LETTER: ‘It’s Time for a Change’ in Burien City Government

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It’s Time for a Change

Prior to the last City Council election, whatever the City Manager proposed was accepted and approved by the City Council Majority with few questions. City business went forward like a “well oiled machine.” Even project over runs and lawsuits didn’t slow down the process. Then some of the new Council Members began to ask the City Manager for more detailed information concerning progress on city goals, objectives, and finances. Unfortunately the city manager hardly ever gets around to producing the information so council can make educated decisions concerning his proposals. As an example, for the last 6 years Mr. Martin has not provided the council with the quarterly budget reports, (required by state law), even though some of the council have requested to see them.

There are four Council Members who are in lockstep with the City Manager to provide a majority vote to approve his agenda.

When 1 or 2 of these four are absent, he can’t be sure his agenda will be followed, so it appears the city manager has put on hold, a lot wof ork to which the Council should be attending.

Mike Martin and the majority of the council are refusing to work with the minority portion of the council when they cannot control the outcome. This is why city council meetings are being cancelled.

We have attended and watched many council meetings on Channel 21 for the last six years. It appears the majority of council members do not require accountability from Mr. Martin. Is this what we elected them to do? To support Mr. Martin without reading the agenda and knowing the details of his endeavors, or asking questions? It appears they are so naive they don’t even realize how useless they are when it comes to making Burien a viable well-run city.

The council minority would like to set new city goals, plan for a balanced budget, and welcome business instead of discouraging it. They want to represent the needs of the citizens, know what will be in the CARES audit, see the business plan that was promised to the businesses and citizens They want to discuss these issues in open council meetings so everyone will know what is happening. They also want to discuss the Council’s work manual, the issues concerning Town Square and the new Recreation Center promised to citizens in 2008.

In November and December council meetings were cancelled. Two recent council planning retreats were also cancelled. The Planning Commission has not met for three months. The city manager refuses to answer questions from council members when they are trying to gather information for Burien citizens. How long can this dysfunctional city management go on?

Coming into 2013 we see this same thing happening. The manager just cancelled a council planning retreat. Every time meetings are cancelled, it is because one or two council members will have to be absent, even though the city can do business with the five or six council members that are present for the meeting. The result is city business has come to a halt.

Since Mr. Martin and company seem to be supporting their own agenda and have no concern for those who must pay for their escapades, or perhaps for all of the reasons above, we should be looking to change the form of government to a Mayor who is elected by the people that love Burien and want to see it prosper. We voted to incorporate. We are capable of changing the structure of it. It looks like the responsibility belongs to the citizens because their representatives are not willing to do it.

– Robert & Robbie Howell

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23 Responses to “LETTER: ‘It’s Time for a Change’ in Burien City Government”
  1. Wheels says:

    When Martin was caught driving drunk and given a Get Out of Jail Free card, one of the conditions was that he undergo random alcohol tests throughout the next year. Were those tests ever performed? What was the result?

  2. may says:

    Is this the Michael Martin your talking about?….Who on this council hired this man?. There are some very serious problems and it will not change unless there is a huge investigation The friends are hiring their friends. If this does not stop there will be no end to this insanity. They are building an empire and we all are paying for this.


    Jury Indicts Former Assembly Speaker on Corruption Charges

    Robert B. Gunnison, Edward Epstein, Chronicle Staff Writers

    Published 4:00 am, Saturday, November 7, 1998

    1998-11-07 04:00:00 PDT Sacramento — Former Assembly Speaker Brian Setencich, appointed by Mayor Willie Brown last year to a $65,000- a-year job in San Francisco, was indicted by a federal grand jury on political corruptions charges in Fresno, it was announced yesterday.

    Setencich, 36, who works in the city’s 911 emergency services project, was accused of accepting a $6,000 bribe when he served on the Fresno City Council in 1993.

    Reached at his office in San Francisco, Setencich vehemently denied the charges and said he will fight the indictment, returned by a federal grand jury Thursday, but announced yesterday.

