LETTER: John Rankin shares thoughts on his recent city council recall efforts


[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Normandy Park Blog nor its staff:]

Editor;

I have had some Normandy Park residents ask me about the recent recall filed against Doug Osterman and Shawn McEvoy of the Normandy Park City Council. I don’t do much in blogs or press, but in an effort to save time explaining the ugly details, it seems reasonable in this instance.

Recall elections are mechanisms for removing elected officials from office who have violated the trust of those who elected them in some egregious way. Because there is always the possibility of politics creeping into such mechanisms, the evidentiary and procedural bar is set very high, with all of the ‘benefits of doubt’ falling to the elected officials. Which is probably as it should be, but the reality is that not only is the proverbial ‘smoking gun’ not sufficient, a video clip of the shooter actually taking the shot would also be insufficient if you couldn’t provide written evidence of the shooter’s intent and reasons for pulling the trigger. As I said, a very high bar, and very few recall petitions are successful because of it.

Here is what this recall effort is about.

Doug Osterman works for King County as the Watershed Resource Area 9 (WRIA9) Manager. Watershed 9 covers all rivers, lakes, streams and saltwater shoreline south of Ballard, including Vashon Island, and yes, all of Normandy Park, the city in which he has been a councilmember for the last eight years.

Every piece of regulation or legislation having to do with water resources or shorelines passed by the Normandy Park city council eventually comes under Doug’s purview at King County as the WRIA9 manager, but you wouldn’t know that if you attended council meetings, because he rarely discloses it. After several years on the Planning Commission and nearly eight years on the council, that’s a lot of legislation and regulations that Doug has a hand in. Why, there’s even a Shoreline Master Plan Update that the city is working on right now. It’s a valid question as to whether Doug should even be involved with it, but you would have to know about his day job to ask that question. You might even check recordings of prior meetings to see if he’s been disclosing his position with King County before discussing or voting on that legislation.

For the last five years or so, Doug, in his day job with King County, has been participating in a plan to tear out the bulkheads protecting a multi-million dollar house in Normandy Park, and let it collapse into Puget Sound. Really. That’s the plan. But you wouldn’t know that if you attended city council meetings, because he chooses to not often disclose that either. I didn’t even know about it until May of 2011 when Doug approached me privately about voting to spend a few million of Normandy Park’s taxpayer dollars to take the house from the owners. Of course, this was not something I was interested in doing – I have always tried to guard the property and taxes of our residents, shall we say, zealously.

Well, not long after that, the owners of that house objected to the plan Doug was involved in and sued Normandy Park. After a lot of wrangling (and a lot of legal fees), the city finally settled with the homeowners and agreed that the bulkheads were the property of the homeowners. Doug and Shawn were very much opposed to the settlement, even saying some things that I can’t say here.

Everyone thought that was old business, until December of 2014 when the lawyer for the homeowners showed up at a council meeting with a letter from “The City of Normandy Park”, encouraging State and Federal agencies wanting to tear out his clients’ bulkheads to “advance through the Army Corps of Engineers process towards…implementation assistance”. He said he accidentally discovered it while working for another client, and forcefully spoke to the effect that it was “inconsistent with our prior agreements!”

As it turned out, Doug and Shawn and Stacia Jenkins (a new councilmember) signed and had that letter sent. The letter supported, in great detail, all of the program’s goals. Tragically, however, it neglected to mention the settlement terms to which Doug and Shawn were so vehemently opposed, namely, that all of the bulkheads designated for removal by the program were protected under the city’s prior litigation settlement. And, something else. They ‘forgot’ to mention to any of the other councilmembers (the majority of the council) that they’d had that letter sent. It looked to me like they were trying to get some big, bad Federal agency with a lot of power and dough to do what they couldn’t, but that’s nothing more that an educated guess on my part. The point is, council rules prohibit this kind of thing. And it’s risky, from a liability standpoint.

For the record, councilmembers don’t send letters, or speak for the city. Ever. On the council, only the mayor does that. If councilmembers do want to send a letter, it is put on the agenda for everyone to discuss and then act upon with an up-or-down vote. Even the city attorney, who was no friend of mine in this action, said in his declaration, “I do not know why the letter…was not routed to the entire City Council for review and approval”.

