move on the ballot in April. Everyone, even the Council, benefits from putting the matter to vote. I expect decisions that affect citizens and their community place to be put on the ballot and debated in a fair and transparent manner. I do not argue that moving the library would be a bad idea per se, but I contend the method.

I dislike the centralized method by which the city council voted in favor of moving the Cedar River library. I find it patronizing of the city to hold public hearings and surveys under the pretense of listening to voters, but effectively using said sessions to persuade voters in the likelihood that the initiative petition puts the library move on the ballot. I regret the seeming demise of democracy, or decisions that become more commercialized, marketed, and privatized.

Overall I expect governance to lead with responsible inquiry and to at least be consistent with its claims for fiscal responsibility during a recession. I expected elected officials to keep their campaign promise to listen. If Renton wants to stay ahead of the curve, then it must change its governing style to value voter voice. I expect city leaders to normalize constituents as leaders, too, and not just residents contained in buildings whose property taxes comprise revenue streams. The people ought to influence the nature of their Community Space. When a select few make decisions that ignore public "input," then of what merit can any civic leader complain about a lack of voter confidence and involvement?

I encourage residents to sign the initiative petition to put the matter to the voters. Let the voters decide. To the Council: If you're going to market to constituents, then at least let them guide your market research. Consider the benefit of diverse views, where citizen push back can save you from making a rushed and faulty decision. For instance, are you without a doubt confident that moving the library four blocks will "revitalize" downtown? If you're confident in the move, then why not put it to ballot? We've a vested interest in valuing democratic principles because ideally people will support the decisions that they contribute. Otherwise governing with a centralized style risks forcing citizens to comply with, and pay for, the decisions of a few.

On a related note I expect watchdog journalism from the Renton Reporter. Quality journalism does not resort to persuasion by exclusion, but writes accurately and fairly about matters especially with which the paper disagrees. I expected to see a paragraph about the library initiative petition in Wednesday's section about the city hosted hearings. It's news that at the timing of this letter over 6740 and counting residents signed the Initiative Petition of the Citizens for the Preservation of Renton's Cedar River Library. Even if the Renton Reporter is a pro-government paper as it seems to be, then it's still surprising to exclude mentioning the petition, for the City allows residents to put initiatives and referendums to ballot via petitions per its code.

In all I expect more responsible and courageous journalism and governance that speaks to themes of empowerment and citizen voice instead of using the power of the press and obfuscated governance to persuade constituents of the merits of its own opinions.

Learn more about the Library Initiative Petition at

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Grassroots Social Media

In addition, here's my comment in a discussion thread online, where my friend and former Renton resident wanted to know why the Council considered this move at all. Here's my reply:

Here's the Council & King Co history My take: A few councilmembers seem rushed to template Renton after surrounding cities, e.g., City of Bellevue, Washington, and correlating skyscrapers and downtown libraries with economic success. However, I believe each city must reflect its constituents' desired outcomes and culture.

Ultimately I see the library decision of Renton city council, given their determination to market and hurry the move without voter input, as communicating (1) council regarding citizens/voters as residents, or revenue streams, (2) council regarding citizens/voters as a hindrance vs. an asset in decision-making, (3) a larger systemic problem w/centralizing governance, and (4) a larger trend to move governance to marketing, or commercialized space.

Grassroots Leadership

Some residents may prefer a managerial "expert" model in decision making, but I don't, especially when the city wants to go into debt and indebt the constituents with the bill (potentially $9M dollars to construct a new library rather than renovating and modernizing the existing library). Throughout his administration, the mayor has promoted fiscal responsiblity as his reason for cutting budget in other areas. To me his decision to indebt his constituents with up to $9M makes no sense and removes a leg of his credibility.

The other leg: at least 2 people, the mayor and another councilmember, marketed their campaign as listening to voters, but voted "yes" to the library move. They did not listen via responding. I wonder if they succumbed to peer pressure? Their "yes" dismissed the expensive survey results where a sizable percentage wrote in "other" do not move the library (it's apparent to me as a researcher the bias embedded in the survey, which didn't even have an option to keep the library where it is).

You can bet voters will remember this, in the least, PR snafoo next election season. I supported and voted for the mayor and at least 1 councilmember in question. You can bet I will reconsider my support next election season. I'm proud of the 1 councilmember who listened and voted "no."

