Posted by: sweeneyblog | November 26, 2014

Interviewing Iris Maute-Gibson for City Council

Iris Maute-Gibson, applicant to the City Council seat vacated by Cathy Lehman, started out our interview on the right foot – she brought annotated maps. “The 3rd ward includes nine neighborhoods, more than any other ward in Bellingham.” She notes the ward map on the city website was not drawn to scale so she had to recreate the route, street by street.

A slew of potential council members have applied to the vacant position, and the council will make their decision at the Dec 15th meeting. I am going to try and interview as many potential council-members before then as possible. Yesterday, I sat down with Iris Maute-Gibson.

Iris Maute-Gibson for City Council

Iris Maute-Gibson for City Council

Our mutual love of maps aside, Maute-Gibson is quite serious about making a difference on the city council. “When we engage in the local level government, we have the power to make life a little better for the people in our community. We can support wraparound services, support our nonprofit community, ensure access to affordable healthcare, living wage jobs and keep our environment free from toxins.”

Lofty goals, but Maute-Gibson remains undeterred. “Council can tackle these issues by engaging the community and using a transparent process.”

Why the city council in particular? Maute-Gibson sees it as an opportunity to bring more people, specifically young people, into the process of shaping their community. “As a city council, we have the opportunity to make people feel at home, to provide a quality of life and sense of place for Bellingham . . . and to help people take responsibility for that sense of place.”

She sees the council as missing a key perspective that is needed in our city. “42% of Bellingham is between the ages of 18-35 and there are zero people on the council representing that age group. Moreover, there are several issues that particularly affect people in our age group that are not well-represented.” She rattled off a laundry list including renters disputes, dealing with high-levels of debt and supporting businesses that provide living-wage jobs.

Maute-Gibson hosts "Coffee and Conversation"

Maute-Gibson hosts “Coffee and Conversation”

Addressing her own age, she disputes the notion that her generation does not have the experience for public office. “Coming of age during the largest recession in almost a century – we have already faced some steep challenges, but our generation brings the progressive values of inclusion and a belief that we can change our community for the better.”

More directly, she sees this role on the council as a tool for change. “I’ve devoted my professional and personal career to getting to this place (council) to make a positive difference. This is not a stepping stone, nor a wild-haired idea, this is where I want to be.”

What are her key issues as a candidate? Maute-Gibson elaborates on supporting a “sense of place” for Bellingham but also the need to protect our environment. “I volunteer on the Lake Whatcom Watersheed Board because we need to do more than just protect our drinking water, we need to protect our areas of natural habitat and strengthening the biodiversity in our city.”

As a former board member of the Whatcom chapter of the Washington Conservation Voters, she sees this as a key issue for the future of our city. “We can do this by increasing the incentives for conservation.”

Buttressing this is her belief in supporting businesses that promote the values of our community. “We need more Blue/Green partnerships – more projects that support the triple bottom line of people, planet and profits.”

What does that mean when it comes to the waterfront? Maute-Gibson believes in a need to be very selective about the sort of developers that we involve in this project. “We need to maintain the environmental connectivity along the GP site.” She would work to include the voices of the whole community, especially the Lummi nation which has not played a large part in the discussion so far.

Iris with her partner, Rifka and puppy

Iris with her partner, Rifka and dog, Scooter

Speaking to the waterfront development process so far, Maute-Gibson cites difficulties facing the current council. “When I have spoken with members of the city council, most share a feeling of frustration with the end result not being what they worked for. However we need to still continue to vocalize and fight for our values.” She carries this passion on a broader scale, “You can’t give up on an issue just because we won’t have an opportunity to weigh in!”

Turning to the issue of the day, landlord licensing, Maute-Gibson sees this as an opportunity to “lessen the burden on our overworked and underfunded non-profit community.” Currently, Maute-Gibson works for the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center as their Development and Outreach Coordinator. When landlords and tenants cross swords (figuratively) many of them end up at the Dispute Resolution Center.

