Saturday, March 17, 2012

Transition Library Debate to Deliberating & Dialoguing Questions, Asks, or Making Space for Conversation

Hi Colleagues,

I write this post in response to Renton attorney Larry Warren's memo calling the library initiative petition "illegal," untimely, with "fatally flawed" language, and other objections. The petition group, a grassroots group, acts on a constitutional right to petition the government. I decry using form and procedure in the extreme of hindering, not helping, democratic process. Such words, while in the context of legal specifics, further entrench positions on a heated story.

In the least the petition group makes their intent heard, and as with all legal counsel, a counterpoint can and must be presented. For instance, if city officials failed to disclose the terms of annexation and public land use requirements, including firms contracted to rebuild the library, and if the city failed to disclose taxpayer dollars used to market and finance the mailout campaign to annex the library, then the city already has broken its contract of vote, trust, and potential campaign financing laws.

So let's back up a bit before calling a constitutional petition "illegal" because, according to the city attorney, a city employee's perspective, it breaks some seeming form or procedure. Perhaps I'm running away with assumptions, but in the absence of knowledge of procedure or full disclosure, how else can people make decisions? The city has widened the divide in the absence of open and discovery-driven inquiry and with inflamed legal comments from the city attorney. We involve constituents by giving them tools, knowledge of procedure, and information to make educated decisions, such as via full disclosure.

However sacred or helpful rules of procedure may be in law, they can sometimes be an artifice, or obfuscate process. I find obfuscated process an access concern because it implies that only people versed in legal code can participate in governance. I disagree. Our democratic principles make it so everyday people can participate in the governance that shapes their quality of life, as in We the People... Type in "We the People" online and you will find a link to the White House under--now watch this--petitions.

Furthermore, we've checks and balances in government to account for over-weighted authority. The council has overstepped its bounds on weighing the library fate too heavily in their decision-making and procedural authority. I want the scales to balance.

I've blogged on the library story involving the conflict over the annexation, move, and rebuild in the Renton, Wash. I signed the initiative petition to not move or rebuild the library given my concerns over a lack of transparent and dialogic process that led to and continue to unfold involving the interlocal agreement made with King County Library System (KCLS). For instance, the terms of annexation need to be disclosed beyond posting the agreement online.

In any case there seems to be much confusion and strong feelings over the library. It may help to back up a bit.

Backing up to the beginning, I make my appeal to the council to listen and respond to the questions and stated desire of its constituents. Here I speak on the need to ask questions, state expectations, and contact decision-makers salient to the library story. Consider my below lists a brainstorm and be free to contribute your questions, asks, concerns, or ideas in the comment section at the end of this post.

First, Questions challenge and pressure. Asking open-ended questions can open doors and clarify confusion. Second, reflect on what concerns you most. Why? Then flip that to ask for what you want instead. Asking for what you want also opens doors to conversation. Expressing desire or what you expect lends transparency. If we want full disclosure and transparency, then let's adopt a method that embodies that intent.

If we lack information, and in the library case, with confusion and lack of full disclosure, then we risk making error in our appeal, assertions, and accusations driven by our assumptions. Full disclosure means giving access to all information related to a particular situation that requires people to decide.

Here's a list of my questions thus far:

  • Why or did KCLS include as a term of the interlocal agreement to move and rebuild the library near the transit center? 
  • Why is the city responsible for said move and rebuild?
  • What are the terms or penalties associated with breaking terms in the interlocal agreement?
  • What are the benefits of annexing, moving, rebuilding?
  • What are the terms or penalties associated with de-annexing? Is that possible (1) or desirable (2)? Why or why not?
  • Did the city make a goodfaith effort to clarify the terms of the KCLS annexation to its voting public before the annexation vote?
  • If not, then what is the city willing to do to rectify a lack of full disclosure?
  • If so, then why did the council wait to issue the attorney waiver today instead of from the onset of the petitioning so that the petition group knew the terms under which their petition would be evaluated?
  • To what extent has the council demonstrated good faith effort to fully disclose to constituents?
  • To what extent has KCLS demonstrated good faith effort to fully disclose to the council?
  • To what extent have all parties in the interlocal agreement communicated their intent, evidentiary support, and implications of said agreement to the public?
  • To what extent can said public access all contracts, agreements, parties, documents, and persons related to the library annexation, move, and rebuild?
  • What does renegotiating all contracts relevant to the library annexation, move, and rebuild entail?
  • What agreements outside of or pursuant to the interlocal agreement have been made?
  • Is the city responsible to move (1) and rebuild (2) the library under its agreement with KCLS? Why or why not?
  • Have parties of the library interlocal agreement and all related contracts disclosed their research protocols, authors or firms, findings, and reports to the public and/or media?
  • Have the media disclosed content related to the library annexation, move, and rebuild discovered in private meetings with relevant parties? Why or why not?
  • What intentions or contracts have been made, and with whom, for redeveloping the land at, near, or adjacent to the current library location?
  • To what degree is the council as an entity (1) and councilmembers individually (2) willing to fully disclose agreements or contracts, verbal or written, made regarding the library annexation, move, and rebuild?
  • To what degree is the council as an entity (1) and councilmembers individually (2) willing to engage in dialogue with their constituents?
  • To what degree is the council as an entity (1) and councilmembers individually (2) willing to opt-in or -out of their constituents' asks, petition signatures, or stated expectations?
  • To what extent are voters willing to approve this and other funding measures?
  • How can we make a pathway to collaborate with, instead of debate, and involve grassroots, media, business, government, and other decision-makers in this library story?
  • How far is the council, KCLS, and other parties willing to go to enact the interlocal agreement? At what cost to residents, democratic process, and trust?

