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Gap widens with Scales, colleagues
Either out-of-order or silenced, Council Member Bob Scales was once again asked to halt his questioning Wednesday evening by fellow council members – further creating a gray area between what is or isn’t appropriate on the dais.
“I’m getting fed up. I’m not going away. I’m not keeping quiet,” Scales said. “So you can keep raising points of order but at some point you need to figure out what the rules are.”
Council was participating in a presentation on the council/manager form of government. Foster Pepper Attorney Steve DiJulio was giving an overview of the history of the form of government and how it related to Bainbridge Island.
Council had agreed to the presentation after a series of incidents throughout January and February that caused tension on the council, which has four newly elected members. The incidents included the use of outside attorneys by council members. The presentation’s focus was to provide a clear understanding of Bainbridge Island’s form of government, and clarifying any misconceptions or confusion on how the system works.
While it proved to be an educational event, it also carved deeper the tense lines being drawn on the dais, and created further disagreement on how council is run.
After his presentation, DiJulio answered questions from the council to help them better understand his presentation and the subject matter. The first two were asked by Scales, who wondered if the mayor had any authority outside that of any other council member and if individual council members had the authority to spend city funds or apply for grants on their own. The short answer to both questions was “no,” according to DiJulio.
When Scales began his third question, involving the city’s codes and contracts after it changed its form of government, he was abruptly stopped by Mayor and Councilor Debbi Lester. He intended to address the powers of the current mayor (elected by the council as a pro-tem position) and if any of the powers held by the elected mayor in the previous mayor/council form of government were retained.
According to Scales, the answer would have been no.
However, Lester called a point of order with a gavel. She instructed Scales that during the previous week’s meeting, from which he was absent, council had decided to have a workshop on the questions he was asking, and all agreed to address them at that time.
“At last week’s council meeting, council specifically agreed that this presentation (Wednesday night) would be about roles and responsibilities in the council/manager form of government,” Lester said Thursday morning. “The recent legal counsel issues would be addressed in a separate upcoming workshop.”
Scales said he had watched the video of the meeting and was not aware of any such decision that would prevent him from asking his questions. However, Council Member David Ward echoed Lester’s point of order Wednesday night.
“You were in the topic area,” Ward said to Scales. “I am sure you are fully aware of that. We agreed that this topic would be handled at a later council meeting and we agreed as a body.”
Lester had previously indicated concerns addressing the issues surrounding the city’s current city attorney and the use of outside council with an attorney from Foster Pepper, the law firm that employed City Attorney Will Patton before he joined the city. After the concerns were raised, it was decided to move the topic to a separate workshop with an authority all council members could agree upon.
“Debbi Lester indicated at the last meeting that since Foster Pepper was the law firm that our city attorney was employed with, just prior to his city employment, and that she would prefer a different attorney,” Council Member Steve Bonkowski said. “Bob Scales’ line of questioning (Wednesday) night were going down a path that would have discussed that issue.”
At a Feb. 2 council meeting, Scales was also interrupted as he spoke and halted from proceeding. He was reminded by his fellow council members that he was breaching a previous agreement between council members regarding what could be said about the decision to end the city’s contract with current City Manager Brenda Bauer.
Scales then walked out of that meeting after not being allowed to continue speaking on the topic.
As with the Feb. 2 incident, Scales insisted that he was not out of line and had every right to proceed. At one point he asked that council vote on whether he could continue; it did, deciding by a 4-2 votes to cut off Scales’ questions.
“I can’t believe this is happening again,” Scales said. “I can’t ask a question?...I have been on the council for six years and I’ve never been treated with such disrespect,” Scales said. “You can’t use Roberts Rules of Order to silence views you disagree with, which is what has happened here.”
Scales sat quietly for the remainder of the presentation, which included John Caulfield, city manager of the City of Mountlake Terrance. Caulfield spoke to his role and successes as city manager of Mountlake Terrace, which also has a council/manager form of government.
"We have a council that operates as a body and while council members individually need to get background information on some issues, individual members are not allowed to use council time to pursue their own agenda if not supported by a quorum," Bonkowski said.
Scales maintained that his views are being silenced by a new council majority with a specific agenda, which includes changing the city manager and revisiting the issue of divesting the water utility. He said that council majority will seek a new city manager that can be their “puppet” to achieve their agenda.
Bonkowski said Thursday morning that he felt Caufield's presentation and his work with the city of Mountlake Terrace represents the kind of manager he would like to see work for Bainbridge Island. He said that he "would not consider him to be puppet."
“The public has not been made aware of this agenda yet but we are starting to get some hints about what they are doing behind the scenes,” Scales said Thursday in an email. “I think this council wants to micromanage city staff and eliminate any dissenting voices. I believe that they will continue to try and silence me when I raise questions or contrary points of view. They want to operate in secret and without any rules or restrictions on their behavior.”
Before council adjourned for the evening, Scales pressed the point that when council does plan the workshop, that a presentation on Robert’s Rules is included.
A date for the workshop regarding outside legal council has yet to be set. Lester said that she has been contacting local universities and legal experts to find an appropriate authority for the workshop.