BurienCC-06012015-101-1 Front page of Monday night’s Burien City Council packet, which runs 404 pages.[/caption] by Jack Mayne The Burien City Council will no longer get copies of letters and e-mail communications from citizens by way of the regular “packet” of information distributed before each meeting, a system that has been in place since Burien became a city in 1993. The Council voted 4 to 3 at their Monday (June 1) meeting to immediately remove the citizen communications – listed in the packet as “Correspondence for the Record” – and then told the city staff to come up with a new way to make it available to Burien citizens. Voting for the immediate removal of the material were Deputy Mayor Nancy Tosta and Councilmembers Lauren Berkowitz, Gerald Robison and Steve Armstrong. Opposed were Mayor Lucy Krakowiak and Councilmembers Debi Wagner and Bob Edgar. Takes ‘too much space’ While members said at the Council meeting that such information was important to them, they voted to stop putting copies into the packet because it took up too much space and used too much paper to include each week. The idea to remove the letters and other forms of citizen communications from the packet came from a consultant the city hired to guide the Council in its use of Robert’s Rules of Order, along with other suggestions on its various processes. The regular packet has at times run in the hundreds of pages – this past week’s was over 400 pages, although there were only four citizen communications. Consultant Ann Macfarlane of Jurassic Parliament, Seattle, was to review and offer comments regarding Burien’s meeting guidelines and the Council’s use of rules of order. She previously held sessions with the Council on how to conduct meetings to avoid what her websites asks, “are you tired of painfully long meetings?” and “would you like to eliminate discord but not dissent?” Monday night the Council reviewed her written report that included the suggestion to change the way citizen communications were handled and whether Councilmembers should write on social media websites while the Council was in session. Macfarlane said the regular Council packet should, “in accord with the practice of most jurisdictions . . . be processed and handled separately from the Council meeting packet.” That change, said the consultant, “will reduce the size of the packet and ensure that the focus of those materials is directly the work of the Council at the specific meeting.” Take it out Robison said public correspondence does not need to be in the packet, but “it should be in the records, it should be accessible online,” and later added the change would not be to eliminate the material, but “to streamline our packet … just adding it to the packet doesn’t do anything for the debate, it just goes through – it doesn’t even get talked about” in the meetings. He did suggest finding some system that would get the material out on a timely basis. It is “a little difficult” to go through the material and analyze it “when we get a file on the Friday before the meeting,” he said. Councilmember Armstrong said material did not need to be in the packet and should be available elsewhere. Councilmember Berkowitz said she was in favor of removing public communications from the packet and publishing them separately. She said, again, that “over 1,300 letters” and e-mails sent during the recent debate over about the so-called trespass ordinances were not in the packet. “These letters are important but they can come in a different format,” Berkowitz said. “I lean to not having it printed (in the packet) to “reduce the headache … the system is so flawed we should end it as soon as possible.” Deputy Mayor Tosta, who was not at the meeting but participated by telephone, said she was in favor of not putting the material in the packet, “a different format would be appropriate.” Leave it in Councilmember Wagner disagreed. “For me, having those letters in the packet is probably the most important thing that I have because these are the people who have elected us and their views and anybody that takes the time to write and get a letter in the packet should be listened to and I think (the packet) is the appropriate place” for the material. Councilmember Edgar also wanted to keep the correspondence to be in the packet, especially people sending information about matters that are on the agenda “that would be missed, inadvertently.” Mayor Krakowiak said the material should remain in the meeting packets. “It is timely information that helps me when I am reading the packet considering citizen input. City Manager Kamuron Gurol said he thought the process should not be changed until a new system was devised, but the Council rejected that. He said the city staff will work on a proposal to handle public communications “and bring that back at a future meeting so you can consider that.” Not a good idea, said Berkowitz. “We are sort of making a decision and sort of not. Knowing the history of this Council, we might reopen the underlying decision … I would be in favor of just moving forward.” Tosta, Robison and Armstrong expressed similar sentiments. Mayor Krakowiak, and Councilmembers Wagner and Edgar both wanted a new system in place before stopping the current system of putting the correspondence in the packet. Stop social networking Macfarlane also recommended that members not use social media during meetings. Councilmember Berkowitz and former Planning Commission member Joey Martinez were said to have used online social media while attending official meetings. Macfarlane said the state archivist in the Washington Secretary of State’s office says, “If the posts are made or received in connection with the transaction of the agency’s public business … then they are public records … and need to be retained for their minimum retention periods.” In addition, Macfarlane said the Burien Council members need to keep track of what is happening at the meeting and “texting and posting outside the Council chambers can have a negative effect on the members themselves, making them feel that their every action is subject to publication to the world at large at any moment. This is not a positive atmosphere in which to develop trust and confidence in each other.”]]>

Senior Reporter Jack Mayne passed away in December, 2021. In his honor we have created the Jack Mayne Journalism Scholarship.

