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Black Diamond deals with ‘crisis mode’
Describing Black Diamond’s transformation over the last few years as a transition may be an understatement.
An entirely new City Council has been either voted in or appointed since 2011, a first time mayor took office in January and a surprise switch of the city administrator led to a resignation by the city attorney.
All the changes led Councilwoman Janie Edelman to refer to the first five weeks of 2014 as “crisis mode” at the Feb. 6 council meeting.
Depending on who is asked, the changes, like the city’s controversial master planned developments, are either praised or deeply concerning. What’s clear, though, is that the city still has plenty of work to do moving forward.
“I’m sure there will continue to be some bumps along the way for a while,” said Councilman Ron Taylor. “I’d say we are probably through the worst, I’d think, but I’m not naïve and say there aren’t going to be a few more.”
REVOLVING DOOR OF CITY OFFICIALS
Black Diamond’s new mayor, Dave Gordon, took office in January and immediately dismissed the previous city administrator, Mark Hoppen. When his new appointee, Christy Todd, was confirmed Jan. 9, the firm acting as city attorney of four years, Kenyon Disend, promptly quit.
Kenyon Disend’s contract expired at the end of 2013 but the firm continued in the role and submitted a request for proposal to continue its services, according to Mike Kenyon, founding partner of the firm.
Gordon said at a council meeting that the firm quit following Todd’s hiring because of an “irreconcilable conflict” between the parties. Stephen Dejulio has been hired as the interim city attorney.
Kenyon told The Reporter that the firm withdrew and resigned because of a pending legal claim against Todd from her time as city attorney in Maple Valley.
“We didn’t know (Gordon) planned to hire her; we didn’t have any prior knowledge that that was coming,” Disend said. “Fundamentally, we would not work with someone whose judgment we distrusted so strongly.”
According to court documents, the city of Maple Valley hired attorney Robert B. Gould, based in Seattle, to sue Bruce Disend, the former Maple Valley city attorney, and the firm Kenyon Disend for malpractice.
The documents state that the suit was based on an ordinance the City Council passed in 2003 and a resolution in 2005 concerning a special assessment district for the Four Corners commercial corridor.
The city’s suit alleged the special assessment district code violated state law. Kenyon Disend stated in its response that the city’s decision concerning the special assessment district was “legally flawed.”
The case was dismissed by the Superior Court due to the statute of limitations. The court of appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling.
Kenyon Disend has filed a claim for damages against the city of Maple Valley, and Disend said litigation will ensue, “unless we can get it settled to our satisfaction...”
“In my opinion, the malpractice was committed by Christy Todd against the city of Maple Valley,” Kenyon said. “It was stupefyingly bad advice that she gave and that (the council) accepted.”
Todd, who was the Maple Valley City Attorney from the end of 2007 to 2012, declined to comment on Kenyon’s opinion, but said she did not file the suit alone.
“Kenyon might have his opinion, but the courts did not decide that issue,” she said. “The merits of the case were never decided.”
Despite the controversy, Edelman has commended Todd for her early efforts in Black Diamond, helping to bring accountability to the council.
“I think Todd is doing a bang-up job,” she said. “She’s bringing a lot of experience to our team.”
LAND USE REMAINS CONTENTIOUS
In 2010 the Black Diamond City Council unanimously approved the permits for YarrowBay’s two master planned developments, The Villages and Lawson Hill. The projects include commercial space, parks, schools and 6,050 single family homes to be built over a 20 year period.
Since 2009, Black Diamond has generally been split into two groups: those who are pro growth and development of the land and those who are against it. While the sides are not specifically categorized like Republicans and Democrats, it is generally understood that the anti-developers took control of the City Council in 2011 and gained more political points when pro-development mayor Rebecca Olness was defeated this past November.
Todd said the master planned developments are one of the largest ever approved in King County, and is one of the principle reasons she took the job.
“There are lots of opportunities in this city on the executive side of things to manage this growth,” she said.
The organization Toward Responsible Development, which is led by Janie Edelman’s husband, Bob Edelman, lost a Land Use Petition Act appeal in the appellate courts in January. Bob Edelman said the group has a couple weeks left to decide whether or not request a state Supreme Court review of the decision.
