Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Renton, WA | Library Accountability via Representative Taxation + Democratic Consensus

Hi Neighbors,

The City of Renton once again faces a decision regarding the library over the Cedar River.  This time, the decision involves to what extent the city will accommodate or request revisions to KCLS' design plans.  For background, access this blog's digest of the Library's story.  Here, I speak on the need to rekey the tone of political discourse to one that integrates taxation with representation and democratic consensus (see below).

"We're all in this together" public art
on Cedar River Trail (above)
Represented Taxation?

Do you feel adequately or accurately represented in matters of taxation?  More specifically, recall that the 1942 incepted KCLS exists as an appointed body with oversight seemingly out of reach and even unknown save that of its own board. Taxation depends on the powers granted by the constitution to the Legislative branch appropriated by representation.  Note that King County allots most of its budget to matters of judicial and safety, and not capital improvements or economic growth with 2.8% allotted to libraries. In effect, the cities still pay for their libraries even if they centralized decision-making to KCLS.

We all share a benefit in requiring any governing agency with power to campaign, require, or otherwise impose taxes to be an elected body. Note that property taxes incepted and sustain KCLS.  As KCLS must not answer to elections, how can voters inform KCLS regarding decisions that impact local taxation? The subsequent political mess falls to the cities.


Interface sculpture by Phillip Levine
decked out for Independence Day (above)
Moving forward, KCLS must be accountable to its tax-base, in this case municipal tax payers, as most of KCLS funds come from our property tax. I recommend that the KCLS director and board, currently appointed by King County Executive, be changed to elected positions with term limits to localize oversight, or so that KCLS, as an agency with tax-levying authority, must heed its tax-base. This change may also equalize footing with elected municipal leaders in drafting these "interlocal" contracts and to be accountable to clear mandates from voters. Otherwise, residents in other cities will be further removed from the top-down decisions of a centralized agency that directly impact their finances, public commons infrastructure, and sense of community and local history. Agree? Contact KC Executive.

Finally, municipalities benefit from being precise in their discourse and response to their constituents.  As Carnegie wrote in his class, How to win friends and influence people, learn what people want outside of your interests, and then align the two.  We go astray from democratic principles by making broad appeals for a free ticket to represent the so called "silent majority" and protect that alleged entity from the "vocal minority."  As a democratic republic touting "life, liberty," and "justice for all," we benefit from no longer using devices that buttress internal (officials) or external (constituents) decisions, but by learning a process for consensus and dialogue.

This process may involve compromises all-around.   For instance, does the smaller library size benefit sustainability, e.g., energy costs?  Does the entrance over the river honor the intent of keeping the library at the river, the location which won by a landslide?  How does the city, King County, or KCLS benefit financially from one design plan over another?  Remember we/were promised a state of the art library, so some changes must be made.  We must choose our chief concerns, and then prioritize.  I suggest place the entrance over the river, keep the old trees, utilize an energy efficient design, and construct the changes with care to protect the river and salmon below.  These efforts benefit the quality of life experience plus practical considerations.  The river experience and history seem to be important to the library as a Renton icon; meanwhile, we can update the building to modern standards for technology and energy sustainability.

I appreciate that Renton officials have put the location to vote albeit after a seemingly long and adversarial process.  Renton really showed itself ahead of the curve by bringing the location decision back to the people.  Kudos! I hope that we can make representation decisions with greater fluency and ease in the future.  Democratic consensus relays how to do just that, such as by localizing access to, and updating, decisions as a collaboration between government and constituents.

Note that democratic representation depends largely on taxation, so qualify your discourse and decisions with that qualifier. Anything short amounts to reframing. Representation as a broad stroke presents many hazards. It's faulty to assume that an elected official "represents" the will of the people, or a certain kind of people, e.g., the "silent majority," but not the "vocal minority."  Throw those terms out, not just for inadequacy and inaccuracy of expression, because as the public art on Cedar River Trail states, "We're all in this together."  We share a benefit, officials and constituents alike, in collaborating over tax-related decisions.

Be upfront about other considerations. For instance, how does King County new construction-related taxes impact the library design?  As I've said early on, we benefit from transparency.  Officials benefit from transparency by simplifying the process and making the termination of the project come more quickly and with less cost to public trust, finances, and political relationships.  Constituents benefit from participating with this process as decisions impact quality of life and finances, and volunteers benefit from a consensus process that honors the spirit of intent:  to build a library at the Cedar River as a Renton icon.

I contributed to the grassroots library campaign for my interest in promoting democratic participation and dialogue.  As a city, let's come together to propose to KCLS the design changes that we want, and then move forward.

For More Information

Read the Renton library story as covered by Text and Pixels. Access available and relevant documents. Follow my Public Commons' board on PinterestConnect with Citizens for the Cedar River Library on Facebook. Read local media coverage via Renton KOMO, Renton Patch, and Renton Reporter.

Thank you for reading,