"Get off his back"
Last week, Mayor Tim Leavitt sent an email to the city council, letting them know he’s started an advisory group on next year’s C-Tran vote on a light rail and bus rapid transit sales tax increase.
The group will meet several times before and after the Dec. 9 C-Tran retreat, where this tax is sure to come up.
“The group is not intended to be a political action or campaign committee,” he wrote, but among the goals would be to “raise (the group’s) level of understanding of what the (light rail operations and maintenance) costs are, and what alternatives there may be to funding LRT O&M.”
Here’s where the real fun begins:
Councilor Jeanne Stewart, who is against light rail, answered, saying that she was concerned about what she felt was a lack of public notice and process for this group.
“But I am just as concerned by the developing trend among Vancouver City Council members to reach consensus for action outside of the public view,” she wrote last week. “Reaffirming the predetermined consensus during a meeting when all the discussion has already taken place off line, is not a substitute for proper action.”
Councilor Jack Burkman promptly responded, saying he took offense at Stewart’s accusation that the council was making decisions behind closed doors.
“If you believe this to be true then I invite you to put this on the Council’s agenda and present your proof for Council discussion,” he emailed her.
Councilor Larry Smith’s response was even more irate: “I attended the Mayor’s meeting yesterday. I found it productive. I am pleased to see him outreach; the meeting was open to the public. Let’s get off his back and let him do his job. Thx”
Stewart countered: “I am on the ‘side’ of openness and disclosure. Plain and simple. This is not the ‘Council’s business.’ This is the ‘citizens’ business’ as well. Please do not try to make this personal or political. This is strictly business.”
Finally, Leavitt gave his answers, saying it was a simple courtesy that he told the city council about his group.
“The only difference between this conversation and the many others I have is that I invited the Council to sit in and listen,” the mayor said. “In other words, I invited you to my meetings on this subject. And, as I explained on Monday, I invite the public to attend and listen in on these meetings.
“I am hopeful that you’ll seriously consider a retraction and/or apologize to the City Council and the citizens that are participating in this conversation for the unwarranted and accusatory statements in the last two paragraphs of your email….at least as those statements pertain to this matter.”
Councilor Pat Campbell then sent Stewart an email asking if Stewart also objected to a meeting that she invited him to early in his council career at a private home.
Stewart answered she wasn’t a primary person putting it together, and anyhow, “It was not focused on any specific sensitive issue such as future funding for maintenance and operations of light rail.”
“If Mayor Leavitt is looking for a funding direction, it should first be a discussion with Council, on the record,” she continued. “Part of that discussion should be whether there is an urgency for these discussions, or if other methods exist or will be implemented for funding of light rail maintenance and operations other than putting this measure on the ballot in 2012 as was promised.”
And so goes our latest quarrel on the council.
PS: I was wondering if having a majority of the council chime in on this matter via email violates the open meetings act. City Attorney Ted Gathe said no.
It comes down to the fact that the group will not be the subject of a vote before the council, he said.
“And there was the side issue of personal, I wouldn’t say insults, but personal conversations between council members on perceived issues,” Gathe said in a voicemail.
I’m not sold, because the council will deliberate on light rail and presumably instruct councilors on the C-Tran board on how to vote there. But, that will probably be in a workshop and not be the matter of a formal vote.
Jury’s out. You decide.