Posted by: sweeneyblog | December 17, 2014

City Council Appointment Live-Blog

Welcome to the City Council Appointment Live-Blog! As always, you can support our efforts here at the Political Junkie with a donation by clicking here.

In a fitting metaphor for this whole process, the doors to City Hall were locked when I arrived. After sweet talking a lovely cleaning lady, I was able to gain entry and ensconce myself in the “News Media Seating” chairs in the council chambers (I don’t anticipate much company in these seats but remain hopeful).

Marie, the city clerk, is already here and politely informed me that the front doors are supposed to automatically open 30 minutes before the meeting. There is some dispute over whether that actually happened or not. Either way, I’m in and patiently waiting . . .

Okay, not so patiently waiting for everyone to arrive. I ask Marie for predictions but she demurs, “You will get nothing from me.” Ha! Well-played. I notice that Cathy Lehman’s nameplate has already been moved.

In a burst of activity, Dan Hammill and Iris Maute-Gibson arrive within moments of each other. Iris brought a slight entourage with her. Next Michelle Magee with children in tow and Scot Barg with his partner Becky. Meanwhile Pinky Vargas, Michael Lilliquist and Terry Bornemann. Michael, a father himself, takes the opportunity to let the youngest Magee’s sit in the council chairs.

Gene Knutson has a weary air about him as enters. I ask him if he is ready for the excitement and he chuckles. “I’ve been through four of these, so it should be fine.”

We strike up a discussion about what would be an appropriate hashtag and local social media expert Rifka MacDonald (and partner of Iris) recommends “#applicantthunderdome. Andrew Reding is in Washington, DC and unable to attend.

Samantha Wohlfiel from the Bellingham Herald has arrived and set up – I’m no longer alone in the press box! With a final swirl of her poncho, Mayor Linville arrives and we are off to the races.

Terry Bornemann, in his taciturn baritone, outlines the schedule of the evening. The applicants will give a little time on the microphone to make their case, then the council will go into executive session (“super secret time away from the public”) to discuss qualifications. After that, they will return and open the floor up for nominations. The first person to get four votes shall be victorious. “With that said, let the games begin!” said Bornemann.

Scot Barg

Scot Barg

Scott Barg is first up. He cites his experience with the waterfront and his love for the town, “I love this town so much I moved here twice!” He talks about his experience with the PDA where he worked to deliver a “Community-based vision” of the waterfront.

“Leadership is not about getting people to do what you want them to do . . . it means listening.” He talks about the need for moving beyond inclusion to engagement. “I don’t know how we can do this but if we work together, I know we can do this.”

Linda, assistant city clerk, is flagging down speakers with colorful cut off cards. Gene suggests that they use the cards during council meetings.

Iris Maute-Gibson takes the stage and uses the power of multi-media. On the big screen, her endorsements from local movers and shakers (Chuck Robinson from Village Books kicks off the list).

Iris says she is willing to stand alone on issues if necessary before seguing into her pitch for the need for millennial representation on the city council. “I’m a young professional, feminist, queer, “Smart Trips” using, outdoor enthusiast, and I grew up here in Bellingham on reduced lunch.” She closes with a brief story of encouraging a frustrated citizen to be engaged in the rental licensing process even though they were on opposite sides of the issue.

Dan Hammill, sporting a sharp purple tie, calls for “wise choices” around land use, environmental protection and affordable housing. He name-checks the comp plan and calls the work of engaging the public, “the spade and shovel” of public service.

He mentions his work on the Bellingham Home Fund (a subject I wish I could have covered in more depth when it was passed in 2012). His rapid-fire approach makes him the swiftest speech but he packed a great deal of material into that couple of minutes.

Michelle Magee kicks it off by identifying herself as a “Mom, Super volunteer and social activist.” She said that her daughters advised her to tell the council about them. “As a single parent on a limited income in a small apartment, I know alot about working on a budget with limited resources.” She cites her experience standing firm working with difficult bureaucracies. She speaks about her experience with domestic violence and the value of community. “When you’ve walked through fire, it is hard to see anything as hopeless.”

“We want to be people who create a little more luck for more people.” She also mentions her hundreds of supporters and her core values of social justice and activism.

With that, we are back to the council. “The presentations, unfortunately, did not help whittle it down. No matter who we appoint, there are going to be four other very qualified people who are not.” Gene Knutson asks for a round of applause for the applicant, a request the audience eagerly indulges. With that, the council slips out to a separate chamber for a discussion.

