Burien City Council wrestles with new economic development plan
by Jack Mayne
Developing an “Economic Development Strategic Plan” for Burien turned into a two-plus hour debate Monday night on the best way to reverse the economic stagnation in the city.
A final decision is not expected until June 23 or thereafter.
The City Council had discussed an outline of a plan developed by the new Council at a recent retreat, then, on Monday night (June 9) held a special meeting to debate several proposed wording changes in the draft plan.
During the lengthy discussion, Councilmember Nancy Tosta said “part of the challenge” for the Council is that is does not have “any Council-shared or adopted goals that we’ve discussed as to what we are actually trying to do in terms of economic development that would make it easier to think about” actions to improve the situation.
“What is our vision on what Burien looks like?” she asked. “If we did all of the 29 things in the document we have just reviewed, would we be where we wanted to be because we actually have never said where we want to be.”
Tosta suggested each member give city staff a few suggestions “in 15 minutes” and then have the city staff compile the suggested ideas for consideration at the regular June 23 Council session.
But Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz said it wouldn’t be so easy.
“I have sat through these meetings with us and I guarantee we will not come to an agreement of four or five goals in 15 minutes,” Berkowitz said. “I suggest that as far as our goals, we consider them part of the budget process … I think that would be the more appropriate place to have this discussion.”
Tosta agreed a final list could not be done quickly, but that each councilmember could propose a few items for a list.
Berkowitz said she “already has strong disagreement” with some suggestions which is why the discussion needs to come later “when we have more time.”
“I do support economic development, all seven of us agreed to that, but we have very different ideas on how to get there,” Berkowitz said. “So, if you were to say, ‘just support and nurture existing small businesses is number one’, I have a lot of concerns with that. That tends to mean ‘at all cost’ which often ends up harming employees if not done carefully. And that, in turn, harms the businesses themselves.”
She suggested a goal should be encouragement of a “strong labor force in Burien as well as considering the impact of neighboring cities with minimum wages nearly twice as high as us.” SeaTac voters narrowly approved a $15 an hour minimum wage last November and the Seattle City Council on June 2 unanimously approved a measured move toward $15 an hour over the next several months.
Burien Deputy Mayor Bob Edgar said Monday that a large portion of the city’s economy is with small business, and he proposed “a place to start” is to consider opportunities for that segment.
“There is a question that I, as a councilmember, need to have answers for … if we can have some historical information on the (business) failure rates and why we have lost businesses in the city.”
Edgar said results of the annual city survey showed that in 2008, 51 percent respondents shopped in Burien, but only 50 percent said they shopped in the city in 2010, only 48 say they shopped in the city in 2014.
“There are many cities where the percentage is much higher … why are citizens shopping and spending less of their money in Burien than they are spending elsewhere?”
That answer, he said, would help the Council to figure out what businesses the city should be recruiting.
Councilmember Jerry Robison said proposals so far do not mention some type of businesses, such as providing office space, or research or production laboratories, or international and foreign business offices in the city.
“We should treat the airport as a resource which will help us attract that sort of thing,” Robison said. “I just want us to include that broad reach when we are looking into recruitment of businesses into the city.”
Councilmember Debi Wagner suggested each of the seven members bring a list of five potential goals for economic development to the June 23rd meeting but Mayor Lucy Krakowiak asked each for each councilmember to provide just three ideas to the city staff by this Friday (June 13) and they can be whittled down.
“Then see where we have consensus and agreement and … that way, we can see what we can agree on … and make those a priority,” Wagner said. “Let’s start (a list) and get going on one.”
Berkowitz said the members have already provided lists and of that were distilled down, so it was not necessary to do it again.
“I think it has become a lot, lately, of individual councilmembers and I would like to see us more working together as a team,” she said.
Evaluating the manager
The council also began deliberations on performance evaluation procedure for evaluating Kamuron Gurol, who began as the city’s new city manager on April 16.
Gurol started the presentation Monday of the new procedure by thanking the Council for hiring him.
“This process is really intended to help you to gauge how successful I am in this position,” Gurol told the councilmembers. “In the contract I signed with the city there is a four-month, an eight-month and 12-month evaluation in my first year and then annually thereafter.
“The city does already have an evaluation process for its city manager … but you asked me to take a first shot at some of the specific criteria and measures that would be used to help the Council to evaluate my progress in this job and I took the liberty to take a look at the actual process. I have made proposals for both criteria and measures as well as enhancements to the process.”
Angie Chaufty, the city’s human resources director, said the first review will come on Aug. 15.
She said the goal at the Monday meeting was not to have the councilmembers make a final decision on the proposed process but “just to provide me with feedback on what you are looking for in the four, eight and one year goals.”
Chaufty said the suggested goals for Gurol include developing “relationships with Councilmembers and enhance teamwork and trust with City Council,” to build knowledge, rapport and trust within the organization,” and “implement City Council goals/priorities, work program and budget,” and, fourth, to “enhance public engagement and build relationships with residents, businesses and the region.”