By Jack Mayne

The Burien City Council has been told that reopening after the COVID-19 pandemic closure is slow and deliberate in its first phases.

Economic Development Manager Chris Craig said the county is not ready to move to the second level of reopening but will seek a move upward in the first phase which should be approved “later this week.”

The county request should include additional partial reopening of businesses and activities that include additional construction activities, manufacturing operations, “in-store retail at 15 percent of building occupancy; personal services, professional services and pet grooming at 25 percent of building occupancy.”

Slow reopening of business in Burien as dangers from COVID-19 pandemic fade 1Community reopening
Burien is still working on aspects of reopening the city following the pandemic shutdown.

City Attorney Garmon Newsom II said that on May 29 “there were roughly 23 proclamations that the governor’s office issued” and another one issued two days later “that is the transition from ‘stay home, stay healthy’ to ‘safe start, stay healthy’ county by county phased reopening.” Then the governor sent a modification of the original plan that was scheduled to begin this week on a county by county basis. He said the first four phase plan has been modified with a fourth phase, he said.

But the phases are at the county level, not the city level, and King County “has initiated that process to be approved by the Department of Health for the modified Phase one, Newsom said.

People must be physically distanced and wear a cloth face covering, staying home if sick, avoiding others who are sick, wash your hands, etc., he said.

On Monday, June 8 “all employees are required to wear facial coverings, unless they are working alone or if their job or employment does not involve any in personal interaction,” Newsom said. “The employers are also required to provide that cloth facial covering to the employee, unless a higher level of protection is required.”

Social distanced dining
In-door dining is still not allowed under the county’s plan, said Craig, but outdoor dining will be allowed with certain social distancing and public health requirements.

Outdoor dining is permitted already in Burien and the city will expedite any new requests. The city, said Craig, is maximizing flexibility for restaurants, including using adjacent spaces on sidewalks and occasionally waiving fees for use of public spaces, such as sidewalks.

Craig said the city would place videos and other information on the city’s website.

Mayor Jimmy Matta asked Craig about businesses that have not reopened and Craig said they have seen a few storefronts that have not reopened and said it was challenging for a business with a month of reserve funds “to last three or four months.” The city is trying to help businesses they can, but there are opportunities for new businesses to move in and the city will continue to provide what assistance it can to existing Burien stores as well as new ones.

CARES Act $1.5 million
City Manager Brian Wilson said the city management is seeking Council comment and direction on use of the Local Government Coronavirus Relief Fund, dubbed the CARES Act. Wilson said the city has looked deeply into how the state funds can be spent and doing an assessment of “where our needs are both within the city and within the community.”

City Finance Director Eric Christensen said the city was awarded from the state $1.5 million, with the amount based on the 2019 city population estimate.

He said the money may only be used to to cover costs that are “necessary expenditures due to the public health emergency or because of the virus outbreak or not covered in the current city budget. The expenditures must have begun on March 1 and ended on Oct. 31 this year and are to be used for supplies or equipment because of the virus. The list of what the money can be used for is still under development by the city.

Slow reopening of business in Burien as dangers from COVID-19 pandemic fade 2

Park Board probe
Burien City Manager Brian Wilson in February received a complaint from a member of the city Parks and Recreation Advisory Board that a board member Lee Moyer (pictured, above) may have violated parts of the city’s anti-harassment Code of Conduct policy.

The city says Wilson met with Moyer to inform him of the compliant and the city’s investigation and told Moyer not attend Board meetings during the investigation.

Slow reopening of business in Burien as dangers from COVID-19 pandemic fade 3Wilson then hired investigator VaLiesha Brown (pictured, right) of the law firm of Ogden Murphy Wallace to investigate the allegations. Brown found that Moyer repeatedly tried to add items to the agenda, one was Eagle Landing Park, or to prevent topics form being discussed and his “his communication style deterred others from participating in conversation” and his conduct made another board member “feel intimidated by his proximity and failure to treat another board member with courtesy event when there is a disagreement.”

Attended anyway
Moyer, said investigator Brown, did not refrain from attending the Park Board meetings. At one he was asked to leave and it is alleged Moyer “encroached into that person’s personal space,” which is a failure to comply with the Code of Conduct.