I ask if anyone in crowd is taking bets. I quickly shoot a nervous glance at Mayor Linville, she says that there should be no problem so long as she’s not taking any of the money. Linville says that she, “made (the council) promise not to make her choose.” A deadlocked council kicks the decision to the mayor’s office.

A scant fifteen minutes later and the council is back. Terry reassures the audience that they only discussed qualifications in the executive session, noting that there was no talk of who was supporting whom.

Gene Knutson speaks first after the chair, he nominates Dan Hammill. No one else was nominated, leading to an extended awkward silence. With that, it is an unanimous vote.

Now it is time for the reassurances. Lilliquist and Vargas offer their thanks and stress how difficult the decision was and how proud they are for stepping forward. “There are elections next year, so it ain’t over.” Vargas said. “I encourage you to keep moving forward.” Roxanne Murphy talks about how she lost her first election. “There will always be seats on councils and there will always to be seats to run.”

Terry Bornemann reminisces about his application for the vacancy when Joy Keenan stepped down, many years ago. “I knew that I was the best candidate but I didn’t get it.” He makes the point that this isn’t a popularity contest. “Who can we feel can step in and fill out a remaining position. Who can be up to speed the quickest?” Bornemann speaks to Dan’s diverse experience.

Knutson thanks the council for how they handled it. “There was no clear front runner. There are no winners and no losers, everyone is a winner. I wish Dan the best serving with us.”

Next up, Dan signs the oath of office. After he signs it, he will officially be a council member although the swearing in will be in front of the judge later. Pictures are snapped on a couple smart phones, documents are signed and the crowd gets restless. Hand shakes commencing and the gavel bangs the meeting closed.

Posted by: sweeneyblog | December 16, 2014

Interviewing Scot Barg for City Council

Scot Barg is a man who lives up to his resume. Skimming through the highlights, graduate of the Havard Kennedy School of Government, then assistant director of research there, it is clear that Barg has spent most of his professional life firmly at the intersection of public policy and academia. Now he is turning his eyes to the city council.

Scot Barg

Scot Barg

“I have something to offer. I don’t have a big agenda, because this is an appointment, not an election. The agenda for all the applicants should be to learn, apply the skills you have, take a look at the issues in front of us and try get the best value for the city.” Barg says that his interest is in economic development and sustainability becase, “Too many of us are using too much, too quickly.”

He has some experience with the public policy side of economic development. As the chair of the recently deceased Public Development Authority (PDA), Barg worked as an intermediary between the Port and the City. The group was disbanded a few years ago by the city council – a decision that Barg says is “disappointing” in light of the recent movement on the waterfront development.

“I still think a PDA is actually a great way to run a project like this. Urban intensive development is not in the Port’s wheelhouse.” Barg contends that the PDA added “a lot of value”.

As for the issues the current council faces, Barg is a bit blaise. “(the council) doesn’t have any on-fire issues, a lot of issues at a similar level of percolation.” For instance, Barg notes there are some “big decisions” coming on Lake Whatcom. “I support doing whatever it is we have to do, maybe that is a more aggressive schedule. We need to look at the cost benefit analysis and get resources from the state or the feds to help.” He shakes his head. “We only get one Lake Whatcom, we don’t get a second try. Once it is not usable, it is over.”

Barg shares Michelle Magee’s depressed slump over the waterfront. “We have a waterfront plan. It is better than the one we had. It is a compromise like all these things need to be.” He says that the key change was the amount of infrastructure investment. “The city was on the hook for hundreds of millions of infrastructure, with very little assurances that anything would get built.”

He says part of this is looking at the costs. “Sometimes the benefits and the costs are not financial, they are environmental or social. We need to look at things in a complex way.”

This methodology is key to his partnership with former mayor Dan Pike. The two of them are currently involved with Huxley College, developing curriculum for executives around sustainability. “Dan had made some big changes in city government in terms of sustainability and moving that forward on the city agenda – so he wanted to share lessons learned and his vision of things. I had this experience bringing people from the different levels of government, private sector, academics, and so we came together on this project.” Barg sees it as a rare opportunity, “When the traditional sort of barriers break down, when you are all in a room . . . in a learning environment, we found an amazing sort of synergies, cross boundary relationships begin to develop.”

I jokingly ask if his candidacy is a secret attempt by Dan Pike to sneak back into public office. “Believe it or not, we are actually separate people!” He laughs. “I think he is a good guy and a great mayor.”