Here's a list of my asks. I want

  • Full disclosure: Full disclosure of all documents, contracts, and agreements, verbal or written, made regarding the library annexation and proposed move including, but not limited to, agreements made with contractors, engineering firms, and development firms. I want full disclosure of timeline and intent: when the agreeing parties made these decisions, when, and for what desired outcome. Full disclosure also includes agreements made outside of the assumptions in my request. I also want all parties to disclose the terms and timelines of their contracts, plus what options are available to the public.
  • Burden of proof: The burden of proof for the main pitch or reasons for moving the library, disclosed thus far, lies on the bodies making said claims such as, but not limited to, providing evidentiary support of the claim that annexing (1), moving (2), and rebuilding (3) the library will economically benefit the downtown. This support must compare local operating costs to the costs to annex, move, and rebuild. Moreover, by locating your ask you can pitch positive. So elected officials must respond to their responsibility to clarify their intent, the actual terms being voted upon, and explain and provide evidentiary support for its claims on reasons to move. Likewise, petitioners and residents must respond to their responsibility to contribute options and communicate to their officials and fellow residents what the library means to them.
  • Fidelity: Who wants to renege a contract? Yet consider the vote a most basic contract. A petition signature also signs a contract that expresses in the least agreement with a desired outcome or ask. Voter rights to petition government constitutes a basic right and measures a principle of our democratic process. I expect government to be faithful to the wishes of its constituents as expressed in our democratic system. I want the council to demonstrate fidelity to its constituents first, meaning its residents, before its stakeholders, central governing bodies, such as, but not limited to, KCLS, regarding the library and other decisions related to residents' public commons. Only remember your residents and voters constitute your first contract. So be faithful to them first.
  • Inquire, Listen, & Respond: Inquiry and research can be contrived, or at least influence the ends, even by nature of it being designed. I want the council and KCLS and all other parties salient to the library annexation, move, and rebuild to inquire and respond, or at least find a pathway to work with, the consensus and outlier constituent responses to the library annexation, move, and rebuild. Inquiry and listening demand a response. Sometimes that response must adapt to new findings even if said findings differ from expectations or what we assumed. Adapting shows courage because it can feel embarrassing to switch gears or as though you're going back on your word. Responding benefits in the long run.
  • Protocols: The ends do not justify the means or vice-versa; the ends influence the means, and therein asks our ethical question. I want all parties to disclose research and agreement protocols to the public in an accessible media.
  • Honesty: I want all parties to disclose their intent or reasons for supporting or not supporting the library annexation, move, and rebuild and all related agreements made or to be made.
  • Financial Stewardship: I expect all parties to disclose cost and compare varying ideas or constructs for said costs, such as, but not limited to, local vs. KCLS operating costs with all related costs to annex, move, rebuild the library and to develop the land at, near, and adjacent to, its current location (1) and in its place in the master plan (2). While it may seem advantageous to build with low interest rates, etc., consider other layers of financing, such as your stakeholders--in part your residents--return on investment, risk, trust, quality of life, and cost. Also consider impact to other funding measures.
  • Environmental & Eco-Conscientiousness: Liberty Park and Cedar River trail provide a place to play, recreate, relax, and stay. Sub/Urban centers need parks and recreation to therapeutically benefit our public commons.
  • Imagination: I want related parties to consider systems thinking for moral imagination. Recognize the implications to public commons and your constituents' place in it. Also imagine the analogy of customer service. If you consider your role as an administrator, and the city a business, then recognize the implications of engaging your constituents as customers and the benefit or fall out to your brand from the decisions you make, disclosed or private.
  • Systems Thinking: We design the system in which we live. Such systems thinking imparts moral imagination. I want you to imagine with me that we always maintain a degree of publicity in all our decisions, that none are ever purely private, for each decision even made in private impacts the public commons and our contribution to it. Try the "60 minute" test; how will you defend your decisions and actions if you imagine yourself on television with a national or even global audience?
  • Situated Courage: Though we live together in a system, such as via a member of a council, or a resident of a city, or a library patron, also recognize the need to break ranks at times especially for social justice or democratic principles.
  • Foresight: I want related parties to consider potential consequences to their elected office and disclose those that relate to salient library agreements. You campaign especially via your term. Ask yourself, for what do I want to be known, why, and what legacy do I want to leave? What do I want constituents to know of my contribution, and how will I market that for my next campaign?
  • Servant Leadership: I want all parties to consider what it means to benefit your locale and constituents. We need a degree of pretense to assume that we can leave our public commons off better than we found it, but humble ourselves enough to challenge our assumptions, communicate with transparency and full disclosure, and collaborate with those especially whom we impact with our contribution. Regard your constituents as co-contributors instead of adversaries to persuade or demand compliance, but people with whom to share burden of governance with regard to beneficial outcomes (1) conducted in a dignified, peaceful, and respectful process (2).
  • Dialogic ProcessDialogue differs from debate. Debate tries to persuade position; whereas, dialogue attempts to locate our shared interests. To a degree all communication involves persuasion if only of our perceived reality. Be that as it may, I encourage all parties involved to set aside ambivalent tone long enough to ask questions that challenge, to be firm yet adaptable in your ask, and to search for conversation pathways. You can't influence someone outside of conversation.

