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Council addresses new mayor, tensions at annual retreat
Council selected its nomination for the next mayor Sunday at its annual retreat, as well as addressed a number of other issues, and tackled tensions they face while looking toward the coming year.
Lester was nominated for mayor by Council Member Sarah Blossom. Council Member Kirsten Hytopoulos nominated incoming Anne Blair for the position, but Blair took herself out of consideration. She said that while she appreciated the confidence, she was a new member and would like to spend some time learning before taking on such a role.
As the only nominee, Lester became the council's choice as the next mayor. She will not officially take on the role as mayor until Wednesday when council will vote on the matter, and after Hytopoulos resigns from the position.
Council members tackled a number of topics at the retreat, including how to better communicate with island residents, going over the city's goals, and deciding which members would represent the council on various committees and commissions. Council also spent a considerable amount of time discussing tensions that have risen from rumors and recent anonymous communications regarding secret meetings and members voting in blocks.
"There is no secret kitchen cabinet," Hytopoulos said. "There are no planned meetings. Brenda (Bauer) and Bob (Scales) and I have never met (in secret). I don't want you to come in believing that's the way business is done at city hall …I can tell you right here and now, I'm not involved in that sort of thing and I don't condone it."
In keeping with his previous public comments, Council Member Bob Scales also addressed the issue of the anonymous memo found at City Hall last December. The issue was further pressed in light of another anonymous communication in the form of an email sent to City Manager Brenda Bauer and the Review over the weekend. The email was sent by "Mrs. Johnson" and spoke under the assumption that soon Bauer would no longer be working for the city. This was not the first email that city officials have received from Mrs. Johnson.
"It is as close to threatening or harassing as you can get without probably crossing the line of actual legal violation," said Scales, who is an attorney. "The assumption is from Mrs. Johnson is that she has the power. And where is she going to get the power? The only power comes from council members."
Scales felt that the email and the memo are reflective of a group of people who could be working behind the scenes, away from the public process to effect change in the city. He noted that three of the incoming members were endorsed by former council member Bill Knobloch, who Scales suspect of copying the memo at city hall.
At one point, Scales tried to ask all council members a series of questions, including the identity of Mrs. Johnson. Council Member Dave Ward halted the questioning, saying that they were there for a retreat and not an inquisition. While there was disagreement over the severity of the anonymous communications, all council members agreed to follow the city's governance manual and not engage in anonymous communications.
"Three of the four new city council members during the campaign had at least half a dozen joint campaign things…we were constant in terms of our views and we were elected. Those views are still there," Bonkowski said. "The implication by the Mrs. Johnson (email) is that there are people out there that are pulling the strings on new council members, and nobody's pulling my strings. Does that mean I have a different opinion than at least two other people on a couple of issues, absolutely not."
Council also entertained a number of ideas including modifying the website and making it easier to have all public documents online. Other ideas such as using platforms like Twitter were also discussed.
Bonkowski expressed a desire to continue blogging as he has done in the past because it facilitates communication with residents. The possibility of maintaining blogs on the city's website is being considered to avoid complications since any council communication regarding city business is subject to public records laws.
Another retreat has been scheduled for Jan. 28 to finish planning and addressing goals for the coming year.