What does he think is missing from the current council? Barg demurs, saying that he is, “impressed by the breadth of experience and perspectives that are already there.”  He believes his added value is “the perspective of analytics.”

“I don’t want to say dispassionately but I like looking at the broad spectrum of costs and risks. Its not that I don’t have things I care about, I care deeply about sustainability and being responsive. I’m not that politically different from the current pack of people who are applying. I don’t see that there is a gaping hole, I don’t think it is a missing perspective but is something I can add.”

Speaking of perspective, he says the main struggle for the city is including the next generation of Bellinghamsters. “Bellingham is known as a sustainable city, we’ve done really well on that. We’ve done well fiscally, we’ve been a really responsible city. We do social services well. We think well about people with housing and services needed. I would like to see us moving beyond what we call tolerance or even inclusion to engagement with young people of color and LGBT people. I think all government looks monolithic and I want it to look like ‘a place for me’ for everybody.”

Closing up our interview, Barg notes that if appointed, he would most likely run for the seat in 2015. If he is not appointed, he would still seriously consider running. “The process has been so interesting to me, talking to the city council people. You have to love it – it is a lot of work. But I’m definitely interested.”

The appointment is tomorrow night at 7pm. I will be there providing live coverage if the wi-fi is up and running strong. In the meantime, read the rest of the interview with the candidates (Iris Maute-Gibson, Dan Hammill, Andrew Reding, Michele Magee).

Hello Loyal Readers,

Yes, the Friday Odds and Ends makes its return, and this edition is action packed. For those of you just joining us, the Friday Odds and Ends are all the stories that good enough to print, but not enough to justify their own post.

First up, SaveWhatcom, the coal-PAC funded by Gateway Pacific Terminal that has been active in the last two elections, posted a blog post filled with fail. I realize that poking fun at SaveWhatcom is like whacking hipsters at a Death Cab for Cutie concert but bear with me.

SaveWhatcom is immune to Irony

SaveWhatcom is immune to Irony

In their blog post,Cherry Point Industry Economic Study Questioned by Enviro-Blog Whatcom Watch“, they take aim at an article written by local activist Terry Weschler that dissected a recent economic study paid for by GPT. Two problems with this: first, the Whatcom Watch is a monthly newspaper, not an “enviro-blog.”

I realize Whatcom Watch has only been printing for twenty-two years, so maybe the fact that their launch predates the invention of blogs may have been a clue.

Second, it is a huge ethical conflict writing about Cherry Point without disclosing that SaveWhatcom has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from proponents of the Gateway Pacific Terminal. I realize I’m reaching here, asking for ethics from an organization that was so deeply unethical with its finances that it got fined $4,500 by the PDC for illegally funnelling campaign donations through bogus accounts.

Moving right along, the Sakuma Berry Farm workers may get some justice thanks to a federal judge approving a payout for back pay for the workers to the tune of $1,221.30 each, however their battle continues as the State Supreme Court will take up the bigger issue of worker compensation next year.

Riley with the Whatcom Democrats

Riley with the Whatcom Democrats

Finally, I have completed my term as Vice-Chair of the Whatcom Democrats, and no longer have an official role with the party. Ever since 2010, I have served in one capacity or another on their executive board, but am now freeing up that time in my schedule for other projects. As such, I’m going to let you in on a little secret:

The leadership of local political parties is not comprised of seasoned political hacks. The Whatcom Democrats (and from what I’ve gathered, the Whatcom Republicans) are 99% comprised of ambitious volunteers. Volunteers with no more specialized skills than what you already possess.

So please, if you are interested in local politics, consider getting involved with your party. I started my run with the Whatcom Democrats by doing their newsletter, and before long, I was writing press releases, vetting candidates and planning fundraisers. It was a phenomenal experience that I treasure.

Enough pleading, I will be interviewing Scott Barg today so look for that interview this weekend. Beyond that, stay warm out there.

Posted by: sweeneyblog | December 10, 2014

A Simple Walkthrough of the City of Bellingham Budget

On Monday, the City Council approved a new budget for 2015-2016. The Bellingham Herald put up an article documenting the changes between the initial proposal and the final approved budget (short answer: not much). However, I felt for most of us, a higher level overview would be helpful. Where does the city get a majority of their revenue? Where is it being spent? Getting a grasp on the generals are essential if we are to understand the specifics.