What of you? What questions do you want to ask regarding the library annexation, move, and rebuild? What do you want out of this situation? How do you want governing parties, legal assigns, and other parties to communicate this decision to their public? What process or outcome do you expect?

In the meantime, I continue to foster relationships with city council and volunteer communication consulting, or simply ask questions, as a network bridge. While the councilmembers work as an entity, they also may have their own opinions or desired outcomes in the library story. For example, Councilperson Randy Corman stands by his comment that any petition of the government can not be labeled "illegal," and expressed desire to make council discussions as productive, open-minded, and inclusive as possible.

For my contribution, I continue to reflect on the value of full disclosure in transparency, and the credos, "make every effort to be at peace with all people," and "all is permissible, but not all benefits" (1 Cor. 6:12; Rom. 14:19). Practice what I preach, right? I regard myself as a network bridge; I don't see myself as representing any one group, though I've volunteered with the petition group, I've also volunteered with political campaigns as a communication consultant and content writer. I desire to contribute communication and leadership principles that I think can help us adjust this situation in a beneficial manner. So let me know if or how I can help with your communication strategy.

My goal in part involves building a communication pathway for people, and I believe that pathway starts in part through transparency and full disclosure of all agreements, verbal and written, made regarding the library. Disclosure helps rebuild trust, and the sooner the better for everyone involved.

Overall, to build a public commons requires more than an agreement or plan. The public commons needs space for conversation, a space where we value constituent contribution enough to design our communication and contractual protocols in kind. While I recognize the value in push-back all-around, such as to prevent costly mistakes, we need to ask ourselves what's our conversion funnel? What do we want? Is our process and outcome beneficial? Who decides?

Together let's turn the tide by transitioning the library debate to an opportunity to improve and adjust our process, even if that means going back to the beginning and collaborating with constituents on the master plan.

Want to be heard? Contact the council, city attorney, KCLS, and/or Mayor Law with your questions or asks. Access the interlocal agreement. Learn more about the Citizens for the Preservation of Renton's Cedar River LibraryContact me if you want to be interviewed for Text and Pixels' coverage of the library story, or include your comments below.

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.

Thanks & Hat Tips

  • To everyone engaging with me in a constructive manner on this story online and on-ground;
  • To and others for your encouragement and leadership principles;
  • To media and bloggers covering this story;
  • To the leaders and consitutuents, all decision-makers, desiring to revisit the conversation to deliberate what to do;
  • To Jenny with Renton Patch for reminding me of the value in asking questions and keeping the conversation going (note she is not responsible for the content in this post, so don't blame her!);
  • Graphics courtesy Google search here and here.