Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Greenways: Passion- Like A Moth To A Flame

Yesterday's visitation to City Hall after almost 4 years of absence [abstinence?] left me thinking why I had bothered to show up at all.
I had taken tons of notes directly from the City Council proceedings in the afternoon and evening sessions, so as to inform myself on the details and status of the Chuckanut Ridge property acquisition, and was mulling this information around in my head trying to figure out what to do with it.
After all, I had elected to drive home early from a very pleasant vacation just to attend these meetings, leaving my wife behind to follow later.

It finally hit me last night about 3:30 AM when I awoke from a deep sleep.
It was my passion for the subject of our Greenways program which is a treasure to be nurtured, protected and sustained for the future -and present- enjoyment of all Bellinghamsters.

And, it was also about becoming well & truly bitten by local politics - a leftover from my 9 years as an elected City Council member.
For folks who have tried it, you know what I mean; once it gets in your blood, you can never really shake it.

Anyway, that's what's happened to me, and the proposed actions regarding Greenways woke me up to it anew.
I guess you might say I have a passion for politics, most particularly in due process, public process, honesty, fiscal responsibility and the overall good stewardship expected by the public - whether they trust government or not!

Think that isn't passion? Think again!

So, rather than fight my inability to go back to sleep after 2 hours, I decided to just get up and try to commit a few general thoughts to words. That's what I'm doing now, at 6 AM.

The Buddhists list three 'poisons' as the prime causes of suffering in all beings; passion, greed and ignorance,with ignorance the worst of the lot.
Of course, none of these is inherently bad, but an EXCESS of any one of them can be, and is from my experience.
The Buddhists therefore teach balance and moderation in all things as the antidote for suffering.
But, where's the passion in that?
That's the point; being serious about limiting suffering and actually doing something about it, is their passion!

Some examples of excessive passion are well known to us all; unwanted offspring, wars, injuries, financial deficits, criminal activity of all types, singed wings on moths, and on and on.
But, you do already know what I'm talking about from your own experience in this world, don't you?

So, when I hear people justify something -anything- on the basis of passion -either positive or negative- I have to stop and consider where this is coming from, but more importantly, where it is leading.
That pretty much sums up my concerns with the $8.23 million -plus acquisition of the Chuckanut Ridge property, too.

A vocal advocate of this purchase is Joe Yaver, a member of the organization that likes to be known as 'Responsible Development', and a nice guy, asked me in the hallway 'what my problem was' with this purchase happening just the way he wanted it.
That helped me see a big part of the problem; this is not a simple decision without 'unintended consequences; it does not have sufficient funding; its too big a bite to qualify as a need; public process -both past & present- has been intense and needs to be honored; it greatly impacts some other really desirable acquisitions in other areas of the City & its surroundings; etc.
You can see why a short, sound byte answer can't possibly do justice to such a question; but Joe's expectation, regardless of reality, obviously wasn't satisfied.

That's also a general problem, not just Joe's; citizens expectations need to be reasonably aligned with reality!

Among the audience, supporters of this purchase greatly outnumbered skeptics & opponents, lending an aura of public expectation that is sometimes irresistible to elected officials.
Seems passion is contagious, maybe even viral under such conditions.

The evening discussions were far more revealing than the afternoon meeting was, as to individual Council Members feelings and views.
The earlier meeting was muted, vague and mostly devoid of passion, under the almost directorial control of the Finance Committee Chair, Michael Lilliquist - a first term member, serious about his job.
A few concepts were mumbled, some passively agreed upon and the proposed ordinance amended, kinda, sorta.

Lilliquist decided to divide the discussions between agreeing to the purchase and then figuring out how to pay for it.
Seemed reasonable, except how do you really do that?
One part is inherently inseparable to the other!
No public comments were allowed in the interest of 'time'; yet this committee went 10 whole minutes past its scheduled plan! Big deal? You decide.

The evening session brought out more passion - MUCH more, in part, thanks to the audience and the opportunity to grandstand to those seated, as well as any who might stay awake to watch the film at 11.
Guess who were the most passionate grandstanders?
You guessed it; the two longest serving members -neither with an opponent this year- Gene Knutson & Terry Bornemann.

Gene passionately assured whoever was listening that this was a good thing to do; that he has faith the City will find a way to pay for it, because it always has; that citizens will step up again; that his fuzzy math really works; [fill in the bloviation of your choice here].
But, we've all heard Gene do this passion thing before....