“Obviously, we need safe and affordable housing for everyone, and part of making that happen means implementing a strong rental registration program.” She believes this will increase engagement from renters. “When your community shows that it cares about your home and safety, then you are going to act more responsibly towards your property and your city.”

There are benefits to the property owners as well. “Landlords should want to own property in neighborhoods that increase in value and when all the rentals in your neighborhood are maintained and taken care of, that increases your property values.” She notes we need to be a leader on this issue for the state. “Bellingham has almost 10% more renter occupied homes than Washington as a whole. We have a unique demographic and that means we get to be a leader on this issue.”

Part of the reason I decided to interview Maute-Gibson first was she has been the most aggressive in publicly campaigning for the appointment. Traditionally, an appointment involves intense closed-door discussions – the traditional smoky backrooms of political legend (or four years go, for the County Council). Maute-Gibson has run a very public campaign for this office, holding weekly “Coffee and Conversation” meetings with the public about the affairs of the day and launching a website and facebook presence.

Maute-Gibson doesn’t blame the council for the process. “Councilmembers have done everything possible on a personal level to get the word out about this position. I am disappointed that the local media hasn’t contributed to that effort. I’m hopeful that by being as transparent as possible about my interest in the position, it would encourage other applicants to be out there too.”

Well, consider this local media outlet having kicked off the effort. As I mentioned, I am trying to schedule more interviews in the weeks to come and will be attending the Dec. 15th council meeting.



  1. Riley,
    My understanding is that the plan is that Cathy will be at the Dec. 15th meeting to vote on the budget and then, if that happens she will resign. At that point the council will call a special meeting for the 17th to appoint Cathy’s replacement so that person can get orientated before the January council reorganization meeting. That was the plan the last I heard, you might want to confirm that with the council office. Also, I think Arlene Feld announced as soon as the opening was brought up so I do think she deserves a full interview also. Nice job with Iris; she’s good people.

    • I have already scheduled an interview with Arlene for next week.

      I think you are right about the process, I’ll confirm that.

  2. How do we find out who else applied?


  3. She has all the Liberal Creds. I don’t expect any NON-Liberal/Progressive candidates will apply. 🙂

    • She also has a lot of government accountability and inclusion creds… Things I, as a Libertarian, would love to see on council! Besides, Wayne, how could the Bham Council get any more liberal policy wise? There’s nothing to lose with Iris, only gains in restraining back-door tendencies of other council members. Glad Lilliquist is there and will be even more pleased when Iris is.

  4. Great coverage. Make sure to interview Michelle Magee as well.

    And, Wayne, why do you think no non-progressive will apply? Surely, you don’t believe the current Council is progressive??

    • Bob,

      I think if I were to invite all the true “progressives” in Bellingham to have lunch, it would be a reservation for a very small table. We have no “progressive” city or county council. Certainly, the Dems are not “progressive” as a group in this area. Our so-called “progressive” talk radio in town, KBAI, is anything but that and it is getting worse as the years pass. I hear very little talk that I would describe as “progressive” from any candidate for any position recently with the exception of you.

      With the exception of Iris with whom I have had an exchange of emails, I have not heard a single word from any current candidate for filling Cathy’s position. I do not even know how many or who has “applied”. Nothing posted on the city website. Are the names classified data? If Riley were not posting on this would we have any information whatsoever? Sheesh!

      No doubt the anointment process is taking place in some back room among the city’s Illuminati and Glitterati who will eventually appear after the white smoke on the steps of city hall to say, “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum…” And so it goes, tiddly pom.

    • Working on setting up an interview with Michelle.

      • Who applied? Where do I find out?

  5. “I think if I were to invite all the true “progressives” in Bellingham to have lunch, it would be a reservation for a very small table.”

    Spot on!

  6. On September 9, you mentioned Roxanne Murphy as a possible applicant. What about her?
    Where did you find who the applicants were?