Wilson and Parks and Recreation Director Carolyn Hope then recommended City Council, which appointed him to the board, now remove Moyer from the Park board.

Moyer’s response
“The city attorney assured me that I did not need to attend this meeting since my responses were memorialized in the investigator’s final report,” Moyer said. “You may have been told the same thing. This is not true,” he told told the Council on a live video connection during the regular Monday night session. “My responses are frequently reported inaccurately due to editing or context and at times not included at all.”

Moyer told the Council about a memo about investigator VaLiesha Brown, who “was already obligated to the city as a member of a law firm providing temporary legal services to the city under a contract signed by the city manager.

He referred to the instructions not to attend a Parks meeting and added “I was also given a memo … prepared for me to resign and I was told that if I resigned within 24 hours they wouldn’t go ahead with the investigation. The investigation was unfounded. I refused to sign the memo.”

Questioned process
Moyer said he has little information how the investigation process worked, “all along I have been prodding to find out and wasn’t given much of an answer.”

About being told not to attend the investigation meeting, Moyer said he had no idea whether the parks director has the authority to give such an instruction.

In a later comment, Moyer said “this whole thing ended in another absurdity as the Council tried to sooth its conscience by saying this would not disqualify me from serving on another advisory board in the city,” he said when asked his view of the matter after the the Council meeting.

“Since the qualifications for any advisory board are about the same, they are admitting that I am qualified for the Parks Board and that this was just political expediency (because I ask too many questions).”

Moyer told the Council directly Monday (June 1) via video connection, that he wanted to point out “that I have considerable experience in boards of this type ….” He said he had never had a complaint about his conduct on other board he’s been on.

City attorney reviews Moyer case
City Attorney Newsom II told the Council Monday that “my understanding is that the investigator (Val Brown) interviewed Mr. Moyer at least three times. During those discussions he denied raising his voice, he denied making side comments, he denied making side comments, he denied being disrespectful.

“Mr. Moyer argued that he’s frustrated with the Parks Board and the Park Board’s lack of professionalism,” said Newsom. “Mr. Moyer complains that the Parks Board is the most ineffective board on which he has ever served. He indirectly admitted that the Eagle Landing complaints are actually somewhat accurate but he indicated that his efforts were due to his diligence and he claims that his requests for additional information were stonewalled.”

Newsom said Moyer “admits that the Park Board sometimes fails to finish business on its agenda — and he acknowledges that his (Moyer’s) blunt style could be frustrating to others. Newsom said Moyer “points out that he does not go along to get along and this creates a ‘natural conflict.’ And he explains that he had to interrupt the chairperson or the chairman in order to have the opportunity to speak.”

Newsom said the investigator found “that a preponderance of evidence, Mr. Moyer makes repeated motions regarding Eagle Landing (park) which sometimes prevents the Parks Board from completing its agenda.He interrupts others and sometimes talks over other Parks Board members. And he sometimes uses non-verbal communication and demonstrates his frustration and, as a result, deters others from participating….”

Chief Boe on police killing
Police Chief Ted Boe told the Burien City Council he wanted to respond to the “devastating loss” of George Floyd when a Minneapolis police officer placed his knee to Floyd’s neck, killing him.

“The continued use of force when Mr. Floyd said he could not continue to breathe and the officers that took no action to assure his safety is unacceptable to me as a member of the community, a Washington state law enforcement officer and your Burien Police Chief. I am grateful for the men and women who serve our community with respect, empathy and compassion.

“The right to peacefully assemble is constitutionally protected. Our officers will protect the right to assemble the the safety of everyone involved. However, we will not condone criminal behavior.”

During the weekend of the national events, the city police force, contracted from the King County Sheriff’s department, were used in other events outside the city, in Seattle and other places “in support of the broader King County needs.” That help gives the Burien police accesses to assistance if needed in the city, Boe said.

“Trust is essential to effectively fighting crime,” said Boe. “We work hard to building trust in our community to break down barriers. We train on bias and its impact on policing. We participate in deescalation training. We actively recruit diversity in our workforce.

“And we listen to our community,” said the chief. “As your chief I am committed to continuing that body of work.”

The Council also approved a proclamation submitted by the city manager that declared June 1 as a National Day of “Mourning and Lament” for those lost to the CPVID-19 virus.