“We just haven’t made that decision yet,” he said. “There are grounds for appeal but at this point we haven’t decided if we want to go through that process or not.”
Bob Edelman said this is a fight with YarrowBay, not the city.
“It’s not an issue with development, per se, it’s with the scope of this development and how fast it develops,” he said. “We support the city… We expect to be watching carefully everything that is done. We expect that YarrowBay will be held to their commitments, just as they are going to hold the city to the city’s commitments.”
Janie Edelman said the city is moving on from the legal fight.
“That is now over and done with,” she said. “It is not going to change how the city is doing business right now at all. At this point, the case is over.”
DIFFERING OPINIONS ON BLACK DIAMOND’S FUTURE
Janie Edelman, who was elected in November after being appointed to fill the seat vacated by Joe May in 2013, says she is optimistic about the new council’s direction, and explained that the “crisis mode” comment was in reference to all of the city’s new faces.
“I think City Council is having a good working relationship with the staff of the city,” she said. “I think the city staff has more freedom than they had before.”
Olness, on the other hand, doesn’t believe the changes are in the city’s best interest, saying that she is “absolutely” opposed to the current council’s direction. She fears that the group will do something rash to try and stop growth, which would “jeopardize the city.”
“My concern all along is that without growth this city is going to die,” Olness said. “My perception of the mayor and the council — I’m afraid. I still believe they want to stop growth. That’s what they campaigned on.”
Janie Edelman acknowledged concerns about the large scope of the project, including worries about infrastructure, and that if the economy picks up, the development could all be completed in 10 years.
“They’ve started to remove trees; it’s going to happen,” she said. “We can’t stop the development. The previous City Council signed ordinances. Unless YarrowBay submits major changes, Black Diamond has to live with it.”
Olness said there are check points in place that should assuage Edelman’s fears.
“Personally, I don’t think it will ever reach 6,000 (homes), but even if it does, it will be over a period of 20 years,” Olness said. “The biggest misconception is that it will happen right away.”
Edelman said she believes the current council is more responsible than the previous group that, “didn’t do their homework” and “rubber stamped what passed by them.”
She added that there was also a lot of distrust of Olness.
“We didn’t like her tactics,” Edelman said.
Olness defended the work ethic of herself and the councils she worked with during her term. She said that council worked hard to follow the law and negotiated “a very fair development agreement” in order to keep the city afloat.
“I believe most of the voters will have to see for themselves what a mistake they made (in the November 2013 election) and, unfortunately, I think the city is the one that is going to suffer,” Olness said.
Edelman said her reason for joining the council was to ensure that decisions on the developments were built on “science” and coming to an informed decision.
“I’m here to protect what we have,” Edelman said. “We should be (growing) responsibility; we shouldn’t be cavalier about it.”
She added that there is a lot of criticism in local government, but that everyone truly is doing what he or she thinks is best.
“None of us are politicians,” she said. “We are just local citizens who want to do the right thing for our community and make sure it is done correctly.”
Land use change is not the only issue Black Diamond faces. Like other local governments in Washington, the city must decide how to handle the legalization of recreational marijuana. Todd said residents have approached the city about both retail and production of the marijuana. A six-month moratorium prohibiting pot-related development in the city passed last October and further action must be taken.
“We have to decide as a community as how to respond,” Todd said.
The council approved a $120,000 design contract for the city storm water treatment facility that was apart of the city’s 2011 capitol improvement plan at the Feb. 6 meeting. The facility would collect runoff from commercial properties and streets, including two major discharges near state Route 69, reducing silt, sand phosphorus inputs and other pollutants. Early estimates for the plan are $870,000.
Some residents and City Council member Erika Morgan voiced concern at the meeting about preserving the in-stream flows. Public works director Seth Boettcher assured the group the facility would not divert any water, but would collect the most polluted water when it is raining and treat it before it gets to the Ginder creek.
Boettcher told the Reporter that the next step is surveying and design work to prepare for specifications. As it gets closer to a shovel-ready project, he will be looking for additional funding.
“We are not fully funded but this will improve our chances to find additional funds for the project,” he said. “It’s hard to project when we might get funding. It may be several years, and maybe longer.”