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Voters always have the last say | Editorial
Public input is essential in any democracy. From elections, to how taxes should be raised, each citizen has the right to be heard.
The public outcry over the cost of a new Bothell City Hall has been big news. I have covered three different cities during the past five years and I have never seen 17 people line up to talk during a single public comment portion of a city council meeting. And to have all 17 give comment on the same topic in one evening, as they did during the Nov. 19 Bothell City Council meeting, is simply amazing.
The council voted on Nov. 26 to move ahead with getting a guaranteed maximum price from Vulcan Real Estate on Nov. 26. The building was expected to cost about $42 million two years ago. Changes in state building requirements will only make that price go up.
The vote was 5-1 with only Councilman Patrick Ewing voting against the motion and Councilman Tom Agnew absent. But the process during the past month has been confusing for many citizens. And some residents have clouded the issue with missinformed statements.
Some residents were upset that the issue was not on the extended agenda for a longer amount of time before bringing it before Council. City staff confirmed that the issue was placed on the extended agenda on Nov. 1. The issue was then placed on the regular meeting agenda on Nov. 8 for the Nov. 12 meeting. One week does not make for an extended agenda.
City officials have been trying to get a new city hall built for at least a decade. The current plan is five years in the making. During the month of November, city staff and Council members argued that point when asked why the issue was brought back to council “so fast.” A two-year break due to the economic downturn was the catalyst for the delay.
But many things have changed during the past two years. Many residents have come and gone from the city. Staff and council have had some changeover. People forget when it doesn’t concern the building they work or live in. The development downtown has moved forward. While the plan for the new city hall did not change, many things around it have. The economics have also changed.
The city staff and Council did a good job of waiting and taking extensive public comment on the issue. Council took comment from about 25 speakers during three council meetings. Those comment periods, along with Council discussions, were a total of nearly nine hours of talking. Nearly all the residents asked for the city to slow the process down or to scale back the plans. Most speakers seemed to be just opposed to spending that much money at all, which is also a valid point of view. The economics of the plan can be debated. But the need for a new city hall is plain to see. The current building is nearly 85 years old.
Slowing the process down could run the risk of making the building more expensive. Construction projects are still relatively cheap as we emerge from the economic downturn. Interest rates and material costs are low and labor is still relatively easy to find.
It is important to point out that the vote was not to move forward with the actual construction but rather to get the price of the construction. The $835,000 to get that price tag is not cheap, but at this point is a needed element to make an informed decision.
There are going to be plenty of people in Bothell who do not like the decision by the council to move forward. They have their reason and all are valid. No one likes debt. No one likes spending a lot of money if their opinion is that there is another solution. The 25 or so people who spoke during the meetings will and should have more to say in this project’s future and will get their chance.
But the one thing that struck me is that the only person leaving the council on January 1, Ewing, was the only one who voted against moving forward. He will be replaced by Tris Samberg, who undoubtedly would have voted the same way. During this year’s council election Ewing’s council seat was the only one vacated and the only one to draw candidates. Deputy Mayor Joshua Freed and Councilmen Del Spivey and Tom Agnew were all on the ballot. No one challenged them. These three men were on the city council the last time the city hall issue was debated. This is not to cast aspersions about the job these residents are doing on the Council. It does however show one of two things: either there is a silent majority on this issue or there is a lot of apathy for city government issues.
Matt Phelps is the Regional Editor of the Bothell/Kenmore Reporter.