We live in a historic time today in Renton, Wash.
Today the council will decide to adopt/revise the library initiative petition, or put the matter to vote, or reject both rights outright.
Checks and Balances
The spirit of Checks and Balances means just that: Keeping political powers that be in check and in balance to prevent them from abusing their power and so abusing the democratic system and their constituents.
I appreciated Councilmember Corman's opinion on the library petition via his blog post. I agree with him that current ordinances do not require wording to be agreed upon per se as grounds to reject a petition. The wording can be revised by the council and then that revised petition adopted, or the wording can be revised and put to vote. Additionally, the council has 20 days to decide, so another option is to make a motion for more time to deliberate if that will help.
Ideally city elected officials and the constituents can work out an agreement without needing legal intervention. I worry that public decisions legislated by lawyers instead of the petition or vote process bypasses the people to an extent, such as by reducing access in terms of the monetary cost involved in hiring attorneys. However, legal intervention provides that check and balance, and petitioners maintain that right should the council vote against civic rights by rejecting the petition.
In all it's important to me to emphasize fidelity to democratic process and what the library at its current location means to residents, families, and diverse populations.
Now I post an email I submitted to Mayor Law on 3/31/12 regarding his recommendation that the council reject the petition. Any email that you send officials via their government email address becomes part of public record. On that I feel it completely appropriate to share my reply here:
Dear Mayor Law,
Thank you for replying to my email about the Library. I, too, considered the question on honoring the annexation vote when you wrote,
"To ignore that initial public vote, which included building two new libraries, would be circumventing the democratic process."
Moreover, by the city documents I've seen, the construction document dated after the annexation. In your memo you wrote, "In March 2011, the full Council approved the purchase of the Big 5 site for the new library facility." So to me the chronology is after the vote, and not before. By full disclosure I mean not only posting documents and televising council meetings, each of which are good, but at each step of the way communicating to residents all contracts made, such as public use of the Big 5 lot, companies contracted to rebuild, and so on. Even if information is posted or shared, that's not a guarantee that people will understand the terms under which they make a decision, such as a vote.
I signed the initiative petition in part as I see value in a natural environment that intersects play and learning, and I believe that public commons such as the library should not be put to the task of economic development. Ethical questions aside, how can a space funded by property taxes help downtown businesses profits? I read the article in the Renton Reporter about the hospital district losing $3.3M due to declining property values (http://bit.ly/H1n2vw). I see the access question in concentrating space near transit centers, but we need not move the library to accomplish a successful transit hub.
I, too, care about economic development, but I reiterate that a public commons such as the library must not be used for the interest of private business. We've other options to draw people downtown, and I'm willing to do my part to contribute to that solution. However, if I feel snubbed by elected officials and business leaders, I will feel less inclined to patron with my dollars and vote in the future. Here I speak of feeling and what I foresee as consequences. So we've a shared interest to find a way to honor democratic process and develop our economic corridor downtown.
In any case I can assure you that I will not be pleased by a steering committee, city council, or any other elected or tax-funded official, including the city attorney, bypasses the petition and vote process altogether when by law the correct number of people have proved their fidelity to their elected officials, democratic process, and community space.
Overall, I have learned a great deal volunteering with various groups and leaders over this past year. I appreciate contributing to my community, and want to encourage others to do the same. I hope that together we can find a way to honor democratic process and, in so doing, encourage resident involvement and volunteerism.
Thank you again for your time to address my concerns.
Dena Rosko, MA-ComL
I find it ironic that the few arguing for economic development are themselves perpetuating economic disparity. Permit me to point out that we risk -isms when a few drive efforts that impact the many. Consider that 4 men, 2 with 6 figure taxpayer funded salaries, are pushing to relocate the library. Compare that to, in a short timeframe, the 6,383 King County *certified* signatures. This number excludes the 1,442 signatures from residents in Potential Annexation Areas (PAA) such as the West Hill.
Importantly, the 6,383 signatures come from a wide array of backgrounds including socio-economic. I propose that this library story, from a system's perspective, deals with the primal side of "economic development," or socio-economic disparities. To the Mayor, Council, and KCLS director, I ask you to consider what your action on the petition says to constituents now and those potentially in your political future.
Furthermore, ethical and systems' questions aside, the appeals to develop economy and help business downtown fall short of actually doing either. Here I speak from my experience consulting. The few pushing for relocating the library need to reconsider their assumptions embedded in their marketing strategy.
From a marketing approach, appealing that "getting bodies downtown" will help businesses is akin to reckless carpet-bombing because it carries the assumption that more bodies will guarantee better business. Such is not always the case. Marketing for a conversion funnel of a sale requires more than "bodies."
In contrast, quality marketing strategy requires a conversation with people, engagement with a decision-making process, and a focused and strategic effort to communicate one's brand to a target audience. For instance, a website does not necessarily drive business; think of a billboard in a forest. Just producing a website does not necessarily convert to sales. One must fine-tune the website and make a deliberate effort to engage potential clients online. This strategy can include best practices in keywords, meta content, link sharing, social media engagement, among others, and all of that must be done within one's niche market.
An online strategy must be coupled with an on-ground strategy. Use of events in particular expands one's network, makes contact with potential clients, and converts to online traffic and sales. In other words, assuming that the cost of relocating the library near the transit center will convert to more sales for local businesses is, from a marketing standpoint, mistaken. The appeal to "bring more bodies" sounds desperate, and in decision-making, a desperate appeal carries urgency, and with that a higher risk to err.
The intiative petition has already made Renton history being the first submitted and that King County certified.