19 replies on “Citizen letters deleted from Council meeting packets; new system promised”

  1. Katie Trefry of the City of Burien asked this be associated with the news story.
    “As you know, the Council decided last night to suspend the practice of including Correspondence for the Record printouts in each Council Packet. At its direction, staff is now actively working to identify a new, simplified process by which to ensure the Council receives those citizen communications in a timely manner, with an eye toward both transparency and responsiveness.
    “The City Council’s decision was driven in part by the work underway with Anne Macfarlane to review parliamentary procedure and other best practices for public meetings. She reviewed many of the City’s practices and found that including comprehensive citizen communications in Council Packets – what the City terms “Correspondence for the Record” – is an uncommon practice amongst local governments. As all pieces of City communication are already public record, to duplicate such records by making them into yet another public record can be redundant. As a whole, the Council is reviewing many practices in order to increase the effectiveness of Council meetings. Last night’s decision is one part of that process.”

  2. “to develop trust and confidence” That ship sank along time ago when it comes to those two and their need for texting and posting for self gratification while performing, or lack thereof said official business.

  3. This was a poor decision by the four members of the Council who voted for eliminating citizen comments from the packet. There is no real plan for how citizen letters and letters from other agencies will be made available to the public now. This is not how transparent government should work. And as I recall Armstrong, Tosta and Berkowitz ran on the platforms that they wanted transparent government and really wanted to hear citizen comments. It appears they have changed their tune now that they are elected.
    One year ago, the City Manager got rid of the city newsletter. This was one of the major sources of information to citizens to stay abreast of what was happening in the city. The iCity manager still has not come up with a new newsletter or magazine to replace the old one. If he works as slow on this issue of citizen correspondence being made available to the public as he has worked on getting a city newsletter out, the public can expect to see their letters made public maybe by June, 2016, if they are lucky.

    1. The newsletter was change to a sign up elctroinic verion instead of wasting paper and money on postage here is a link from the burien city website https://www.burienwa.gov/index.aspx?NID=155
      And in reading this article it says that city council was told find a new way to provide comments for the public. Also in a way to save paper witch cuts costs . Cutting cost can save tax payers $$$

    2. Councilmember Berkowitz is only interested in comments from the ACLU and members of SAFE, not the citizens of Burien.

  4. WHY the heck are they actually printing-out packets in the first place?!?! It’s freaking 2015 people, use a tablet or laptop computer.

  5. This will actually end up costing the City more money, as it is not “readily” available, therefore citizens and non citizens for that matter will be asking for public records request which is a cost to the City, and in this case an un-needed one for sure….

  6. I was surprised that some of the members wanted to remove citizen’s letters and comments from the City Council packets. Most of the city council members when they were running for a position claimed that transparency was very important and that was something they wanted to see established and I thought maintained. Evidently some o f the council members have forgotten their promise and are not interested in what the voters have to say.This is very discouraging for these council members have changed their position about transparency once they were elected.

    1. In case you missed it here cut and paste from the article above the Council voted 4 to 3 at their Monday (June 1) meeting to immediately remove the citizen communications – listed in the packet as “Correspondence for the Record” – and then told the city staff to come up with a new way to make it available to Burien citizens
      So see they are to come up a new way of doing it so most likely they do it all in PDF files instead of printing out the packets. Like this last one that went 400 pages across 7 council members plus staff that’s a lot of paper,toner and time being wasted every month. When you can put in a PDF format were who ever wants to read it or print it can have that option.
      2,800 pages printed just for the council members at approximately 3 cent per page can add up plus the environmental waste.

      1. Jimmy, the issue of printing is separate from the issue of citizen comments, which take up a small percentage of the packet. I’m all for anyone who has access to the internet viewing the packet in electronic form, as I do. But still a print copy should be made available to any citizen who is interested enough in city governance to request one. (I don’t think tons of people are crowding the city hall just to get copies of the packets) Councilmembers read the packets in preparation for the meetings. (Maybe that’s a bit naïve of me, but just assume that point) Councilmembers, and other citizens, should not be expected to make the effort to go in search of citizen comments in some other location when it can easily be presented in the packet. And as Councilmember Wagner pointed out the views of the citizens are the most important thing in the packet and they should stay right in the front where they were.

        1. yes but the people want a printed copy could also print it them self’s to not cost the city or the tax payers more money in a city government that is trying to cut costs. this could also be that these have the addresses of the people that make comment’s and that could cause a problem especially if your making comment towards say the homeless and they get upset they could just show up at your front door or stand out in the street protesting in front of your home. When someone makes a public comment at the council meetings they state there address at the being of there comment. Having this info able to go to anyone that wants its could be a safety issue even though it has not been yet in this day and age anything can happen.