With that in mind, I’m doing another installment of “Keep It Simple, Sweeney!” where I walk through the city budget. If it is well-received, I’ll do a companion piece for the County. For this article, I’m working with the preliminary budget numbers, since I have more information about those and the changes by the council were not substantial.

As always, you can support the good work we do here with a donation by clicking here. 

City of Bellingham Budget

In total, the city takes in and spends around $480 million dollars every two years while keeping around $120 million in reserves. Here’s where that money comes from:

City Revenue by type

City Revenue by type

Revenues by type
Fines and Forfeitures $3,959,278
Licenses & Permits $5,292,274
Other Financing Sources $16,461,309
Non-Revenues $23,558,387
Intergovernmental $25,028,885
Interest & Misc $46,695,673
Taxes $177,091,395
Charges for Goods and Services $184,346,896
Total Revenue $482,434,097

As you can see, only about a third of our city revenue comes from taxes (property, sales, business taxes). The charges for goods and services category comes from providing water, sewer and ambulance services. Non-revenues are things like loans – they provide revenue but not really.

Okay, that’s how the money comes in. Where does it go? Comparing apples to apples, I look at the type of expenditure.

Expenditures by type

Expenditures by type

Expenditures by type
Salaries & Benefits $180,190,958
Supplies $20,000,416
*Interfund Supplies (0.7%) $3,548,962
Services $118,583,072
*Interfund Services $50,613,667
Intergovernmental Services $18,919,399
Capital $81,797,257
Principal & Interest $22,729,360
Total $496,383,091

Well, that’s not terribly helpful. Most of our city funds are spent on staff, services and capital budgets. Capital budgets are the big purchases a city has to make – land, buildings, major repairs. The intergovernmental services category includes the money the city makes from the county for use of the city jail.

But this does not give us a clear picture on WHAT we spend our city money on. For that, we have to look at the breakdown by city department of the money spent.

Expenditures by Department

Expenditures by Department

Expenditures by Department
Fire $46,952,365
Police $56,989,783
Judicial and Hearing Examiner $4,606,468
Parks & Rec $29,732,284
Library and Museum $11,631,738
Planning & Development $27,695,679
Human Resources $41,823,677
Finance $8,209,243
IT Dept $11,210,433
Legal $5,825,934
Mayor’s Office and City Council $2,740,180
Non-Dept $9,986,397
Public Works $236,473,222
Public Facilities $2,505,688
Total $496,383,091

For those of you following along with the official city budget documents, you will notice I merged a few departments for clarity’s sake (Museum and Library, Mayor’s Office and Council, etc). Right away, it becomes clear where we spend most of our money – Public Works, followed by Fire and Police.

If you were surprised by the high numbers for Planning and Development, consider the type of staffing needed there. Highly-trained professionals with advanced degrees. Also, they require a great deal of professional services (surveying, assessing, testing, etc) that they contract out to local providers.

Let’s take a closer look at that Public Works budget. Over the last four years, the Public Works department has had two employee moonlighting scandals (documented here and here) and ran afoul of the Roosevelt neighborhood association this year with their attempts to implement a c-curb on Alabama street. So I can understand them being a little touchy. I’m just using their budget as an example since it is the largest.

A good chunk of that budget is staff. There are 255 full-time equivalent employees working for the Public Works department. That includes 30 engineers, 35 utility workers, 42 treatment plant employees and 24 maintenance employees. Also, since they are building, shoveling and repairing things, their supplies budget is huge. They have budgeted 6.4 million on supplies for this budget, or to put it another way, more than we spend on the mayor’s office and the city council twice over.

The other half of the public works budget is capital expenses. Since they are undertaking large projects, their spending often takes the form of three year projects, big purchases and building improvements. Within these departmental budgets, you can drill down into specific funds (Stormwater Fund, Transportation Benefit District Fund) and get the list of specific improvements planned (a future article if people are interested).

In short, most of our city’s money is tied up in infrastructure. Either taking in funds for sewer and water services or spending money on roads, parks, buildings and streetlights. If this sort of thing interests you, there are plenty of sources for more information but I would start here.

Posted by: sweeneyblog | December 9, 2014

Interviewing Michelle Magee for City Council

Michelle Magee, applicant for Bellingham City Council, describes herself as an activist, a queer mother, a progressive and a teacher. However, what I find to be her defining trait is her contagious enthusiasm for tackling big issues on a local level.

