Primary Vote Is Aug 6 – More Than Ever, Be Informed
The Primary election for four seats, 57% of the Yakima City Council, will be held on August 6th, less than two weeks away. It's important. A big change is likely coming. Add to that a change of city manager, a new assistant city manager and perhaps even a change in the form of government leadership itself. That's a whole of lot of potential change in the tone, temperament, direction and accomplishment by City government. Council observers like myself hope it's true. That's in part why we invited all the candidates to appear on KIT so you could get a sense of who they are, how they think and what they might do in certain circumstances in office. Voters making the right choice, an informed choice is critical to restoring the public's confidence in City Hall and council member's trust in each other.
Look no further than the discontent of Tuesday's emergency council meeting. I didn't attend because I didn't know a meeting had been scheduled? Did you? My sense of the meeting and its meaning comes from years of watching and reporting on council, 6 years serving on council as well as an account by the Yakima Herald Republic (YHR) - (they tell your stories)
Significant action was taken at the Tuesday meeting which normally doesn't happen during the same meeting where an issue is first raised. Council had to suspend normal rules to do it. Did I mention that 2 of 7 members weren't present? Members who, if present, may well have changed the decisions and the path the council is now on. Are we in such an Emergency that council should act without advance notice of agenda details and without all being present?
Council members Jason White and Holly Cousens were absent. Any significant action taken in their absence was professionally discourteous and an insult to them and disrespectful to nearly 30% of the city population whose voice's were not represented.
The ad hoc committee designated to explore the process of hiring a new City Manager --council members Coffey, Hill & Gutierrez -- met Thursday and came back with a 2 page memo of last minute information which distressed some of the other council members. A fair question would be - Wouldn't better decisions be reached with a day for the other 4 members to process the memo and then have a full council on hand to deliberate?
In the info memo, the committee recommended appointing an assistant city attorney, Sara Watkins as acting City Manager, but instead, Prosecuting Attorney Cynthia Martinez was appointed to acting City Manager effective 8/21/19 - WITHOUT HER KNOWLEDGE! How do you reasonably select someone for that position without knowing of any interest expressed by the nominee?
Greek physician, Hippocrates is quoted as saying, "Desperate times call for desperate measures." So how much of an emergency is the City facing in order to justify the conduct at Tuesday's meeting? What's the old office meme? "A failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine."
We have known that City Manager Cliff Moore has been looking for work elsewhere at least since mid-June. Wasn't that the time (or even months earlier) to launch an assistant City Manager search -if not for operational efficiency but even "just in case?" We have been operating without an assistant city manager for seven months...but now that "just in case" moment is here and now we need one and we need one in just 29 days?
Important point- the Assistant City Manager has to be hired by the City Manger - whose main focus now is what - cleaning out his desk and leaving by August 20th? Does that sound like a recipe for a thorough and thoughtful assistant city manager search? Is that how to hire someone to temporarily run the city until a new manager arrives and who perhaps then may want to hire their own assistant? Still, the YHR says Mr. Moore has already made progress in his search for an assistant--the pressure of an Emergency is the great expediter?
In addition, the prospect of a change from the current council/manager form of government to mayor/council government was referenced in the ad hoc committee memo. Both council members Funk and Gutierrez objected to the inclusion saying the topic was inappropriate and did not exist in the general public's conversation. In fact, the issue has been addressed by newspaperman Bruce Smith's Business Times. Smith lead the previous effort to change to a strong mayor. The subject has also been talked and written about here and on air on 1280 AM Newstalk KIT. I have personal knowledge that several council members and candidates have been asked about it and some have said it will be a topic of discussion for the new year but they would deal with it now. Dealing with it in June would have foreshortened the current Emergency by several months. One candidate supported by Smith has said he expects a public vote on the change would come in February of 2020. Why the wait? See who decides to run if the public votes for a change.
The point being is that the possibility of a change from council/manager to mayor/council government looming in the future, is a major impediment to attracting and hiring a quality city manager- knowing they might be out of a job in a few short months. Mr. Moore stressed that point but council members Funk, Mendez and Gutierrez voted to have the language removed from the memo. Council members Hill and Coffey voted to leave it in I have personal knowledge that at least four of those five are well aware that an effort is brewing to facilitate a vote to change Yakima's form of government. Two of the four would seem to be choosing to ignore what's coming.
Bottom line, mistrust, discontent, and disrespect appears to continue to flourish on the council. At least three of the seven members will be newly elected this fall and it starts in two weeks with the primary. Listen to the candidates, be informed and make the kind of vote Yakima needs for more effective, efficient, civil and responsible government.