          1. But if people don’t have access to a printer they might still want to be aware of what is in the packet. I’m a Burien taxpayer and I think the value we get from intelligent citizens participating in the meetings is worth the cost of the few paper packets that are printed. If the addresses are a concern, they could easily be redacted, although most people are on social media these days and it would be easy to look them up if someone really wanted to.

          2. Ok you already stated that you read it online whats your deal are you trying to troll or something they said there going to come up with a new system calm down it’s not the end of the world. When your reading it depending on the device there should be a print option. Then here is the hard part get off your high horse and walk over to your printer and grab what you print it. Also stop blowing that smoke in your horses face there suppose eat grass not smoke it.

          3. As others have said not everyone has internet access or a printer. There’s also the issue of cost shifting, where you make the reader pay all the costs. For some people that could be a deal breaker. Publicly accessible records to need be accessible to everyone in the easiest possible way, not necessarily the way that works for some/most people. The more difficult it is, the fewer people participate and that’s enough of a problem already.
            I prefer mine online but that’s just me. Hopefully the “new system” they’ll come up with provide options, and hopefully it will be available soon, but you never know.

          4. The king county library system has computers with internet access free for the public and I believe you can print some stuff for a small fee like a penny a page it might even be free if its city council stuff like this I am not sure. Also most smartphones can open a pdf even if there big I know not everyone has a smartphone but most do and if not the one’s that don’t can go to the library.
            Also if anyone has a issue with this take it up the council members instead of just posting messages back and forth on a blog e-mail or snail mail the council members and express your feelings to them.

  7. For years, Council member Robison has said he doesn’t like to listen to Burien citizen comments. He only liked comments that were pro-annexation and anti-library system.
    As soon as Tosta got on the Council, she tried to move all of the citizen comments to the end of the meeting. Her hope was that the meeting time would run out and she wouldn’t have to listen to citizens. As has been stated before, Berkowitz only wants to hear comments from the protest groups like the ACLU and SAFE that she brings to town for her own issues. These 3 Council members are especially anxious and angry if any citizen brings up a problem in the city or an issue that they voted for, a problem with their constant texting,Twittering and fussing with electronic devises during meetings and dares to mention it in a public information letter. However, it was Berkowitz, Tosta and Robison who were most anxious to get citizen comments removed from the packet. These letters typically take up only a couple of sheets of paper in the packets. But it is the endless arguments, changes to commas and periods, re-writes to phrases that Tosta and Berkowitz makes that makes the packets thick and costly. Tosta never saw a sentences that she didn’t want to re-write at least 6 times. Go back and watch some of the council videos from 2014 on the Economic Development Plan. The packet should have the few citizen letters that come in it.
    Another method to handle citizen letters is more costly as the staff has to do still another task of going to still another site or location to post them and the Council members have to do another task of trying to find them in still another location and the city has to create another location to find them on the city website. Wasted time on additional tasks is wasted money. To try to find something on the city’s website is an entangled nightmare. As to what Armstrong is doing or why when he votes, no one can figure that out. Good luck if anyone can ever find the public citizen or agency letters again.

    1. Ray, thanks for your comment. It’s very illuminating regarding the motivations of the council members you mentioned. As for CM Armstrong, I’d be glad to explain what he is doing: he is Burien’s very own version of Justice Kennedy; he sees himself as the “swing-vote” on the council. That and the fact he doesn’t offer many opinions of his own make me think his motivation is to get as many people to like him so he can retain his council seat. It will be interesting to see if that works out for him when he comes up for reelection. In the meantime, if you want to eliminate the uncertainty of how CM Armstrong will vote, I’d suggest voting to retain the existing council members as well as voting for Darla Green to fill CM Robison’s position. Then the council will have a solid majority that is not afraid to clearly express their positions.

  8. Eliminating these letters (which take up a very small amount of space in the packet), makes it easy for these four Council members to brush off the concerns of citizens and their responsibilty to citizens in the city. These same four council members don’t want other citizens to see what are the problems the Council and city staff should be addressing and working on. They are all hard to reach by phone and frequently do not respond to their phone messages.They don’t really believe in transparent government and serving citizens. If they did, they would have no problem with these few letters in the packet.
    The notion that these letters take up to much space or time in the packet is just plain nonsense. The new supposed method for citizens being able to see these letters will take up more staff time and effort than just putting them in the packet. Things that are hidden and concealed from the public are things that are overlooked and ignored. Generally by the time a citizen writes to the Council, that citizen has exhausted other methods to get the problem resolved. And that citzen can only get the Council’s attention by writing directly to the whole Council. Right now the most current letters are secret from the genral public. And secrets are what dysfunctional politicans survive on–dirty laundry kept from the kept from the public eye.

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