Despite Councilmember Steve Bernheim’s claims that former Edmonds Mayor Gary Haakenson ”bullied and intimidated” Edmonds City Councilmembers, didn’t answer Councilmembers’ questions about city finances and wasn’t transparent about cost overruns at Haines Wharf Park, the Council at its Tuesday night meeting chose not to take any action against the former mayor.
In fact, with the exception of Bernheim, the council had a neutral or even conciliatory tone toward the whole incident. Councilmember Diane Buckshnis — who often butted heads with Haakenson during the short time the two worked together — stated that the council also bore some responsibility for not providing more oversight. “I think we should just move forward,” she said.
“We had a mayor that treated a city like it was a business and the city is not a business, it’s a municipality,” she said, adding that as city councilmembers, “the buck stops here and the buck didn’t stop here. We’re all at fault. ”
In his report, Bernheim cited “the failure of the mayor and other directors to advise the council that he had entered into nine change orders for a total of more than $675,000 on the Haines Wharf Project.” Since the situation came to light, the council has adopted a policy governing the processing of change orders on city contracts.
Bernheim’s report was aimed at helping the council determine if it should ask for a formal investigation into whether Haakenson violated city policy when he approved the change orders. Mayor Mike Cooper suggested an alternative: having the State Auditor’s Office review the entire Haines Wharf Park construction project and offer their feedback on how the process was conducted — a move that wouldn’t cost the city anything. While some on the council agreed that might be a good approach, there appeared to be no motivation to proceed, and the council moved on to other business.
Later, during the Mayor’s comment period, Cooper revealed that the construction company for the Haines Wharf Park project — Precision Earthworks — has filed a claim against the city for $951,000. After the meeting, City Council President Strom Peterson said that until that claim is settled, there is no way the State Auditor will review the Haines Wharf project anyway, so any possible future actions are on hold indefinitely.
Also during the meeting, the council:
– Received a report from city staff on how Edmonds Community Development Code changes have allowed for the creation and display of outdoor wall murals within the City of Edmonds. The Council also heard from citizens expressing both support and concerns about the 11 murals that have been painted on downtown buildings so far. Two of those speaking noted that the city has no oversight over the selection of murals that are painted (the program is run by the nonprofit Edmonds Mural Society), and expressed worries about deterioration of the murals over time. Speaking for the mural society, Jeff Stilwell said that a special long-lasting paint is used to prevent deterioration for many years, and also noted that mural society members inspect the murals for degradation on a regular basis. When asked by Buckshnis whether there was a plan to eventually paint more murals in other areas outside the downtown core, Stilwell said the limiting factor for the murals regardless of locale is finding building owners amenable to leasing wall space, as many fear it will reduce their property values.
– Held a 90-minute work session on the 2012 budget. Interim Finance Director Jim Tarte started by reviewing the 2011 budget and noted that so far, the city is on track to have a $600,000 surplus by the end of 2011. He was quick to point out, however, that the surplus can be attributed to belt-tightening during 2011 — including not funding some city programs — which is not sustainable for the long term.
– Received an update on the city’s Strategic Planning process from Community Services and Economic Development Director Stephen Clifton. Given the possibility of significant changes in the city in the next few weeks, including a possible change in mayor and councilmembers during the Nov. 8 election, Clifton told the council it’s likely that the timeline for completing the plan will be extended.
At the end of the meeting, Cooper congratulated City staff for their tireless efforts to ensure that Dick’s Drive-In could open in a timely manner. It was just a year ago that Dick’s announced it would be locating in a new restaurant on Highway 99 near 220th Street Southwest in Edmonds, and the restaurant will open this Thursday, six weeks ahead of schedule.