Citizens for the Preservation of Renton's Cedar River Library and supporters rallied and spoke at the Council Meeting at Renton City Hall Monday night. Enjoy this media footage and my pixel-roll, followed by my perspective on moving forward:
Jamie Lynn Drohan with KOMO News covered the rally and meeting, and interviewed meas the media spokesperson for the Library group:
Elisa Hanh with King 5 also covered the rally and meeting.
Why We Rally
The Council voted 4-3 to dismiss the Petition and not put the matter to public vote opening the city up to lawsuit from the people who pay for officials' salaries and the very services in question.
Either way the City could face court given KCLS threats to sue the city if the city does not do its bidding. The debacle has earned the city, with Seattle, a Schrammie award.
Thankfully, as of 4/3/12, the city indicated that it's revisiting the requirement to either adopt the petition or put the decision of library location on ballot.
"The council took action last night to address a citizen petition that is invalid due to a number of legal requirements, and fails to address contractual agreements that we've had in place for some time," said Mayor Denis Law in a news release. "Nonetheless, a good number of Renton citizens have expressed their desire to have an opportunity to vote on where the downtown library will be located, and it's never been the intent of the council to ignore public opinion. We're going to explore some options with the council to see if we can meet our obligations while also providing our residents with an opportunity to vote on the issue."
Via Renton Reporter, "In my opinion the initiative placed before us was invalid," said Councilmember Rich Zwicker. "Those of us on the council who voted to concur with the administration's recommendation did what we had to do. That said we are sensitive to the public concern about our library. I am committed to exploring our options, both legal and otherwise, to determine if there is a way we can bring this to a vote of the people."
I applaud and appreciate city leaders for their reconsideration. The People's attorney's letter indicates it's in the City's interest to put the matter to vote. I add it's in politicians' and residents' interests alike. If we're to go to court, isn't it better as a city to avert fighting its own citizens and residents who fund the city via property tax and vote? We'll stand by you!
The Library story in Renton continues to unfold.
I reflected last night that it's democratically flawed that one appointed official under a five trustee board from a district outside of Renton can by threats of closing our libraries put our City in a tough spot with it's taxpayers, voters, and residents. I've heard the comment made that the petitioners put the City in a tough spot, but that is not the case.
One appointed official, currently KCLS director Bill Ptacek, means that by being appointed, he need not be held accountable and subject to the will of the People. One person ought not be in such a position of power. Since someone else appoints that position, who's to say who benefits from the debacle brought upon our city.
Regionally, this story is not about the People against the City, but the People against one appointed position of power. There seems much unrest regionally over libraries. People want to know that they have a say in the nature of their tax-funded public space. Enumclaw and White Center have also battled over annexing to KCLS, and once annexed, whether or not they will pay for upgrades on the library of be burdened with the larger cost of relocation.
Needed Systems Change
Don't get me wrong, when I began blogging about the library controversy, I stated it was not the location per se, but the cost to our democratic process that led me to sign the petition and volunteer my communication services with the Library initiative petition group. I want the constitutional right to petition my government and the civil right to a local say in our community space. I'm not anti-KCLS, but KCLS needs the following changes:
Politically we need to correct KCLS' power, especially considering their direct link to tax funds, meaning make public decision-makers elected, and not appointed, positions. Let's keep with the spirit of our checks and balances.
Barring that systemic change, I urge the KCLS director to adjust his leadership approach to include the property-tax paying public who supports their local libraries as part of the KCLS system via levies and property taxes. Albeit dated, as of 2006, property taxes funded KCLS at 95% of its budget per the King County Library System 2006 Annual Report. Fifty-six percent of that budget went to salary. Ninety-five percent funded by local property taxes. Another financial incentive for our city and residents to "get what we pay for" and so influence the nature of our public space.
Then we face the ethical and legal quagmire of oppressing the democratic principles of governing in that emergent, iterative, and Citizen-led grassroots volunteer effort protected by the initiative process that values the People's first Amendment right to free speech and to petition, the Public's right to vote, and the Civil right to influence the nature of our publicly funded community space.
Much frustration I hear arises in part from lack of disclosure or clarity about the nature of agreements made and when. The vote to annex did not include the vote to relocate or rebuild per se, especially considering the timeline. Per Councilperson Corman, the city did not begin deliberating over relocation and potential sites until after annexation went to ballot. Via KCLS financial meeting 2/24/2009, "The City would like to replace the current facilities in new locations" (pg. 2). The Interlocal Agreement regarding annexation went into effect on 7/11/2009.