Michelle Magee

Michelle Magee

Her volunteer work shows this passion. As an organizer with the Coal-Free Bellingham initiative, volunteer with Occupy Bellingham and the Non-GMO project, she is working to make change on the local level. Now, Magee is readying to transfer that commitment to the City Council.

“I’m running for City Council for the same reasons all the applicants are. We need clean water, affordable housing, to protect open spaces and figure out what the heck is going on with the waterfront.” She acknowledges that there are some very talented people running for this position but she believes her perspective and commitment to the community sets her apart.

“When I talk to the voters, it comes down to representation. All of us share political views but there is more to it than that. First voters look for qualifications; are they smart, do they collaborate, are they a leader?”

“Next, they go to values. Here in Bellingham we are moderate to far left. We value the environment and support local business. They ask, are they in touch with the needs of lower income people?” If these criteria are met, Magee believes that people look for representation.

“After all that, the question becomes, ‘do they represent me?’ Many activists are supporting me because they are excited about having someone they trust to fight for the causes that I have fought for alongside them.” She notes that her endorsement list includes some of her personal heroes. “The fact that we have had some real knock down fights and for them to come back and say, yes, I want you on the council, makes a big difference.”

Magee has also been quite active in the queer community. “I’ve worked as a queer advocate within the school system and maybe they are excited about a queer person in the public light.” She has already had a bit of controversy over her application, losing a supporter over her being out about her sexuality. Magee sees it as a point of pride. “I am about the most open person I know, not just about my identity or my sexuality but about my life – it is all there on the website.” Magee, along with Iris Maute-Gibson, are the only candidates who have set up campaign websites so far.

“If I hide that word, what does that say about who I am? I cannot do that. When I work with kids in our schools, I say that they are okay just the way they are and they don’t have to hide.” She shakes her head. “I wouldn’t like me if I pushed that to the side.”

Michelle Magee with two of her daughters at a Non-GMO rally

Michelle Magee with two of her daughters at a Non-GMO rally

She also believes it is important to have a mother on the City Council. “We don’t have a mom on the council and we haven’t had one in a long time. Who better is going to care about clean water? Who better to care about the open spaces and parks and having a nice waterfront? Moms and families, they are excited about the possibility of being represented on the council, and I am too!”

What is her number one priority if elected to the council? “Riley, I don’t think you are going to like this but there is no one issue that tops out the others. All of them are part of an interdependent web. You cannot only be concerned about clean water and open spaces without being concerned about local businesses because it is that tax base that funds the Greenways. You need to have affordable housing and quality infill of downtown to attract young people, it is all mixed together.”

She pauses with a slightly guilty smile, “That’s what I like about being on City Council, I’m not a one-issue person and I see how the issues are interconnected.”

Turning to issues of public policy, I ask for her take on landlord licensing. “I’ve liked seeing the process and how it is getting played out. It was nowhere for a decade and now it gets brought back into the public light.” Process aside, Magee sees it as a step forward. “I like how thoughtful people were on both sides. If we did pass the proposal, those costs are going to be passed to the renter, and I know how tough that is. There was a year where I was living month to month and thought that my girls and I might end up living out of the van.”

“But in the end, I agree this needs to happen. I’ve lived in some real holes that literally got me sick. We need some oversight on this.”

Moving along to the waterfront development, Magee makes a request. “This is where you could use one of those animated memes. Okay, here’s my interpretation of everyone I’ve spoken to about the waterfront. They look like this.” Magee gives a big exaggerated sigh and slumps her shoulders. It looked something like this – if Magee was a kitten.

“Every single person has that reaction. It is that bad. What I think is that now, after all the talking, is that we are stuck with the cards in our hand and the best approach now is to put some pressure on the developers. They want to please their customers and it is in their best interest to please their customers. They will be more responsive than they have been.”

What about Lake Whatcom? “We have to partner with the county on this one, it is not just a City Council issue but there are things we can do. We need to work with developers – use incentives to get them to install filtering systems and getting them to reduce phosphorus runoff. This will keep us from having to pay for it later.

Does Magee think the council is missing a radical or progressive voice? She pauses, thoughtful. “I think I bring a different perspective, this is where activists get very excited about the possibility of me sitting there. I’m running for City Council because service gives me life. This place has given me life. I work all the time to give back to Bellingham and I will do that whether or not I’m appointed. City Council is a good fit for my quirky little big picture mind.”

To drive this home, she pulls out her visual aid. She had read my earlier interviews with Iris Maute-Gibson and Dan Hammill where they used visual aids (ward maps and budget charts, respectively). Magee’s visual aid, however, blows them both out of the water.