    Asked if he had ever solicited or accepted a bribe, he said, “Absolutely not. I spent a good part of my public career fighting corruption.”

    He will be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Fresno on Thursday.

    “I haven’t spoken to the mayor yet so I guess I don’t know if I still have a job,” Setencich added.

    Brown said that he had heard of Setencich’s indictment, but had not spoken to the former speaker about it. “I’ve no idea what it’s about,” he said.

    “I’m sure Brian will call me and tell me what his troubles are and then we’ll have a reaction. It wouldn’t be fair to him for me to comment yet.”

    A political maverick, Setencich in 1995 became the second Republican speaker of the Assembly in maneuvers engineered by Brown after the GOP gained control of the Assembly.

    The indictment alleges that in 1993, while a member of the City Council, Setencich accepted a bribe from Robert Y. Yang, a Fresno businessman also named in the indictment.

    The money allegedly compensated Setencich for arranging for the council to reduce fees at the city’s convention center for a Hmong New Year’s celebration. Yang also owed Setencich money at the time, the indictment stated.

    Setencich was hired by San Francisco in late 1997 to work as the interdepartmental liaison on the 911 emergency services system project.

    The city is spending tens of millions of dollars on an earthquake-proof headquarters for its consolidated 911 dispatch system. All police and fire vehicles and ambulances also are being outfitted with new radios as part of the project.

    At the time of his hiring, the Brown administration said Setencich was hired by the 911 project manager, Mike Martin. Setencich and Martin had worked together in Fresno in the early 1990s, when Setencich was a Fresno City Council member.

    Setencich had been out of work since voters turned him out of office in the 1996 Assembly election.

    He is one of two former GOP assemblymen who laid down their political careers for Brown and who now work for the city. Paul Horcher, the Diamond Bar Republican who was recalled by voters after he crossed party lines in 1995 and voted for Brown for speaker, has had three jobs in the Brown administration.

    First, he was the mayor’s liaison with the Board of Supervisors. Then he was briefly deputy head of the Parking and Traffic Department.

  3. TcB says:

    It would be interesting to know if it was the same, but for now, it’s just the same name. We don’t yet know if it the same man, notwithstanding any other issues or accusations.

    • may says:

      Please TcB, what are you talking about?

      What accusations and other issues? It is a fact that they fired Hemstra and hired their friends. This is how they operate and once all their friends are in…you can’t get rid of them and nothing passes and they pretty much do whatever they want.

      Yes, they pretty much do whatever they want hire whomever they want and you know why? …..we people dare to make any accusations. I think it is time to deal with all of this and question them.

    • Eaton B. Verz says:

      Same guy. Just ask him! That is where he came from when Kent hired (and fired) him.

      • TcB says:

        If he has been asked and he has admited to come from California with a troubled past then that’s a point of considation. If there are any to refute this then I suppose now is the time for them to come out and do it.

    • John Poitras says:

      TcB it is actually the same guy, but thats the tip of the iceberg of the story of his mismanagement when he worked for the city of SF. I believe he was responsible for millions of dollars in cost overruns and was fired for incompetence…. I was living in the Bay Area at the time so I am somewhat familiar with what went down with him at the time.. I dug the news paper reports proving this a couple of years back and I am pretty sure I can reproduce them with a little research.
      I will do it as soon as possible..and post them here.

  4. Theresa says:

    So how do we go about working towards changing to an elected mayor form of government? Where do we find the legal procedure? What are the next steps? I don’t find any guidance in the Burien Municipal Code, but perhaps I am not recognizing it. Does anyone know the process? Thanks in advance for your knowledge!

  5. Michael O'Neill says:

    It is indeed time for a change. Burien is being run as an autocracy with an unelected official at it’s head and believe me the city manager is no benevolent dictator. Many who’ve tried to voice citizens opinion can attest to the fact. Most people want to live in a democratic state and country – why wouldn’t we want the same for our town? Only 10% of the municipalities in this country use the city manger form of government. Wonder why?

    Thanks for the research and shining a light on what’s been going on.