On 11/15/2010, the city in executive session authorized staff to negotiate for the acquisition of property in question on, that the Mayor signed the Purchase and Sale Agreement on 2/18/11, and that the city authorized purchasing the lot March 21, 2011 at $525K with a total project budget of $20M. I did not find the executive session in the meeting minutes for 11/15/2010. Then there's the Interlocal Agreement dated July 11, 2011 related to the construction of (2) new libraries. To simplify, the annexation vote occurred in 2009, property purchased in Feb. 2011, and construction agreement with KCLS in July 2011.
Mainly what efforts were made to inform the public of the relocation prior to, and after, annexation vote? I envision these efforts being disclosive and open public inquiry, such as via a vote. Then when the public decides, then involve steering committees.
Moving Forward Together
I commend Renton city leaders for revisiting the need to commit to public input.
So how do we move forward?
We move forward via efforts to restore trust and a spirit of collaboration. Doing so requires disclosure (see below).
I urge the council and city attorney to draft ballot wording to be binding, and not advisory. Respond to the Citizens' group who have reached out to collaborate in wording. At stake includes restoring trust, and I expect you to trust your constituents. No more steering committees, professional pitches, shiny presentations, or whatnot until it's campaign time, and then each side can persuade.
As a City, let's bolster up, and come together. All this in-fighting has distracted us from the larger picture. Let's keep with our "Go Local" implication in the push to develop our downtown core, and put the Library location to ballot.
You know what vote I will support, and I will continue to make my case for keeping the library at its current location primarily due to my taking issue, for a myriad of reasons, with lumping a library into economic development.
Disclose, Disclose, Disclose
Crisis Communication 101: Respond promptly and with a transparent, clear, and consistent message. I want the City to publicly disclose all agreements, verbal or written, in an accessible way, such as one web hub for citizen inquiry. Also disclose the nature of meetings with KCLS on moving forward to put the relocation to ballot.
I ask City leadership to stop developing the site in question, or property formerly owned by Big 5 Corporation at 508 S. 3rd Street, until the public renders its vote.
In addition, I ask the city and KCLS to not use tax-funds to market the relocation. Precise and accurate for, against, and explanatory statements in the Voter's Pamphlet seem sufficient and keep with current methods of persuasion for voting.
We benefit from finding pathways to involve people, even those who irritate us, such as via our shared interest in our city's vitality and our passion for democratic process. I urge the leaders everywhere to value voice. Here I draw on my grassroots work. Be open to be that transformative influence, regardless the "size" of the group, and let someone so influence you.
Yet practicality dictates it inaccessible to have people weighing every single micro-decision, such as extending sewage lines, etc. It's impossible, as Councilmember Corman mentioned, for an elected official's every micro-decision to represent the will of the People, and I add especially barring inquiry.
Even with inquiry, surveys and steering committees, and yes even petitions, do not "represent" a whole general population. Yet recognize that we must trust the process. If we tell the people that you need 15% to certify a petition to either adopt the petition or put the matter to public vote, then we've satisfied sufficiency. Nowhere in that language did I say that we satisfy "representation."
In any case I find it demeaning for authority figures to tell their Public that they want something other than what the People ask. This behavior disconfirms and dismisses constituents, and so risks communication violence.
I submit that people are not empowered, people empower themselves to make collective decisions. So if you find yourself criticizing "one side or the other," be sure to make yourself available to contribute resolution. Given the participation allowed by the spirit of democratic process, or the right to petition our government and to publicly vote, it's in our best interest to trust that process. If we want the process to change, then that's another effort for another time.
Overall, this experience, with my volunteer and consulting, highlighted a community need. I desire to study organizational development, vocational design, dialogic leadership, and narrative to provide communication consulting services to help organizations to develop.
In keeping with my holistic paradigm, and as for my city of Renton (raised on the West Hill!), I desire to help with the wording and leadership outreach as conciliatory and collaborative efforts moving forward.
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.
From the beginning I wanted democratic process and for the relocation to go to vote given the lack of "relocation" language in the 2009 Voter's Pamphlet. So I feel satisfied that we accomplished putting the "relocation" to vote. In the campaigning to come, I urge city leadership to disclose agreements made and costs in relocation including plans and costs to refurbish/retool the current location.
Learn more about the Renton library story as covered by Text and Pixels. Watch the council meeting and access the agenda. Access available and relevant documents. Follow my Public Commons' board on Pinterest. Watch my video footage of why people rallied.
Keepin' it real,
or at least tryin' to,
Hunter, L. (1999). Critiques of knowing: Situated textualities in science, computing and the arts. New York & London: Routledge.