By Jack Mayne
Within the next two or three weeks Burien should have a new City Manager, following the City Councilâ€™s split vote at Monday night’s special session.
The new City Manager is Brian Wilson, who â€“ until last Nov. 16 â€“ was the Federal Way chief of police, and also had served as Federal Way interim city manager and as chief of staff when the city changed forms of government.
The Burien Council had put off the final decision from a list of five candidates for some weeks with a split of 4 to 3 members trying to reach some conclusion.
For several meetings there has been an item for â€œpotential action regarding next steps in City Manager Searchâ€ but that item had always been passed without comment â€“ until Monday night (May 15). But now, the City will begin negotiations with Wilson for an employment contract.
Council also heard concerns from Quiet Skies Coalition organizers over a federal court appeal filed by the city over ways to keep low flying planes from continually and constantly flying over Burien at the orders of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Begin contract process
Councilmember Bob Edgar moved that staff be directed to â€œbegin the city manager contract process with Brian Wilson.â€
As noted in an earlier Blog story, Wilson was the chairman of the Corral Springs Water District in the county seat of eastern Washingtonâ€™s Douglas County, but more prominently a Federal Way official at many levels prior to resigning as chief last November.
Wilson will replace the fired Kamuron Gurol. Retired Des Moines City Manager Tony Piasecki was hired as acting Burien city manager last October.
Edgarâ€™s motion was seconded by Councilmember Stephen Armstrong.
â€œWe have a candidate who tackles the issues that are of concern to the community, currently, economic development, public safety and the homeless,â€ said Edgar. â€œAt a recent meeting one of the Councilmembers stated that â€˜the community wants to see us make progress on things that are of interest to them.â€™â€
Edgar said the recent large turnout of citizens to Council meetings who were concerned about public safety and the homeless has â€œgiven us a good idea of what are of interest to the citizens and where the Council needs to take action.â€
Federal Way roots
Wilsonâ€™s was in Federal Way city officialdom for many years. He was Federal Way police chief for eight years, and the deputy police chief for ten years. He also was Federal Way city manager for one year.
â€œI believe that Brian Wilson has the best set of skills to meet the concerns facing our community and can begin effectively working on those issues on day one,â€ said Edgar.
Councilmember Debi Wagner said she was â€œhappy about the factâ€ that Wilson has a history and understands regional issues, â€œespecially on airport issues we are facing.â€
Then Armstrong said Wilson is â€œvery aware of the issues we have facing Burienâ€ and that he is looking forward to Wilson being city manager.
Opposed police background
Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz was not happy because of Wilsonâ€™s â€œlimited experience as a city manager but extensive experience as a law enforcement officer.â€
She was unhappy about the standing applause at the issuance of a law enforcement week proclamation earlier in the meeting.
With his extensive law enforcement experience in Federal Way, Wilson is not the â€œmessage I want to send to the community.â€ She also worried about a manager who will work with one side of the Council and not the other, referring to the often 4 to 3 split in votes, with Berkowitz, Tosta and Austin Bell one side and the rest of the Council in the majority, led by Mayor Lucy Krakowiak along with Edgar, Wagner and Armstrong.
Berkowitz said Wilson dismissed activism in sanctuary city status, while she said the people of Burien supported sanctuary rules.
Bell said he was â€œnot confident at this timeâ€ in Wilson and would abstain from voting, but he added he would work with him if he were approved as city manager.
Councilmember Nancy Tosta said she â€œhas reservations about this candidateâ€ and said, â€œWe have an outstanding city manager. I would be very supportive of him holding down the fort for us, working with us so I do not believe the candidate that has been moved to be our city manager has the depth of city manager experience, so I will also not be voting on this.â€
But Mayor Krakowiak said she believed Wilson â€œis a great candidate that will serve our community well and I will be supporting him.â€
Krakowiak, Edgar, Wagner and Armstrong voted yes on Wilson, Tosta and Bell abstained, and Berkowitz voted no.
Anyway, letâ€™s work together
After the selection of Wilson, Edgar moved to â€œrequest Council to work together, in spite of our preferences, in order to work positively with the next city manager.â€
Wagner seconded the motion and noted the Council has been â€œdivided on many issuesâ€ and that that should not be reflected on the city manager selection, noting it is possible to work together if members agreed on goals. Armstrong agreed.
Berkowitz said the motion was out of order because members are saying they want to work together after moving ahead with the nomination and selection of Wilson, which she opposed.
