Change of government for city of Black Diamond goes to the voters
By DENNIS BOX
Covington Reporter Editor
July 24, 2012 · Updated 4:24 PM
It was a hot time in the old Black Diamond City Council chambers July 19.
City Council members adopted a resolution proposing a change in government from the current strong mayor form to a council-manager type of leadership. By approving the resolution the measure will now go before city voters on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Voting in support of the resolution were Carol Benson, Tamie Deady, Ron Taylor and Joe May. Craig Goodwin voted against the resolution.
“I am neutral. I can live with either one whether it is strong mayor, whether it is council-manager,” Taylor said. “My decision is whether or not I want to allow people to vote on this by putting it on the ballot.”
Gooodwin said he opposes the plan because his No. 1 priority had been to get a city administrator in place.
The city hired Pete Butkus as an interim city administrator July 2.
Goodwin said the council should remember the city has many issues to wrestle with, including the budget and the preliminary plat application for phase 1A of the YarrowBay master planned developments.
“To the extent we adopt this resolution and put it out to vote,” Goodwin said, “we are basically bringing chaos to the whole process.”
He said the issue could have been brought to a vote after the council had done its “homework” and there had been a public discussion on the issue.
“What is going to cloud the issue as to the best form of government, is in many people’s view this will be viewed as basically a recall election of the mayor (Rebecca Olness). It is a backdoor recall,” Goodwin said. “That perception is fair. Let’s be very honest about it. That’s the objective of some. OK, that’s fine. But we have a vote coming up in 2013 (when the mayor’s term expires).”
Public comment and more
Prior to the 4-1 vote there was about 90 minutes of public comment from both sides. Those supporting the resolution were seeking an opportunity to vote on the form of government. Those speaking against the resolution cited more than 50 years with of the current form of government and argued if the issue was going to the ballot it should be done next year when the mayor’s term expires.
Also noted during the public comment period was Black Diamond does not have right of initiative and referendum in place that would allow residents to place a measure on the ballot.
There were some intense moments when those on opposing sides exchanged heated words.
Prior to the council consideration, Butkus proposed setting up a committee to study issues involving a change of government and forwarding a recommendation to the council and citizens.
Butkus also suggested the council may want to list the pros and cons concerning the two forms of government because once the resolution passed the council was “severely restricted from any further electoral participation by the Public Disclosure Commission.”
Deady said the issue is not new, but was brought up at a Town Hall meeting in January. She pointed to a Reporter article, “Change of government resolution in the air” from the Feb. 3 edition.
The council decided not to list the pros and cons and the resolution was moved to the floor by Benson. The councilwoman said the majority of emails she received came from community members asking the issue be put on the ballot, “and let people vote on it.”
“It hasn’t been a secret,” Deady said. “I have not gotten one person to sit down and talk to me about the change of government.”
During a phone interview following the approval of the resolution, Olness raised three main points.
“First, this is personal,” Olness said. “This is to get rid of me. Second it is to stop YarrowBay. Third, they want control and they (the council) think by going to another form of government they can control staff. They are trying to get rid of staff they don’t like. They really don’t understand government.”
The mayor said Benson brought the measure forward because she had been selected by the Save Black Diamond group.
“There were highly qualified candidates that were totally disregarded because they wouldn’t pledge allegiance to Save Black Diamond,” Olness said.
Benson was appointed to fill a council seat vacated by Bill Saas, who resigned due to work demands.
The Save Black Diamond website states the group is, “a network of volunteers and supporters who are working together to protect the Town of Black Diamond and the surrounding areas from irresponsible land development.”
Benson said during a phone interview that she was not a member of Save Black Diamond prior to the group endorsing her to fill the position.
“I worked for 25 years for a civil engineer, developer and utilities contractor,” Benson said. “These were the issues. I don’t think I was chosen by Save Black Diamond. I was not in the organization, but I was endorsed by them after they interviewed me and other candidates.”
Benson said she does not believe it is a personal issue against the mayor, “at least from my point of view. A lot of citizens contacted me. A lot of smart and involved people and they want the right to vote on this.”
Benson said she did not write the resolution but made the motion to place the measure before the council because of the responses from citizens.
Olness said she also is concerned about, “How do we pay for this? What is going to happen to the city?”
The mayor said currently 75 percent of the interim city administrator’s salary is paid by YarrowBay. There is currently no funding agreement with YarrowBay to pay for a portion of a city manager’s salary, she added.
Of the Benson selection, Goodwin said there were five “highly qualified candidates. They all were very good.”
Goodwin also said, “I would never do anything Save Black Diamond told me to do or anyone else.”
Olness said, “This City Council keeps saying they want to listen to the people. Do they want to listen to those who elected me or those who want to change the system?”
The change of government ballot measure requires a simple majority of Black Diamond residents to vote for it.
If the measure passes, Olness would complete her term as a council member, rather than mayor, through Dec. 31, 2013, and the council would have six members rather than five.
Forms of government
• Mayor-council form
The elected City Council sets policy and the elected mayor is the chief executive, responsible for implementing policy and managing the work of employees.
The mayor also has significant powers relating to budget development. Members of the council as well as the mayor are subject to voter approval at the ballot and are subject to ballot recall or removal from office.
• Council-manager form
The elected City Council would continue to set policy and the executive branch would be headed by a city manager, appointed by the council. The city manager would be the chief executive, responsible for implementing policy and managing the work of employees. A city manager also has responsibilities relating to budget development. The city manager is not subject to voter approval at the ballot nor subject to ballot recall or removal from office.
Contact Covington Reporter Editor Dennis Box at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-425-432-1209 (ext 5050).