[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by verified residents. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Waterland Blog, nor its staff:]
Albert Einstein once said: “What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right.”
It is a difficult task to appoint a councilmember outside of an election and we can assure you that each of us struggled with this decision mightily. None the less…
City Council Rule 33 states.
If a vacancy occurs in the office of a Councilmember, the Council will follow the procedure outlined in RCW 35A.13.020. In order to fill the vacancy with the most qualified person available until an election is held, the Council will widely distribute a notice of the vacancy, the procedure and any application form for applying. The Council will provide an application containing relevant information that is intended to help answer set questions posed by the Council. The application forms will be used in conjunction with an interview of each candidate, to aid Council’s selection of the new Councilmember. This was done in accordance with our rules and stated RCW’s.
Each councilmember undertook the task to review each application, research each applicant and explore input from members of the community. All was done with the objective of determining who the “most qualified person available” is. In other words determine who will serve best “now”. This must be done independently of the influences of social media, threats or other outside pressure. Each of us must look at how well informed each applicant is on city matters, how involved they are with the city, and evaluate their presence and relationships with the community. We must also consider the best possible representation of our demographics, populace and residency within our city.
The process used today is consistent with the processes that have been employed 3 times in the past 20 years (2003, 2013 and 2015). This is the most relative precedence in accordance with the applicable rules and laws. Thru discussion but not consensus, the current process being used is most like the process used in 2013. The 2013 process had the same number of applicants and seemed most relevant to the current situation. There was argument for using a process that looked more like the 2003 process. The 2003 differed as it included a round of cuts and subsequent interviews. It was the majority opinion that one comprehensive public interview was equal and fair to all, was best for the applicants, and the most transparent and inclusive. In fact after the interview process had completed, many of the applicants attested that while both exhausting and challenging, they felt that the two hour public interview process was fair and sufficient.
The interview process included questions developed by each individual council member, providing complementary but varied focus. With little exception and with each question differing by councilmember, each candidate was asked the same unique question. They were then given the opportunity to respond with their individual perspective. All candidates were given the same opportunity to respond to the same question. Additionally to be fair, the first candidate to answer each question was rotated so all had a turn to respond first. All candidate opening statements and responses came from the podium. This provided a true opportunity for the candidates to experience what it is like to speak from the dais. In summary, the process was fair, equitable and open.
After the interview portion of the process had completed, members of the public were able to speak from the podium about what they had observed and provide public comment. All community members who wished to provide their input were heard from that evening and their perspectives noted. In addition, before and after the process residents were provided the opportunity to send e-mails or contact any councilmember to share their thoughts and perspectives. All emails were read, whether responded to our not, and noted by each councilmember.
What are the things we considered?
To reiterate, we did not base our decision on the whims, comments and even threats from social media or otherwise. It is our position to never base a decision on any threat, misrepresentation of facts, or comments lathered in intimidation. Who would want any of their governance’s subject to these fickle and non-inclusive devices?
What we did consider were the candidate’s skills, involvement in the community, references, experience, application, resumes, PDC information, public statements, responses to questions and how they carried themselves during this process.
What should qualify a candidate or exclude them?
Should candidates be excluded if they had lost an election, recent or otherwise?
With that reasoning two candidates could have been eliminated from the appointment opportunity. We felt that excluding anyone from consideration due to a previous election was not appropriate. This is not in accordance with the RCW or our council rules. Some also felt that in this case this action may even give the appearance of a thinly veiled attempt at racism, sexism or maybe both.
In November of 2019 over 7100 voters made their selections, that is 1300 more voters than the prior election of November 2017. Luisa Bangs lost this election by 120 votes, the election was nearly a 50.6%-49.1% split. While councilmember Harris did win the election and was sworn to the position as should be, the fact remains that our public was clearly divided on the selection. In November of 2017, Harry Steinmetz lost his race by 742 votes in a 56.3%-43.6% decision. Both individuals continue to participate in the community and have their voice heard at council meetings. So should either be excluded? We say ‘no’. The argument that we must exclude one or both is not valid, all applicants must be considered and there is no precedent that would say otherwise.
To summarize, everyone has access to the applications, was able to see and hear each applicants statements, witnessed the response to the questions, and the public was given the opportunity to speak and provide input. Again, the process was equal and fair to all.
At the beginning of the Feb 6th Study Session, the process was outlined prior to the start of the interviews with details explained and any discrepancies or questions answered. All voices that wished to do so, participated in one form or another.
The process was extended an additional week which gave everyone an opportunity to further look at and evaluate choices and make their recommendations. Some would have liked to have the process continue even further, but this unfortunately could not be so. The business of the city, committee selections, and representation to various positions outside the city were on hold. In short, we simply could not delay our city from moving forward.
We would like to thank all applicants – Luisa Bangs, Harry Steinmetz, Tad Doviak, Semerè Melake, David Lee Black, Dan Harrington and Meiling Sproger. It was exciting to see so many talented applicants interested in this position. All those not chosen were strongly encouraged to participate in various committees and pursue their passions. They were also invited to learn about and consider joining one of the cities volunteer organizations. We believe this will allow each to become more familiar with the workings of our city and open doors to their future service.
Who did we choose?
The vote was split 3-2 in favor of Luisa Bangs, with Councilmember Nutting being unavailable. The opinion of the majority was predicated on these opinions.
Luisa Bangs was up to speed and committed to the direction the city is undertaking, particularly toward the Marina and Downtown strategy.
Those of us who have worked with Luisa in the past have found her grounded, intuitive and a leader.
According to the US Census Luisa represents 42% (if not more) of people of color and 51% of women that currently reside in the city.
Luisa was highly recommended by former Deputy Mayor Pennington who vacated the seat, along with a long list of other interests and residents.
The newness of the council as a whole lacks cohesiveness and has elements of dysfunction as we are learning to work with each other. Luisa provided a known entity and we felt brought more consistency to the team (council as a whole)
Luisa has key relationships with many entities in and out of the city that the city will benefit from.
Luisa provides a background in large budget management, work force labor issues and negotiations, affordable housing and homelessness. These are very important issues within our community.
For those reasons we felt Luisa was the best fit for this team at this time.
In conclusion, we realize that no choice would have appeased all residents within the community. We understand some will be disappointed and can only state that each of us were tasked to choose the “most qualified applicant” for the current time. It is our belief, with no disrespect to any applicant, that we did so.
– Mayor Pina, Deputy Mayor Mahoney
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