From left to right, Terry Bornemann, Jack Weiss, Roxanne Murphy, Cathy Lehman, Michelle Magee, Michael Lilliquist, Gene Knutson and Pinky Vargas (on the pinky, naturally)

From left to right, Terry Bornemann, Jack Weiss, Roxanne Murphy, Cathy Lehman, Michelle Magee, Michael Lilliquist, Gene Knutson and Pinky Vargas (on the pinky, naturally)

Magee says that there was no subtle political message (“I don’t think the council is puppets or anything!”) – and that Pinky was the hardest to draw (“because she is too pretty!”), Michael was the easiest because of the beard.

Closing out the interview, I ask Magee if there is one thing she would like everyone in Bellingham to know about here. “If you are looking for someone who really loves this place, who is really open to hearing you even if I don’t agree with you, and take that into consideration, someone who is going to look not just at the short term but long term to see what is good for our kids and families, I’m a pretty good person to look at.”

Posted by: sweeneyblog | December 8, 2014

Interviewing Andrew Reding for City Council

The first thing Andrew Reding clarified when I sat down with the applicant for the city council was that this was an appointment, not an election. “I wouldn’t say I’m running for office, that is something you do when you go to the electorate. We are not doing that. We are going in front of six people and they are going to choose someone. It is more of a selection than an election.”

Andrew Reding

Andrew Reding

The difference is not lost on Reding, he is an unrepentant wonk – deeply interested in the precise workings of governing. His biography backs it up, from his masters in public policy from Princeton to his twenty years service for the federal government working on civil rights issues. During that time, he served as a city councilmember in southwest Florida and a planning commissioner in Jefferson County.

“I’m very evidence driven. I want to make sure that whatever we do in the way of public policy, that it passes the test of results.” He believes in a technical approach to municipal government. “We take the best practices from elsewhere, we respond to what is needed in our community and then after some time, use statistics to reexamine the effectiveness.”

Why is Reding applying for City Council? “Part of it is the qualifications that I bring to the table. I’m not demographically prime material, I’m not the best looking candidate, I’m not the youngest, I’m not a woman. But I do have all this experience serving on a council, serving on a planning commission.” However, experience alone is not reason enough. “I bring a set of values and commitments that mesh really well with what the overwhelming majority in this city are wanting and not necessarily getting from their council.”

What is missing from the current city council? “I wouldn’t put it that way, since we have some very talented, smart and capable people. I wouldn’t want to be on the council if it weren’t that way.” That does not mean that Reding believes everything is rosy. “It is the city council’s job to set the broad direction and make sure we are headed in that direction. I look at certain areas and ask myself why we are not making more progress.”

Where does the city need to focus? Without a pause, Reding jumps right in. “Meeting the challenge of ever-growing income inequality – in particular, helping those who are the least well off through minimum wage legislation.” He notes that Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles have already passed significant minimum wage increases. “This has been part of the discussion all along the west coast and we’ve already committed ourselves to living wage legislation. It is incumbent upon us to act on that. We need to open up a discussion on how we can raise the minimum wage.”

Reding points out that the minimum wage was higher in 1968 in terms of real wage and buying power than it is today. “I would like to see us bring all the stakeholders together, that includes the business community who pays the wages, the labor community, bring them all together and have a discussion on how we can do this. The council has a commitment to living wages but has not really engaged with doing that.”

Reding sees his appointment as an opportunity to push this issue over the tipping point. I asked if an initiative would be a better way to accomplish this goal but Reding sticks to his legislative guns. “I prefer that it happen through a community discussion rather than an initiative, with wider consensus and buy-in, and less likelihood of unintended consequences.”

Andrew Reding and Mt. Shuksan

Andrew Reding and Mt. Shuksan

Turning the discussion to environmental issues, I ask his take on Lake Whatcom. “We all talk about it and say that we love the Lake and it should be cleaner. Well, the City’s plan is for a fifty year clean up and to be frank, a good portion of the people currently here will be dead before that happens. We are cleaning at such a slow pace now, growth may overcome it. I think there is a strong majority in this city willing to accelerate the pace.”

Reding acknowledges that there will be an increased cost but he says the damage will be even more costly. “Deal with it at its source, then you avoid problems down stream at the creek and into the bay. I would like to see us reframe that fifty year plan into something like a twenty year plan.”

