Latest ‘town hall’ offers more civility, less anger

Meeting allows residents to question themselves, city officials.

At this week’s “town hall” meeting, tough talk was turned on tough talkers.

Edie Hartmann said it was no wonder department directors were leaving the city, given the negative banter she had heard in her three years on the island.

“We have to ask ourselves as a city, who would want to work for us?” Hartmann told the roughly 70 citizens gathered at the American Legion Hall. “Where I lived last I think I was considered outspoken, here I’m a wallflower.”

The crowd was smaller and considerably less volatile Tuesday than at the first town hall meeting held in March. As citizens aired their opinions on the state of the city, Hartmann was joined by several in calling for a more civil tone for civic discourse.

Karen Ross said the town hall was the first public meeting she had attended on the island, “even though I’ve been here since the time when you could ride your horse all the way across the island without getting run over.”

Ross said she understood the angst sometimes felt by her neighbors; she had recently had trouble getting permission to cut down trees on her property. But if islanders don’t like the government they have, the burden is on them to elect stronger leadership she said. The negativity isn’t helping.

“I understand the frustration people have, but I’m saddened by the way people personalize it,” she said. “My quest tonight is to ask people to try to be a little more civil to each other.”

But Kirsten Hytopoulos said islanders who raise their voices shouldn’t automatically be branded as negative or cynical. It’s an atmosphere that makes it hard for people to be outspoken, she said.

There were still plenty of strong words leveled at city officials, including Mayor Darlene Kordonowy, who attended along with five City Council members.

Residents said the city needs to get back to providing the basics, like safety and infrastructure, while some called for a change in government structure as a way to get there.

Jim Mooney said he was disturbed that the finance department hasn’t produced financial statements from 2007.

“It’s a sign of big trouble,” he said. “Or they are simply unable to do the work, that, let’s face it, shouldn’t be that complicated of a problem. This isn’t the City of Seattle.”

His sentiments were echoed by Michael Berry, a local certified public accountant. He called for an elected citizen committee to oversee an independent audit of city assets and finances to restore credibility to its budgeting efforts.

Meanwhile, he said, instead of paying for expensive planning studies like Winslow Tomorrow the city should be spending its limited funds on utilities, roads and public safety.

“If you don’t start out with those things then you’ll end up with a ghetto,” Berry said.

Former council member Bob Scales was among those who spoke in favor of a council-city manager form of government. The sudden emergence of the city deficit even after the council had cut back services, and the departure of the planning director were both major red flags, he said.

Scales said the city needs stronger leadership and suggested the mayor and council give the new city manager Dombroski more autonomy.

“The mayor needs to empower (Dombroski) to do his job, and then the mayor needs to leave him alone,” he said.

A few pointed out that a government is only as good as the people elected to it.

Bob Burkholder said the new council members had so far been doing good work and the current structure should be given time.

“It doesn’t matter what type of government you have, they both work. It’s about people,” he said. “Let’s give them a chance to do it. I don’t see any point in changing horses in midstream.”

The mayor and council members spoke little during the meeting, but Council Chair Bill Knobloch said it was a valuable forum.

“There is a general sense of discontent with the way the government is operating today, exacerbated by the economic condition,” Knobloch said. “I encourage more town meetings because as a council member, you’re able to go in and sit and listen.”

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