I enjoyed serving on the Yakima City Council.  I felt it was one of the most important things I've ever done in my professional life and I miss the responsibility and opportunity to serve the people of Yakima and I'm grateful for the thousands of folks who voted for me.

I still care about the issues, I still feel a sense of duty and responsibility to the people of my adopted hometown and so I still comment from time to time --  and this is one of those times.

On Wednesday the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce invited the Yakima City Council to speak to chamber members.  Four members showed up, White, Funk, Coffey and Hill were there and there were no prepared speeches or organized (boring) presentations.   The audience simply wrote questions on notecards and Chamber Board President Bob Gerst played host.

Here's a cross section of some of the questions and for what it's worth, my thoughts.

So how is the redistricting working out?  Only Mayor Kathy Coffey has worked in both the current and previous systems and she said she's not so sure it's worked for the best for the totality of the city.  In fact she feels strongly enough about the "district-centric"  mindset and lack of accountability to the city at large that she suggested she would now consider a strong mayor position for the city as a potential check and balance against district members who lose focus on the big picture.

I agree.  I see it as a double loss situation.  The old system didn't limit minority opportunity as it was charged and the new system hasn't done what it promised. Yes, there are Latina faces on the council but how is the system operating with electoral equality when the loser in District 5 received 3 times as many votes as the winner in District 2?  It isn't.  In a city of 95-thousand, just 465 votes is enough to get a seat at the council horseshoe and begin to fundamentally change the direction of the city as set by a council voted in by 16-hundred to 21-hundred vote margins of victory in previous elections.

The relentless push for an east-side pool in admittedly tough financial times as a way to achieve some kind of "recreational social justice" is one example of the counter productive activity leverage offered by district only votes.

What about the Plaza?  Councilman Brad Hill said he felt bad about the moral dilema of requiring an increased fun raising effort by plaza supporters only to yield to a vote at the 13th hour.  He's right.  What bothers me most is the language used by the newest council members that negates all of the the intense, significant and comprehensive efforts by hundreds of Yakima residents in the initial planning stages.

The parking pushback was to be expected - industry experts and other successful plaza communities said so, but they also said the council should stay course and see it through and the benefits would outweigh the pre-emptive complaints. The new council didn't have the experience or the understanding of working with the hundreds of community members involved from the beginning --they weren't there from the start, so they didn't have the ownership or the vision and they had other agendas for the money -- as a result they caved to the complaints that always follow a project with this level of change.

So now the question still remains...what are we going to do to revitalize downtown, to make it a place to help keep our young people here, to bring the community together, to help recruit outside professionals and businesses considering a move to Yakima?  I'll be curious to see.

Council conflict and bad behavior lead to the chamber requesting the council to examine itself, restore civility and professionalism.  The results seem to be that some council members feel progress is being made and that's encouraging.  However, they just censured one of their own over behavior issues and council is now looking to limit time for public input.  I believe the chamber wanted the council to adjust their own behavior without limiting citizen input in the process....a request to "fix yourselves, the system isn't the problem, your operation within it is" was the intent of the letter.  The council job is public service.  Listening is the least they can do.

The council is now looking at gang crime and prevention. The new Chief Police Matt Murray was on our show and is already talking about the need to address gangs in our city.  When reviewing past accomplishments, Mayor Coffey mention her time working with the gang free initiative as a point of pride and sense of progress.  It was a solid start on addressing the problem but it was dismantled by council over budget and philosophy disagreements about who should be incharge.  Perhaps they will revisit that again.

Bottom line for me and many of those to whom I speak...there isn't a lot of faith in this council's ability to accurately assess city needs and to pursue reasonable working solutions without tripping over or disrespecting each other.  If you see me out and about, ask me how I really feel.

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