    • Any betting person would have noted right off that Roxanne was not in the running for a variety of reasons. My deep throat sources say that the candidates are Arlene Feld, Michelle Magee, Dan Hammil and the above-cited Iris. Then again, with this opaque process, who knows what dark horse (nag – bobtailed or otherwise) in the barn is now being groomed to the nth degree by its handlers.

    • It was rumored that Roxanne Murphy would take the open 3rd ward seat but she has declined to do so. I found out who was interested by calling around and asking people.

      • We should not have to find out who candidates are for city council seats by calling around to ask. Applications are public documents and should be posted immediately. This is just gratuitously inattentive and dismissive of the needs and the rights of the citizens. I am not sure if this was the intent of the council in approving the resolution but it is surely now a consequence.

      • I agree that it should be more publicly available. Any time people have to reply on my reporting (volunteer and informal) for basic info, it means the system has some serious gaps.

  7. Below is the appointment/anointment process as outlined in the 22 Sep 2104 resolution passed by the city council. A couple of interesting things to note. There is no provision for the public in this “process” (hearing/public comment before the council). The Herald is anointed as the vehicle to announce (urbi et orbi) the “process” for we all know there are no other news outlets in this city. There is no provision to make the candidates’ names public before the 17 Dec special meeting of the council when the individuals get a couple of minutes to present themselves. [Note: Proponent developers for rezones get more time than that.] The council will then meet in “executive session” to discuss the candidates but for what reason is this exchange a secret?

    From the resolution:

    THAT the selection and appointment of an interim Council Member shall follow the process set forth herein:
    1. The application period shall open immediately upon passage of this resolution, and an announcement inviting applications will be printed in the Bellingham Herald as soon as possible to notify the public of this process and the application period.
    2. The application period shall close on December 1, 2014, at 5:00 PM.
    3. On December 17, 2014, a special meeting will be held during which each candidate will be allotted three to five minutes in open session to present his or her qualifications. The actual time allotted and the order of presentations will be determined by the presiding City Council Member, subject to his or her discretion.
    4. The Council will adjourn to executive session in order to evaluate the qualifications of the candidates.
    5. Following the executive session, the Council will vote to appoint the interim Council Member. Any Council Member may nominate a candidate and nominations do not require a second.
    6. As soon as one candidate receives an affirmative majority vote, the presiding member will declare him or her to be appointed to the vacancy, and there will be no vote taken on the remaining candidates.
    7. If, after 30 days following the effective date of the vacancy, the City Council cannot agree on an appointee, the Mayor shall select from those candidates nominated by members of the City Council.

    • Council, it appears, has partially amended its resolution on the process of voting for a replacement for council member Cathy Lehman. Here is the language from the council meeting action summary posted on the COB site:

      “Council President Pro Tem Bornemann reported that, during committee, the Council approved an addendum to Resolution #2014‐30 establishing the appointment process to fill the vacancy due to the anticipated resignation of Third Ward City Council Member Cathy Lehman:

      The presiding member will open the floor to nominations. Nominations will be recorded in the order made. The nominations will be closed by motion and vote.
      After the close of nominations, a vote will be taken on each of the
      nominees, in the order of nomination. Council members may vote for
      only one nominee per round of voting.
      As soon as any nominee receives four affirmative votes, voting will cease and that nominee will be appointed to the vacancy.
      If no nominee receives four votes, then the Council will adjourn to Executive Session to further discuss the qualifications of the candidates before voting again in open session.”

      It now appears that an executive session will take place only if no candidate receives 4 votes in the initial voting round.

  8. […] Iris Maute-Gibson – If you haven’t already, check out my interview with Iris here. […]

  9. […] 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 […]

  10. […] 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 […]

  11. […] 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 […]

  12. […] 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 […]

  13. […] 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 […]

  14. […] would be a bit bolder – grabbing someone who could represent the evolving face of Bellingham (Iris), the often-neglected activist core (Michelle) or push for bolder, progressive policy changes […]

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