Terry, of the waving arms, tried to outdo Gene with his brand of passion; quite a duel in a sense, except they were both on the same side!
Bornemann went a step further with his own brand of fuzzy history and tried to reconstruct for the current audience what had transpired 5 or 6 years ago.
Revisionist history can work as long as one tailors it to what the audience of the moment wants, but I was truly amazed at Terry's recollections, since it differed quite dramatically from my own - and I was there at the time!

But, no matter; our Supreme Court has decreed that political statements don't have to be truthful or accurate; that's for sissies and little goody two-shoes!
The Council discussions leading up to passage of the Greenways 3 levy in 2006 are a matter of record, if folks want to bother doing the research; but who wants to do that?

Suffice to say that both Terry & Gene again said what they said back then, too; when the levy almost didn't get on the ballot because of their complicity with partisan interests, who now loudly applaud this very purchase!
How's that for irony?
Following a predetermined path to a foregone conclusion.

Do you get the picture now of where my passion lies?
I certainly hope so, because I've lost enough sleep over trying explain it.

Fortunately and for the sake of some sort of balance, two Council Members, Jack Weiss & Stan Snapp voiced sufficient concerns to vote against the proposed slam-dunk acquisition ordinance.
This is largely symbolic at the moment, but important to what transpires next; how to pay for the obligation the City is on the verge of taking on.
That, my friends, is a very serious question which I have little confidence will be answered to my satisfaction.
After all, what couldn't be done before making a commitment, won't likely be done afterwards.

But, we'll see.
There are some ideas that can help us meet somewhere in the middle and not obligate future Councils, Administrations and citizens to clean up after any current, unwise decisions.
Don't you hate it when somebody leaves you a mess to clean up?
Whoops, sorry, another passions is being strongly expressed!

Well. as long as I'm on a roll, and not yet ready for a nap, let's add a little more to this ramble, shall we?
OK, I know you've got better things to do than read this stuff, but I don't.

A disappointment for me last night was Seth Fleetwood's measured, less passionate, response, which didn't add much of substance, despite his unique role in previous Greenways levies and experience with both the Greenways Advisory Committee and Parks & Recreation Board, both volunteer organizations that have greatly assisted the City without much notice, or thanks for that matter.

These good Greenways & Parks folks are probably feeling a little discouraged right now, since their recommendations have been deliberately ignored, at the Council's discretion of course.
Hey, you know, you guys are only advisory and Councils can do that if they want to!

But, smart Councils are careful about such things, but this purchase -$8,23 million -the largest in Greenways history- is so special and heated that this Council just flat trumped all that advisory rigmarole!
Take that volunteers!
Good luck on finding volunteers in the future, especially ones that have some history, knowledge and dedication to fairness.
It's now likely gonna be positively feudal out there, to our sad detriment!

Seth could have provided a teaching [learning?] moment for the two newest Council Members, Barry Buchanan and Michael Lilliquist, both relative beginners at this stuff, but to me, he clearly missed the opportunity.

Barry seems content to just go along with popular currents without paddling very hard, except when he wants to.
Unfortunately for him, these currents seem likely to make him a one-termer in office.
He's not a bad guy, but did have the lapse in judgement of allowing the Greenways Strategic Plan to remain unadopted repeatedly, until now.
That turned out to be pretty convenient for those favoring Chuckanut Ridge as the first priority -above all others!
But, that's not a very good legacy for poor Barry I'm afraid.

Michael, on the other hand, has obviously worked hard at learning his job and is getting pretty good at it.
Problem is, Michael is so smart he thinks he's got everything figured out, including street credibility.
That can become a problem for him, and for us.
I suspect he won't let that happen, but this Greenways matter could become the beginning of his undoing if he's not careful.

I'll be looking closely at what transpires in Lilliquist's Finance Committee, for example, and particularly at what options are generated that can either raise additional funding for the CR purchase, or bring down the amount of property that is kept to lower the cost to the City.
Ideally, some combination of both will happen to harmonize assets vs liabilities.
I hope Michael's intent will go well beyond taking us to an overtime period or out of time, before the commitment Ordinance is due for its 3rd and final reading.
That will become obvious in 2 weeks; excruciating, but mercifully short!

So, possibilities still remain for the City Council to come up with a plan that gets a substantial part of Chuckanut Ridge purchased, AND paid for before any of the current members term of office comes to an end.
That should be the objective here; do not create an unnecessary mess for future Councils [or Mayor] to deal with!
Honestly. doesn't that sound reasonable?
Like Larry the Cable Guy says; 'get 'er done'!

OK, enough passion for one day.
Cheery bye for now....