So, after a lot more wrangling (and a lot more legal fees), the council got to do what it wasn’t allowed to do the first time: they discussed, voted on and sent out a letter stating the real city policy, signed by the mayor. And that letter is very different from the one sent out by Doug, Shawn and Stacia. Here’s the letter Doug, Shawn and Stacia had sent (when no one was looking; download PDF here):

City-of-Normandy-Park-Letter-of-October-7,-2014

…and here’s the letter the council and mayor had sent (when everyone was looking; download PDF here):

City-of-Normandy-Park-Letter-of-January7,-2015

Is there any difference? You be the judge.

We have a very young and inexperienced council in Normandy Park – five of the seven councilmembers are in their first term, and there is a lot to learn. The city staff has also seen a lot of turnover, such that there is not much continuity or institutional memory anywhere in the city. Except, of course, for Doug and Shawn, who each have over a dozen years experience in city government. They know how the government is supposed to work, but possibly because they’ve been on the wrong side of a lot of 4-3 votes lately, they appear to have chosen a different, somewhat less appropriate path. One that could conceivably cost the city a lot of money in litigation losses. And that is what this recall effort is about.

In the end, the recall effort was not allowed to proceed because, even though we had the ‘smoking gun’, and the proof of who fired the gun, the ‘shooters’ thoughtlessly didn’t give us a written statement of their reasons and intent. But that’s ok. If the recall had gone forward, the timing was such that we would have had less than two months to collect signatures of 35% of the voters. As you can see if you’ve gotten this far, it’s a difficult issue to explain in twenty five words or less, which would make gathering those signatures a Herculean task.

There is an election coming up this fall, and Doug Osterman, Shawn McEvoy and Stacia Jenkins are all on the ballot. There is no reason that this general election can’t act as the recall election, without all the drama. All that’s needed are some community-minded folks who think that the business of the council should be open, transparent and visible to all, and be willing to ‘put a little skin in the game’. The filing deadline for the fall general election is May 15th, 2015.

– John Rankin
Normandy Park City Council 1993-2013

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Comments

5 Responses to “LETTER: John Rankin shares thoughts on his recent city council recall efforts”
  1. Beaten down says:

    This normal procedure for NP government. The laws and procedures are not important to city hall. City hall has been out of control for some time on many fronts. It is shame more people seem not to be interested in the details how city hall spends our money and takes away our freedom. This is completely different what NP was like (just read growing up in NP). NP use to be a caring thoughtful city (hall) that protected our rights, our freedom and our money. Eventually we as individuals will have to stand up togther to these things or not have any rights left.

    • Kathleen Waters says:

      Please take your energy and think about running for city council. Everyone who has or hasn’t a beef with “city hall” needs to think long and hard about how they can contribute not just criticize. If you don’t think you’ve got the time or skill to run for office then please find someone who does and ask them to run. There are four positions open for re-election. Early May is the deadline to apply for the November ballot. Contact King County Elections website to file.

  2. D Miller says:

    John,

    Thanks for your explanation.

    It’s less than comforting to know that the “City’s” attorney can assist rogue councilmembers who inadvertently put the citizenry at risk financially from costly litigation caused by I’ll-advised, poorly conceived, and unsupported claims written on City letterhead.

    Somehow I doubt “our lawyer” will share in the cost if his advice costs much more than we pay him.

    David Miller

    • John Rankin says:

      Thanks, David.

      Things are so different from when you and I served together on the council. Sure, there are the factions at odds with one another, but now there seems to be two sets of rules – one for those wanting transparency, and another for those using ‘doing good things’ as a cover for behind the scenes self-dealing and obfuscation.

      As an example, another unknown issue that Osterman and McEvoy were involved in, was the insistence that the City manage the 1st Ave S re-work down at Normandy Town Center, as well as the insistence on hiring Pivetta Bros for the work, even though they threatened a lawsuit at the bid award meeting if they weren’t given the work.

      Both councilmembers strongly supported these actions, and in the end, two years ago, it cost us over $1.5 million in non-covered litigation settlement losses!

      That’s where our money has gone! All the money we voted to tax ourselves for cops and city infrastructure for at least the next five years was gobbled up by just that loss. But NO ONE will talk about it. They just talk about the budget crisis without divulging what caused it and who was involved. Just go back and listen to the recording of the bid award meeting and you will find your culprits!

      It is often said ‘people get the government they deserve’. We’re about to see. Filing week for the November election is next week. If no one steps up, we can depend on two things – more taxes and our city going broke.

      John Rankin
      Normandy Park City Council 1993-2013

  3. Enugh says:

    The million dollar question….. Was there a violation of the open meetings act? Additionally, how far would the money spent on this litigation go towards shoring up the current budget shortfall?

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