â€œIt is very convenient for this Council who voted for this candidate now saying they want to work together when they didnâ€™t want to work together on finding a candidate who would be a good fit for the Council and the city. At this point, itâ€™s nice for them to say that but itâ€™s not really happening.â€
Bell and Tosta said they would do their best to work with the new city manager, but Tosta said asking the objectors of Wilson to work together â€œwas just plain disingenuous.â€
Five voted for Edgarâ€™s motion, and Tosta and Berkowitz abstained.
Quiet Skies concerns
Walt Bala (pictured above right, with Larry Cripe) of the Quiet Skies coalition reminded the Council of the cityâ€™s petition asking the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to review the Federal Aviation Administrationâ€™s now officially rescinded policy of turning light jetliners over Burien.
â€œThe Quiet Skies Coalition has concerns about that petition,â€ said Bala. â€œThat is, some wording issues procedures and specifics are of concern to us. If our petition addresses only procedures â€“ if it is not inclusive we may fail in our mission.â€
He said there is â€œa need for consistent grammarâ€ because a court decision may be made on a specific route but if the FAA changes that route by one degree â€œit is a new routeâ€ that would not be included in a decision on a specific compass heading. For example a 240 degree decision would not affect a change to 241 degrees.
â€œIf that happens, in my mind, we could lose the whole purpose of our mission,â€ Bala said.
Bala said the FAA has been directing flight paths north or south directly over our shoreline.
â€œOur concern is that this is an unpublished retaliatory maneuver,â€ he said, adding that addressing only FAA procedures â€œomits other traffic management options.â€
Bala said individual controllers can, at their individual option at the moment, implement their own techniques that could avoid the specifics of an Appeal Court ruling.
A judge may wonder why there is no concern about southbound flow and only about northbound flow, he said.
â€œAgain, we need a comprehensive solution,â€ Bala said.
Property taxes go up
Bailey Stober, communications director for the King County assessorâ€™s office (pictured above), told the Council property taxes will go up over 17 percent next year because of newly voter approved increases, especially the Highline School District levy, and an increase approved for Sound Transit to build facilities outside of Burien and in the Des Moines and Federal Way areas.
Average assessed value of Burien homes went up, he said, from the 2015 median assessed value of an average homeÂ from $256,000 in 2016 to $289,000 â€“ a 13 percent increase â€“ where the average increase across the county is 8 percent to 9 percent increases.
â€œNot so good news is that property taxes also went up,â€ Stober said, but the cityâ€™s general fund tax levy amount â€œis actually down from last year.â€
In 2016, the average was $3,340 but in 2017 the average property tax bill will go up to $3,910, â€œwhich is up 17.1 percent.â€
Stober said Assessor John Wilson is â€œincreasingly concerned about property taxes and affordability and what that is doing to low-income seniors trying to stay in their homes.â€
He gave the Council a spreadsheet showing the taxes and what they pay for.
Stober added that about 50 percent of all taxes go to schools, but often it is more than 50 percent because of voter-approved special levies.
There are some levies there were passed county-wide, he said, including one for fingerprint identification, parks and open space levy, human service and veteran levies which is on this yearâ€™s ballot for potential renewal, children and family justice levy, â€œbest start for kidsâ€ which was recently approved and the radio communications network which first responder use in emergencies, a countywide transportation levy and several voter approved bond issues, and other â€œregionalâ€ issues.
Stober said, among others, Burien taxpayers also help pay the county ferry district for a passenger-only ferry from West Seattle to the Seattle waterfront at Colman Dock.
â€œThe increase that drove up the property tax increase in Burien is the county ferry district had a very slight increase, Sound Transit 3 is at 25 cents per $1,000 … the (school) bonds at 69 cents per $1,000 (of assessed value), the Fire District 2 general fund levy increase….â€
Craig Stone of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) briefed the Council on the 509 Gateway Project, which is supposed to connect SR 509 from the west side of Sea-Tac Airport to Interstate 5.
The 2015 Legislature bundled both the extension of State Route 167 from Auburn to Tacoma and the connection of 509 to I-5 into a $1.9 billion combined project, along with $180 million from proposed highway tolls.
The rest will come from contributions from Burien, SeaTac, Des Moines and all the other cities, including Kent and Auburn.
Stone said the current Legislature has approved an amount for the project with both highway completions, but WSDOT must come up with $130 million split between Pierce County, the Port and all the entities involved, including Burien. That so-called â€œmemorandum of understandingâ€ must be done by July 1, 2018 so that cost to the city must be negotiated in the meantime.
The Council also proclaimed May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day and May 15-21 as National Police Week, and Police Chief Scott Kimerer accepted the proclamation.