Whatever decision made today by City Council will make history. Either the city make history by ruling against the people's right to petition their government, and so perpetuate socio-economic disparities with the ironic call to develop economy via a paltry marketing strategy, or will make history by adopting and/or revising the petition, or putting the relocation matter to vote.
Choose wisely this day what kind of history you want to make.
Strategic decision-making takes time. The hardest requirement of all is patience in the face of fear. What I hear is not people making strategic choices to drive their brand, but people hurting making an appeal for help. I'm compassionate to the latter, and believe that we must contribute to our solutions. We must resist expecting a massive and epic decision with a high political, monetary, and community cost because such epic decisions risk epic fail.
Containment or Flow?
In addition, I find the paradigm supporting the pitch to relocate the library limited. The paradigm to bring bodies downtown and for businesses to secure leases to rent space assumes that containment, or keeping people in a locale with a guaranteed rent payment, will develop economy.
Containment paradigms fail in a myriad of sectors, including, but not limited to, health research, education, and public safety. Moreover, containment paradigms risk reducing people to objects to use and so abuse for whatever conversion funnel desired, whether that be a convert to sales, idealogy, or political endorsement.
Depending on containing people for gain shrinks our sample, instead of enlargening it. It's better to switch to a model that's modular, iterative, and allows thru-put or flow. Community models that depend on dialogue, engagement, and emergent design succeed much faster in quality and workable solutions than do systems dependant on rigid and unyielding containment paradigms.
Innovation Begins with Process
We can learn much from software development practices called Agile. The Agile Manifesto reads
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
Now apply those values in blue to democratic process in general, and to our library story specifically. A flexible and more successful approach includes designing our community space, which includes business, dependent on the design and contribution from those that reside in a locale (1) and those invited to participate in said locale, even as a visitor (2).
Note that we've already existing, but underused, resources to utilize. Ideas such as building a Arts' Collaboration and Production Center, where artists rent not walled offices, but open studio space that they share with other artists, with production studies that they sign up for use and share. Together they build their network and produce content to perform at the IKEA Performance Arts Center, the Piazza Event Pavillion, and local community theatres.
Their events draw fluid traffic in an already existing and burgeoning arts scene here in Renton. We've SIFF plus Renton Film Frenzy. We've Renton River Days. What if Renton became an arts production hub for film, music, and other performance arts and events? Now that's cool. Just check out the event list with live music several nights a week at local venues such as Luther's Table, especially open mic night, and you will see what I mean: people of diverse backgrounds and who live in and outside of Renton perform. Many come weekly, but with new faces, too.
Such approaches better build from existing resources with the resources being venues, people, and the arts demographic. What's more, such an approach keeps with existing City Master Plan for the Municipal Arts Commission, and does so truly Ahead of the Curve as such approaches depend on systems' paradigms, flex with the changing business climate, respond to a diverse market, and anticipate with foresight socio-cultural trends, such as the Millenial generation.
In any case, method matters. The ends do not justify the means; they influence them. The push to relocate the library opposes City plans elsewhere. Every city must be known for something. Let Renton be known for its creativity and innovation, and not rigid business paradigms and abusive civic practices.
Business interest subordinates to laws for community such as our constitutional right to petition our government for redress and grievances. Business interest subordinates to principles for community such as access to resources for a wide range of socio-economic, and other, backgrounds.
Arguing for developing economy at a harried pace risks failure, arguing for developing economy against democratic process risks abuse, and arguing for developing economy without a strategy in mind to engage residents in solutions guarantees failure.
The Primal Stone
Given these considerations, the hurried push to relocate the library makes little sense leaving me to cock my head in wonder at the one stone left unturned: Who benefits monetarily and/or politically from relocating the library?
Let the question linger.
A Word to Business Owners
I repeat that I want downtown businesses to succeed, and I participate in downtown events and patron businesses there. I celebrate and promote the city of Renton by covering events. Yet public commons, or civic spaces funded by tax dollars, must not be shuffled into economic development or be used for the interest of private business.
Tell me private business owners advocating for the library move: if tables were turned and the city contracted for relocating a downtown business without your knowledge or approval, and you had to relocate, but you were responsible to pay the debt of such a move without having a say or foreknowledge in the terms or obligations of said contract, including location, and you didn't know who the contract owners were, then how would you feel? Do you ever wonder if or when your business infrastructure will be on the next chopping block under someone else's development axe?
I support 3/50 and "going local." How do businesses reconcile the seeming brand breakage by marketing for local indie business, but support a centralized decision-making process made in part elsewhere? All of this posturing and "taking stands" means moot if we reject the platform by which citizens can redress government, or distrust the democratic process that provides the platform on which we make public decisions.
The more I reflect on this story, the more I support keeping the library at its current location, or putting the matter to vote. I rally today for the people's right to petition their government and to impact change for the benefit of their community.
I stand against socio-economic systems' fail, or classism as private interests driven by a few. I stand for a successful and healthy downtown core that opens itself to learning how to balance the civic rights in a community space and public commons while succeeding economically.
Economic success swings as a pendelum between socio-economic disparity and development. We show ourselves wise on how we swing and who we allow to push. The interesting thing about swinging: once you learn the technique, you can keep the momentum yourself.
Rally & Speak
Check out our rally press release for immediate release!
Join us 4/2 at 6pm to rally at Renton City Hall and to speak to the council at the council meeting afterwards to urge the council to respect constitutional right to petition and civic right to address and participate in government.
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.
Access Text and Pixels' coverage of the library petition. Join the conversation and like our Facebook page.
Thank you for reading,
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