This letter was cut/pasted from the Kirkland Strong Facebook page. Bob Sternoff, Kirkland resident and former Kirkland City Council member, let me know that the petition just went live yesterday and there will be a "signing kickoff" at Heritage Hall this Saturday 4/16 from 12-2.
My fellow Kirkland Residents,
Direct accountability by somebody at City Hall is needed. The City Manager is not accountable and serves at the pleasure of 4 City Council Members, The Mayor is selected by 6 other Council Members. There are no checks and balances under the current system and we have seen the results.
It is nearly impossible for anyone living in Kirkland to not be aware of the serious issues that we face. Last week's Council meeting brought back memories from years ago. What didn’t work then doesn’t work now. Things don’t ever change if you don’t want them to. Case in point were comments from Council members regarding Kirkland’s relationship (or lack there of) with Sound Transit. The overwhelming solution mentioned was “change the Sound Transit governance”. Memo to Council and Staff: that isn’t going to happen however you should first look at your own governance structure! That is unlikely to happen without the insistence and assistance of Kirkland residents.
Since 1964 when Kirkland’s population was 6500 we have been living under a Council-Manager or “weak mayor” system of government. At the time it made sense to hire a City Manager to deal with a growing City staff and have someone who could devote full time to the job. Today most residents are surprised to learn that the Mayor does not run Kirkland day to day business. Residents do elect seven City Council members but the City Council meets and elects one of their own as Mayor and one as Deputy Mayor. The Mayor assists the City Manager with the Council meeting agenda, presides over City Council meetings and performs other ceremonial duties. But all City Council members including the Mayor have equal votes on all matters brought before them. There must also be a majority vote to have any Council Member including the Mayor represent any Kirkland position on issues. This is very limiting and at times works to the detriment of Kirkland on numerous matters but it is the system we have.
The City Manager is a person selected by majority vote of the seven City Council Members. The reality is the City manager may only have the support of four of those Council members to get hired and later to retain their job. All City departments report directly to the City Manager. He and his staff make decisions that effect all residents. This includes employees to hire, fire, reprimand and evaluate. The City Manager also sets internal policies and provides staff recommendations that influence City Council deliberations and positions on issues. The City Manager’s evaluation is done by the City Council during Executive Session behind closed doors without resident input. To recap: City Council is elected by residents and City Manager is only directly accountable to at most seven City Council members. For anyone to say that residents have a clearly meaningful and effective voice in those or any other decisions of Kirkland not requiring a City wide vote is not true.
It is not hard to understand why residents have been frustrated and angered by what comes out of City Hall. The City Council has seen numerous protests groups wearing different colored shirts emerge. These groups are our neighbors and friends who are passionate about issues that affect their neighborhoods and in many cases all of Kirkland. They have taken time to attended Council meetings only to walk away after their three minutes in front of the City Council with the feeling they weren’t heard and their comments not appreciated. On many issues the City Council appears to have already made up their minds before hearing the comments. The residents are left with the impression that the City Council and City Staff know what is best for us and their actions demonstrate just that. In the end the residents feel there is nothing they can do and nobody they can talk to who is accountable. Worse than that the belief is there is no way to change the system to be more representative and accountable.
What is clear that if we Kirkland residents truly want a change we have few options. The most obvious is that we can elect a different City Council. We have seen that it is hard to get qualified people to run especially against long time entrenched incumbents. In the past when we have seen new people get elected to the City Council not much changes. All the promises made during election time don’t happen. Even good ideas have to go though the grinder of seven Council members and an unelected staff. That is an interesting contrast to the high speed world we live in.
For anything to change you have to recognize the need to change. I noted above The City recognized ineffective Council and City Manager relationship with Sound Transit. They have at best been ineffective in that relationship. Having a Sound Transit Board Member is vitally important. Relying on other Cities to present and gather support for our needs is not in Kirkland’s best interests especially when our interests collide with those whose support we seek. Not having a directly elected Mayor who speaks for Kirkland’s 83,000 severely limits our opportunity to be represented on Sound Transit and other important Regional boards. I commend the Mayor for her efforts within her limited authority of one of seven Council Members. I also appreciate the efforts of the other Council Members but even collectively as we have seen that is not enough. And a City Manager doesn’t carry the same weight locally or regionally as an elected Mayor since they do not directly represent the residents.
The solution is to have an elected Mayor who is accountable to more than seven people, as is done in Redmond, Issaquah and other cities smaller and larger than Kirkland. Kirkland has a population of 83,000. Only two of the seven King County cities with populations over 65,000 do not elect their Mayor.
So how do we get from here to there? Petition the City Council to change the current City of Kirkland form of governance from Council-Manager to Mayor-Council as allowed by RCW Section 35A.02.060.http://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?Cite=35A.02.060 .
What is required to move this forward are verified resident voter signatures totaling at least 10% of the 20,097 Kirkland votes cast at the November 3, 2015 election. That is a minimum 2100 registered and verified Kirkland resident voter signatures to force the Kirkland City Council to put the question to the voters on the November, 2016 ballot. For those who have wanted direct accountability here is your chance to make that happen.
If enough verified signatures are gathered to hold an election to change from the Council- Manager to Mayor-Council form of governance, assuming certification of a majority vote on the change of governance, an election for Mayor would take place 90 days after that.
The following replicates Redmond, Issaquah and most other Mayor-Council governance models and highlights what to expect :
City Council stays at seven members with one member selected as President, the strong mayor position will be non-partisan and directly elected by residents to a four year term.
The Mayor will be responsible for managing day to day operations utilizing City Administrator, proposing City Budget that requires City Council approval.
Mayor has veto power that can be overturned with minimum five of seven Council members votes.
Mayor would cause no increase in salary or benefit cost
Mayor will be directly accountable to all Kirkland residents
Mayor will represent Kirkland interests Regionally with one voice
Mayor salary and benefits will replace current City Manager’s
There is a one time special election cost that needs to be determined
You should sign the petition because neither the Kirkland City Council nor the City Manager is going to suggest or facilitate a change. It is up to me and you if we want change.
For those of you who voiced opposition to the Potala Project, Plastic Grocery Bags, I405 Tolling, Cross Kirkland Corridor/Sound Transit or voted NO on Prop 1 Build the ARC this is your chance to let your voice and needs be heard loud and clear. This Petition will and is intended to promote discussion vital to Kirkland’s future.
Finally, this is not a partisan issue. I assure you that there are Democrats Republicans and Libertarians who support this effort. This is a grassroots effort currently financed by the undersigned that will not solicit nor accept any funds from any political organization. This is about how to get the accountability we deserve that will benefit all of Kirkland. Its time for Kirkland to unite and to move forward as other cities in King County did many years ago.
Do your part and sign the Petition in making Kirkland Strong again. Visit our Facebook Page Kirkland Strong or contact me at: KirklandStrong@gmail.com for more information and locations you can find Petitions.
Ps: Will somebody at Kirkland City Hall please fix the KGOV channel. “Don’t forget to bring your bags” loop played back to back followed by 2 minutes of weather forecast 24/7 instead of notice of meetings and other valuable information is not useful!