    • Chris says:

      So by that logic, you’re saying that the percentage of council-manager type of government is low, because it’s so bad? Nice.

      Just so everyone is clear, the percentage of “code cities” in Washington state that have the council-manager form of government is about 20%.

  6. John Poitras says:

    Joan McGilton Rose Clark Brian Bennett and Jerry Robison are Mike Martins enablers on the council and they refuse to exercise any oversight whatsoever over him. I don’t understand it myself but I do know they are not performing the fiduciary job they were elected and are paid by the citizens of Burien to do.
    3 of these council members are up for re-election in November. They need to be voted out of office and replaced with members that are able and willing to do the job that the voters have every right to expect them to do. Terminating or putting a short leash on Mr Martin should be the first item on their agenda.

  7. M Klewin says:

    Throw them out! Let’s get an elected Mayor in Burien.

    • Chris says:

      OK! Now, how is it going to be configured? What exactly will the mayor be in charge of? What departments will they manage and who will report to the mayor? Also, given the fact that the City of Burien does NOT have:

      -It’s own fire department (special district)
      -It’s own police department (contracted w/KCSO)
      -It’s own water department (special district)
      -It’s own sewer department (special district)
      -It’s own court (contracted w/King County)
      -It’s own jail (contracted via KCSO and SCORE)
      -It’s own health and human services (via King county and others)

      So, given the city of Burien’s rather small departmental footprint, why is there a need for a mayor? Also, if you elect a strong mayor, who’s to say they are even qualified to manage the city? Most small to medium sized cities in WA State still hire someone (like a city manager!) to handle the day-to-day operations.

      Be careful what you wish for folks, because adding another layer of governmental bureacracy is not always the answer.

      If you are disatisfied with how things are currently going within this great city, then run for city council. That’s a fairly easy endeavor if you’re willing to work for it.

  8. TcB says:

    I am on record as not being against a strong mayor form of government. The process to make this happen will have to be organic and garner support of the majority. However, if the majority vote for the current form to stay in place I would not be part of any cabal to conspire to change the will of the people, even if some would believe that the ends justify the means.

  9. TcB says:

    Here’s a link from a political science professor on all the different forms of Strong Mayor and some things to consider. I believe that there would have to be a referendum passed and then a vote, correct me if i’m wrong.


  10. Fred says:

    Robert and Robbie-

    Thanks for writing this letter. Citizens need to have information about this issue before they can make an educated decision on the form of government they want. Some of the City Council and the City Manager want to keep them from having that information. The council/manager form of govt. has some very serious problems; it does not allow citizens to have a real say in who will lead their city and it lacks checks and balances to the power of the council/manager. In very small cities and rural, sparsely populated communities the council/manger form is used simply because there are not enough knowledgable or willing citizens to run their govt. Burien is not that kind of city or situation. Less than 10% of the cities and towns in the US have this form of govt.

    As I recall Chris, you have a friend who tells you everything about what is happening in City Hall or you work in City Hall. So every post you make about Burien’s current govt. is that it is just wonderful. So I approach your comments about govt. with great caution. Burien is a large enough city to have the strong mayor form of govt. and might prosper more under it than what we have seen in the last 6 years with Mike Martin.

    The real issue is that Burien citizens get to have a say in the kind of govt. they have and right now that is being denied to them by a small minority of 3 or 4 citizens.

  11. TcB says:

    There is a theme now that “Less than 10% blah blah blah”. If you repeat this mantra in your post, no matter what name you use, I will be skeptical. If you want me to take you seriously come up with something unique.

  12. may says:


    I wonder if some of the people of the City of Burien will be next.

  13. Robert Howell says:

    Dear Chris,
    I found your comment on my letter interesting. Your reasons for not having an elected mayor can apply to a city manager equally as well. As for adding a layer of government, it would actually remove a layer as the mayor would assume the function of city manager as well as preside over the council.

    As for my running for city council, it is probably not a good idea since I am in my 80s, short of patience and have a tendency to fall asleep during the council meetings.


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