Contentious Burien Council debate stalls completion of working guidelines 1by Jack Mayne From the beginning of the Burien City Council’s Monday night meeting it appeared it would be a fast and orderly session, but as is becoming normal for this Council, nothing is easy or simple, even giving final approval of changes in the slow-coming redo of its guidelines for conducting its work. The plan has been gestating for much of the year, and it has caused many contentious debates and parliamentary maneuvers. Monday night (Aug. 17) was supposed to be the final work on the final part of the City Council Guidelines, its working rules. That was not to be. It took over an hour to do what had been slated for 30 minutes, but micromanaging and turf struggles won over calm action. Work will have to be finished some night in the future, even next year, hoped a Councilmember not seeking reelection. Procedures questioned Mayor Lucy Krakowiak said the Council would follow the “slightly different” procedure introduced at the previous meeting. Those provided that the first Councilmember who speaks is followed in order of the member seated to the left for two rounds of questions before considering a vote or more questions. Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz, who was absent the previous meeting, said she did not like the procedure. She thought it “restricts debate and is not a natural flow of debate” because if she “really agrees with or disagrees” with something a member said, she would have to wait until “it comes all the way around” to comment. City Manager Kamuron Gurol said the questioning of each Councilmember in order “would add a little more structure to your current process” and seemed to have worked at the meeting Berkowitz missed so he suggesting continuing to do it that way. Councilmember Bob Edgar questioned the part of the proposed Council Guidelines that limited the number of pages of a written citizen letter or document submission to 25 pages when they are duplicated and placed in the pre-meeting Council Packet. The Council just recently reinstated the practice of putting most letters and documents addressed to the Council into the packet, making them available to members and also the general citizenry. “Simply a way to have a bit of a paper saving,” said Gurol, adding that larger documents “would always be online” on the City website. The limit was to “keep the Council packet to a reasonable size.” This week, letters took up 116 pages of the packet, unusual in the number but also that there were many letters referring to previous actions on the Council Guidelines. The limit also reminded Council followers that Berkowitz had complained that all of the hundred or more very lengthy letters objecting to the so-called “trespass” ordinance were not completely duplicated for the packet. Most of those letters had lengthy copied material with precisely the same wording which was the reason stated for eliminating the duplication in the packet. That elimination of duplication was strongly protested by Berkowitz, an objection she continues even now. What is correspondence? Thus began a Council debate over minutia in the Council Guidelines that went on for over an hour. Deputy Mayor Tosta wanted “a broad spectrum” of the communication in the packet; Councilmember Debi Wagner wanted the current system where the mayor works with the City Manager to decide what is in the packet – and why was there a page limit? City Attorney Soojin Kim said staff added the limit as they tried to craft language to describe the packet contents for the Council Guidelines. “Councilmember Berkowitz suggested that we didn’t have a positive definition of what is and what is not correspondence to Council,” Kim said. “This is just a preliminary attempt to describe what it is.” She said the Council could decide on further guidance to the staff on the definition. Kim said that Wagner’s suggestion of having racy terms redacted was not part of the staff proposal. “I think the redaction might make it difficult because … it is somewhat subjective of what is and what is not inappropriate unless it is really defined very precisely,” said Kim. Wagner said she thought the earlier motion to return constituent mail to the packet also returned the methods used then, but Gurol said the Council had eliminated the language describing those methods when it took the correspondence out a few weeks ago. In effect, if you want it back you have to add it to this new document. The city manager added that Council members were getting “a little concerned” about the page limitation, but “that is an attempt to simply be practical, it is not an attempt to be exclusionary or to introduce criteria or extra process.” Ban profanity? Other than the 25 page limit, “the process would return to our old policy where the mayor would redact things that are deemed inappropriate by certain criteria like profanity – other than that we would have everything going in?” asked Wagner. Berkowitz asked if it were legal to ban profanity. “I’d rather discuss that with you in a confidential conversation, but generally I recommend that the Council stick with criteria that defines what is and what is not correspondence …” Kim said. “If there was an interest in eliminating profanity I think it would be very difficult for staff to go through and eliminate every word that may be profanity.” What followed next was a lengthy back and forth over whether the questions were done and the body was ready to make a decision. Robison said as long as members had more questions they should be able to ask them. Then he wanted to go from questions to discussion and then to action, but, no, said the mayor, there needed to be a motion; then a back and forth with the mayor over cutting off questions. What is a letter? It even got back to Kim, who said the Council needed a two-thirds majority to cut off questions and limit debate. She recommended the mayor allow all questions before moving on to debate. The allocated 30 minutes to discuss and debate the Council procedures was about up, but the discussion went on. What is a letter that would be published in the packet and what isn’t? Gurol also said that many citizens don’t follow the instructions on the city website on where to send letters, but the staff tries to make sure the correspondence goes to where it is intended. Councilmember Bob Edgar moved to remove the 25 page limit on materials included in the Council packet and that citizen action requests be sent to the Council members in addition to going to the appropriate city staff persons for action. A long, nearly impenetrable discussion then took place over wording and defining who gets to see and needs to see what terms, the staff for some kind of action or some type of general policy the Council needs to set or elaborate. See all complaints Tosta wanted to see all complaints from citizens, even those being handled in due course by the city staff. For example, if a complaint of a pothole comes in the day after the packet in produced, she would like to have that complaint sent to her immediately. Nearly an hour into the discussion on the Council seeing in their packet information from citizens, after motions and amendments to amendments, the city manager finally suggested moving on. “I would be nice to see progress on this and put these issues to bed,” Gurol said. Berkowitz then said she opposed the changes in what material was to be included in the packet. “Community engagement is my top priority, personally I don’t this actually contributes to community engagement and I think it fosters a lot of resentment as mistrust amongst the Council members,” she said. The Council did not agree with her. Krakowiak, Wagner and Armstrong favored the inclusion of citizen complaints in the regular packet and joined Edgar, who originally made the motion. Berkowitz, Tosta and Robison voted against it. [caption id="attachment_89380" align="alignright" width="225"]Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 3.15.38 PM Three Tweets Councilmember Berkowitz posted during Monday night’s meeting. Click image to see larger version.[/caption] Texting/Posting/Tweeting decision delayed The next item was to be an inclusion in the Council guidelines prohibiting texting and or publishing on social media during meetings, but the mayor noted the Council was well past the original half hour for discussing guidelines. Berkowitz, who is the only member to have posted during meetings, and thus the only member to be affected, thought it was time to move on. “We keep hearing from citizens that we should move on and actually discuss real things … so I think its time to move on to the next item on the agenda.” When the mayor polled the Council, most said move on to another item, including Robison who suggested the item be postposed to January, which Armstrong laughingly pointed out “you’re not going to be here.” Robison is not seeking reelection. The city manager said the matter could be added to the agenda for the Sept. 21st meeting, and the city attorney agreed it was legal to move on to other items. Get rent control Resident Rob Johnson told the Council his 85-year old mother had to find a new place to live because her landlord “decided to raise her rent over 20 percent. This is wrong and it is shameful,” he told the Council. He wanted the Burien Council to join “Seattle Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata in urging the state to lift the ban on rent control which should be the city’s right to enact if they so choose.” Frequent Council commenter Ed Dacy said he thought public comments on an agenda item should come after the city staff makes its report on the agenda item because the staff’s report often would answer many questions the public may have.]]>