Reding is also a passionate biking enthusiast and sees fault in the city’s transportation plans. “We’re a very green city but we are not always matching that with our plans. We just had city staff prepare a bicycle plan.” He smiles and takes a dramatic pause. “We take great pride in our city with Whatcom Smart Trips and thinking about how we can promote non-motorized transportation, we are very concerned about global warming, we are easily one of the most pro-environmental cities anywhere. So what is was in our plan?”

“The plan says we will call a bunch of streets ‘bike boulevards’. This is not a bad idea, and putting some paint on the road is cheap, whether to add a bike lane or mark a bike boulevard. But it does not solve a bigger problem: How to get beyond the dedicated core of bikers who are willing to brave auto traffic and reach out to the much larger number of residents who tell us in surveys that they would need physically separate areas for bicycles to give them a sense of security. That is the key to greatly expanding the modal share of bicycling trips. Keep in mind that there are often federal and state matching funds available for such initiatives, which helps us retrieve some of our state and federal tax contributions.”

“Granted, the city’s general fund is stretched as it is, and we must keep it balanced. But on matters as critical to our community as Lake Whatcom, if we need more funds it seems to me we could submit the question to the public in a referendum proposing a dedicated tax surcharge for a fixed number of years.”

What about the issue of landlord licensing? Reding is skeptical if the current proposal is tailored enough to the needs of the community. “Most of the problems have been with management companies where there is a bureaucratic and impersonal process where the whole emphasis is on profit.” He believes there is a need for regulation but he is, “not convinced it is an across the board need. As in many things, one size does not fit all. But I honestly have not researched this issue in detail, and could easily be persuaded otherwise if my impressions are incorrect.”

Rotating through the laundry list of city council issues, I ask about the waterfront redevelopment. Reding points out that the council does not have full jurisdiction, it has to share that with the port.

Reframing the question, I ask what our position as a city should be. “We should put more emphasis on working trades, fishing boats and boat repair. I do think we should insist upon a living wage for anyone involved in the construction there.”

Reding also sees a class undertone to this. “I’m not a big fan of catering to the needs of the upper one percent with fancy beach front condominimums and yacht basins for very fancy yachts.” In contrast, Reding favors community boating. “I favor giving public access to the water rather than restricting it to a privileged few.”

More broadly, he says that politics is, “the art of the possible.” He believes in compromise that does not leave things unrecognizable in the process. If he is appointed, Reding is planning on running for reelection. “If the current council members appoint me to the open seat, I see this as an invitation to join an unusually talented and diverse group committed to the city’s welfare. This is not a short-term commitment. It’s a commitment to become part of a team to achieve common goals, and that means being willing to go the full distance.”

For interviews with other applicants, click here for Dan Hammill and here for Iris Maute-Gibson or stay tuned tomorrow for Michele Magee. If you are Scott Barg or JR Johnson and you are reading this, please click here to send me an email and set up our interview (I’m having trouble finding you).

Posted by: sweeneyblog | December 5, 2014

Interviewing Dan Hammill for City Council

Looking for the Friday Odds and Ends? Don’t worry, they will still happen, they’ve just been delayed till tomorrow. For now, enjoy this interview with City Council applicant Dan Hammill.

Yesterday, I sat down with Dan Hammill, applicant for the City Council vacancy, to discuss his vision for Bellingham and he cut right to the heart of the matter. “I am applying to work on behalf of the things that make Bellingham a great place to live; Healthy families, distinct neighborhoods, local businesses, and access to greenways.” Succinct and direct, a reporter’s dream.

Dan Hammill

Dan Hammill

Peeling back the layers, I find that most of his priorities revolve around tackling growth and environmental protections – two subjects deeply intertwined in his eyes. “How do we grow sensibly? We can look at the UGA boundaries,” That stands for urban growth areas for you non-wonks out there, “we can look at infill and how we can retain our historic neighborhoods.”

Hammill notes that the York neighborhood neighborhood association came up with some “pretty good ideas” for how to protect their neighborhood and accommodate growth. “If we look at these ways to manage growth that respects the unique character of our city.”

These issues of growth are tied to bigger issues involving social services, Hammill explains. “Our aging senior population is part of that growth component. Baby boomers are aging, and Bellingham has been called a great place to retire. The question is, how do we adequately address the needs of seniors when it comes to housing and access to healthcare.”

