Expediency or quagmires -- you decide
June 9, 2008 · Updated 2:54 PM
"Point of order, please!That was the request from the gallery, when our old friend Lois Andrus called us earlier this week. After last Wednesday's split city council vote on the Woodland Village subdivision - in which Mayor Dwight Sutton declined to cast a deciding vote to break a 3-3 tie - Andrus insists that lacking majority support, the issue is settled in the negative.Once you have a vote, and you announce the results of the vote, it's over - period, Andrus told us. I even went out and bought 'Robert's Rules of Order' to find out.Ah, Robert's Rules, the road map for the well-run public meeting. We had to confess we hadn't looked at that venerable tome since a student leadership class in, oh, seventh grade. Goodness knows that was a while ago.So we put in a call to Mayor Dwight Sutton, who said Andrus' point was well taken, but that the question is under discussion amongst the administration and the city attorney. Expect a debate over procedure at the next council meeting, at which point there could be a motion to reconsider, a tie-breaking vote by Sutton - or the split vote could stand, leaving the Woodland project in the lurch. If the council says, 'yes, we're happy with (the vote),' it dies, Sutton said.Woodland Village has been as much an educational process for the neighbors as a nightmare for the developer, so this latest turn probably shouldn't surprise anyone. Both sides have had enough trouble coming to grips with the simple idea that after a point, the public record is closed, and the council must be left to its own deliberations. (So to the red-haired fellow in the gallery caught trying to slip notes to Christine Nasser during the council debate last Wednesday - not so fast, friend. Whichever side you're on, we're sure that it's been adequately represented.) But there is a larger question here - does the Bainbridge Island community still want a land-use appeals process that includes the city council? Many cities, after all, don't, meaning anyone unhappy with a hearing examiner's decision on a subdivision, a cellular tower or what have you must take it straight to Superior Court.Much ado is sometimes made about our deliberately unwieldy process. So perhaps it is time to ask ourselves once again as citizens, do we want more expedience in land-use decisions, or more of the legal and political quagmires that seem to puddle up every time a project like Woodland Village comes along?Having sat through countless quasi-judicial council hearings over the years, we can see both sides here. Councilman Jim Llewellyn has for months argued that the council should put more faith in a hearing examiner's recommendations - in his words, that's what we pay them for. Last week, an attorney from the city's insurance pool urged the council to resist temptation and not fiddle about with projects that have already spent months or years going through the planning staff and hearings before the examiner. A former council member once told us that the dirty little secret to making such appellate decisions is to first decide how you want to vote, then find whatever evidence you can in the record to support it. We have no doubt it's a view shared, if only in their hearts, by more than one member of the council now.Some council members, and we dare say most of the local development community, would be happier to do away with the council appeal process altogether. But while it might make for fewer and shorter meetings, we think most citizens would opt to remain mired in the current process.After all, there's something reassuring in knowing that if a decision is going to be botched, by gum, it's going to be our council that does the botching.Now, about that point of order..."