Letter--Change Burien's form of government
How did the corruption in the Bell, California government happen? How did the North Highline Fire Station financial problems happen a few years ago?
Both of these were forms of governing that did not allow sufficient citizen involvement and didn’t have a system of checks and balances.
Control is taken from citizens by constantly rewriting ordinances until citizens virtually lose their voice over how things are handled.
Recently, the Burien city staff, at the direction of Mike Martin, has rewritten how often citizens could request a change to the Burien Comprehensive Plan.
In most Washington state cities, citizens can apply for a change once a year. However, the Burien Department of Growth and Development felt they were overworked so they changed the ordinance. Now citizens are allowed to put in for a change and be put on the docket once every four years.
Also, if Mike Martin feels that it would cost too much to consider a citizen request to be put on the docket, he can ask the council to turn down a citizen request indefinitely.
How much cost is too much? No one seems to know. This is another example of the city manager usurping power that should reside with our elected representatives. Essentially this takes the right of citizens to have a say in land use in the city and gives total control to the city manager with a rubber stamp majority on the city council unwilling to overrule him. There is no buck stops here on issues like this as there would be if we had a mayoral style of government.
Other ways that the council/manager form of government takes away power from citizens is to refuse to answer questions or give out accurate information, not hold regular budget reviews, allow contracts to be written without before-hand public knowledge of the contracts and who is being awarded them, have staff salary increases for individuals only in the hands of the city manager, rewrite by-laws for citizens advisory groups to curtail their oversight ability, arrange small ad-hoc committees that are closed to public oversight, etc. We have seen more and more of this happening in the city of Burien.
Our City Council and advisory committees appear to not be meeting as much as they used to. And when they do meet they are not making the important decisions to move our city along.
The city manager can’t be voted out of office. In practice our unelected city manager ends up having all of the power in the city over the 48,000 residents. The city manager is the unelected chief executive and if the council decides to not exercise their duty of oversight, which the majority on this council has done repeatedly, then the city manager ends up with all the power. I think this is a big problem with the manager/council form of government that Burien currently has.
Burien’s form of government can be changed in two ways; the council can vote to put the form of government up to a vote of the people, or citizens can write a petition to put the form of government of the city to a vote of the people.
As the current majority on the council is content to let the city manager be the de-facto mayor of Burien, our only alternative is to submit a petition, which 10 percent of the voters in the last general election must sign and submit to the state.
I think it extremely likely that the petition would be successful as 74 percent of the citizens who took part in an informal survey voted for a change in the form of Burien’s government.
I think the residents should have the right to decide what type of government they want to have and being stonewalled by the current majority on the city council is just flat out unacceptable.
It is now up to us to organize and get this petition signed and submitted so we can vote on it and see if the support is there to change to an elected mayor style of city government, like the vast majority of other cities in the state that.