What experience does Hammill bring to tackle these issues? “I’ve been involved in the community in a number of ways, as the President of the York Neighborhood Association, as program director at the Whatcom Volunteer Center working with engagement with the nonprofit community and the city of Bellingham.”

He highlights his involvement with the Community Development Advisory Board or CDAB for those acronym enthusiasts out there, which he chairs for the city. “The board has been in situations where we are underfunded around social and human services, so I understand working with a budget where there just isn’t enough money.” Currently, Hammill runs a small business that does fundraising events and activities for local non-profits like Brigid Collins and Kulshan CLT.

As we discussed the city budget, Hammill pulls up some charts on his laptop (technology AND charts? Be still my heart!). “On CDAB, we worked with (former council president) Seth Fleetwood to restore city contribution levels to pre-recession levels. We focused on prevention and intervention programs so we were thinking about the long-term solutions. Working with Mayor Linville, we didn’t get everything we wanted but we got a lot of what we wanted. Compromise is going to be part of the equation and that is what I bring.

I asked Hammill what was missing from the current council and he took a thoughtful pause. “What I would want to see is where the council is about being prepared to update the comprehensive plan in 2016. Where are those dialogues and discussions around that.”

What about the Waterfront? “I’m cautiously optimistic about the waterfront subarea plan. Grouping marine trades to the north and mixed use to the south is a good plan. I’m excited to see the possibility of a neighborhood of mixed use of residential, commercial where cars are not part of that plan. I want to see a space where people can walk and ride their bike.”

His view of the development is not entirely rosy. “There are those outstanding questions about environmental remediation – and there are different views and perspectives about that.” And with that deliciously vague statement I move on to Lake Whatcom.

“In terms of advocating for clean water and water issues, I believe what I did, worked on Carl Wemier’s campaign – was the biggest contribution to these issues. Reelecting an environmental hero like Carl has an impact that ranges from Lake Whatcom to shoreline rules.

In terms of our downtown, Hammill cites a need to revitalize maritime heritage park and to utilize the environmental learning center to a greater capacity. Aside from growth issues and planning, Hammill says that housing advocacy is “probably my strongest attribute when it comes to public service.” He talks about his work on the housing campaign in 2012 which was a ballot measure that set aside funds for affordable housing.

Which naturally leads to landlord licensing, the current issue of contention on the council. “My wife and I are landlords, we own a rental property, and I think that tenants deserve fair and safe housing. But I don’t think a complaint-driven system is the best way to handle enforcement around regulation. I’m generally supportive of regulating rental agreements but we need to have the enforcement, the teeth, to make sure it is a system that works.”

More generally, he emphasizes that he has lived here for twenty-five years, most of that time in Ward 3. “My wife, Kelly Bashaw will be the president of the Bellingham School Board next year and we both believe strongly in public service.”

I asked if he does not get the appointment, will Hammill run for the seat next year. Hammill thinks for a moment and says, “If appointed, I will absolutely be running because I think continuity of city council is important.” Beyond that, he is still making up his mind.

For my interview with Iris Maute-Gibson click here, for more information on who has applied click here. To support the work we do here at the Political Junkie, please click here.

Posted by: sweeneyblog | December 2, 2014

City Council, Ward 3 Applicants: The Official List

Yesterday was the deadline for applicants for the vacancy on the Bellingham City Council so we finally have the official list of who is being considered for the position. I’ve added some notes and context to each name.

City Hall

City Hall

Iris Maute-Gibson – Staffer at the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center. If you haven’t already, check out my interview with Iris here.

Dan Hamill – Owner of an events planning company in town and former campaign manager for Carl Weimer. Check out my interview with Dan here.

Scot Barg – Cofounder (with former mayor Dan Pike) of a non-profit kickstarter project aimed at providing “executive education sessions” around big ideas about sustainability and former employee of Parker Remick, a headhunting agency in Fairhaven.

Michelle Magee – a teacher at the Bellingham Cooperative School, also involved in the Coal-Free Bellingham movement. You can find her website here.

Andrew Reding – Current Issues and Resolutions chair for the Whatcom Democrats, policy wonk and friend of the blog. Check out my interview with Andrew here.

Richard Dean (JR) Johnson – Former owner of the Sober Rovers and current treasurer for the Columbia Neighborhood Association.

I’m doing my best to reach out to all these candidates and conduct interviews before the decision is made on Dec. 17th. Arlene Feld had been planning to apply but family commitments have caused her to drop out. If you have more information to contribute about these candidates, feel free to (politely) share it in the comments below.

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