I've championed Renton in my blog as a great place to live, work, and play. I still love Renton enough to care. I see greatness in its potential, and I'm proud to live here and have grown up on Renton's West Hill. Still I do not find greatness in a process that in the least comes across as neglecting, or worse, overruling, constituents.

I find greatness in incorporating people into the governance process, and moving beyond that compliance motif to one where people contribute their greatness even if greatness means giving up weekends and recreation time to field petition signatures, or proposing different ideas or options, and even if that greatness means revisiting and adapting one's decisions.

Elected officials need to respect constituent contribution and heed constituent voice. If voters vote "yes" to move the library, barring the city spending taxdollars to market the move with info sessions, pamphlets, and the like, then the city can move forward with confidence and without falling short of democratic due process or violating its own standard championed in campaign season.

As I see it, if the mayor and council (save 1 member who vote no to honor public input) desire to salvage their wobbly stool, then they need to revisit their decision and put the matter to vote. Changing one's mind means you learn and develop your approach as you go. That's life; a dynamic leader needs to reflect and change.

It's ironic for governing bodies to want to bypass the "cost" of elections and make their own decisions. You can't run a city only as a business. Run cities as public commons, which starts first with inviting contribution from people, and then from such findings build or maintain the infrastructure that expresses our public commons. The "if you build it they will come" mantra no longer works as a feasible or sustainable option in city design. Instead design city space via open inquiry that makes paths for constituents to contribute in the decisions and culture that affect them.

Perhaps there's a lingering inferiority complex that doesn't believe that Renton is Ahead of the Curve? Belief influences behavior.  A misunderstanding as to what constitutes a thriving sub/urban centre? Additionally as you may recall the elbow jabs at Renton via Saturday Night Live years back. I encourage the City Council to use constituent push back as an opportunity to inquire and adjust. Brings new meaning to "small" government... Better to renege their own assumptions than voter trust.

In short, to answer your question, the council is keeping with larger trends to dismiss voter voice in favor of the seemingly easy quick and local decisions of a few.

Grassroots Call to Action

I call upon the City Council and its constituents to be proud of, support, and respond to those constituents who care enough to invest months of grassroots efforts to contribute a say in the future fate of their community space. 

Reframe citizens' pushback as feedback. Entertain the possibility that such feedback may save you from error or lead to other options. I request congruence: Honor your campaign claims to listen to voters and value fiscal responsibility.

Conceive the City as a living, breathing, sentient being that grows and develops in concert. The City, for instance, can look to public art to reestablish its ethos remembering that

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Thanks & Hat Tips

Thank you's and hat tips to Jill Blocker via Renton KOMO (, Jenny Manning via Renton Patch (, and Ben Johnson via All Renton ( Shout out to Stuart Avery and Citizens for the Preservation of Renton's Cedar River Library troupe for their dedication. Still await reply from Renton Reporter...


Update (2012 Feb 07): I spoke with Renton Reporter editor via phone and emailed a shortened version of my letter. I expect it to print in the next edition.

Update (2012 Feb 08): Thanks to Stuart for submitting the petition this morning to the city clerk. Now we transition to communicate why we want the library move to go to vote. It's important to move forward in rapport and speaking of shared interests. We desire to maintain healthy and respectful relations with the Council while communicating our petition to the public.

Update (2012 Feb 09): The Renton Reporter published my letter.

Update (2012 March 13): Last weekend we conducted Super Saturday & Sunday, or a petition drive where we canvassed Renton neighborhoods to gather the remaining needed signatures. We fell short after the first King County audit.  Stuart submitted the petitions to the city clerk to submit to King County. We await the certified count. We counted over 2100 signatures. News coverage at Renton Reporter and RentonKOMO.

Learn more about the grassroots group, and access my library coverage.

Update | On 4/23/12, the Renton City Council approved the resolution confirming the ballot title, description, and voter question for the August 7th library ballot (Proposition #1). The city attorney(s) now draft the full text. Then two groups will draft statements in favor of one library location or the other.  I desire to contribute to the statement drafting.

Thank you for reading,
Dena Rosko, MA-ComL