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Mayor: city going ‘virtual’ -- News Roundup

On-line information is key to improving communication with island residents, Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said this week.

Her comments came in a 20-minute “state of the city” address at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Kordonowy confessed that she had until recently “felt more like a Luddite than a techno-weenie,” and had resisted reliance on the Internet for fear that older citizens or those without computer access would be left behind.

Her thinking has changed, she said, and called for a move from a “vertical organization” to a “virtual organization” for efficient dissemination of information to islanders.

Saying that “information is 90 percent of what government does,” Kordonowy proposed putting computer kiosks in the island’s neighborhood service centers of Island Center, Rolling Bay and Lynwood Center.

A radically revamped city web site was to be unveiled at the meeting, but was not ready. The site now is expected to launch sometime in February.

Other changes this year will come in the planning department and permitting process, Kordonowy said, although she shied away from specifics.

The mayor proposed 90-day task forces on organizational communication and the future of the ferry maintenance yard, should those operations be moved and the property come available for new uses.

She also proposed a study of the use of alternative energy sources in the community, citing the work of U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee on that issue.

Kordonowy devoted the first part of 20-minute address to recounting the city’s successes of the past 12 years, working to fulfill its promise of “making government local.”

She cited the expansion of the Senior Center, which followed construction of the Bainbridge Commons building a decade ago; purchase of the public works yard on Hidden Cove Road; and site selection and construction of a new city hall building.

She credited the city staff with being the “rudder” of the organization during those years, providing public services despite the regular turnover of mayors and councils.

“There’s always pressure to be better,” Kordonowy said. “That’s part of the American dream, and we will always strive to do better.”

Kordonowy recalled a 1999 forum and “mock trial” in which Bainbridge Island community values were put to the test. Attendees were asked if the community is too divided, and the respondents split right down the middle.

“That’s another thing about this community I love, and I hope it never changes,” Kordonowy said.

– Douglas Crist

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***Council moves toward survey

The council Wednesday took the first steps toward a new survey of city employees to identify problems within the organization.

By a 6-1 vote, with Councilman Bill Knobloch alone in dissent, the council authorized a $4,700 contract with consultant Sandra Davis to begin work on the assessment. Knobloch had lobbied for authorization of a larger contract for the full study that is likely to follow.

“If somebody’s not doing their job, maybe there should be an adjustment in the administration,” Knobloch said. “Who knows? I don’t have an answer.”

Under the contract, Davis will determine current issues and “hot topics” in the organization by conducting interviews with city staff, managers and the council.

Employees who have left the city in the last five years will also be contacted, and a new survey of employees devised.

The effort will update information gathered in a 1997 report conducted by Davis.

Two department heads and about half of the city’s approximately 125 employees have turned over since that time.

Management has been under scrutiny since the city budget process this past fall, when several council members questioned the need for a full-time administrator and a human resources director.

The latter position was created based on the findings of the 1997 survey, and most city staff unified under a single roof.

Nordby and Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said other findings from that study have been acted on, and improvements made.

Councilwoman Deborah Vann, though, said the city has failed to address “leadership problems.”

“We do know there are serious management problems within the city,” Vann said. “Why do we get complaints that are the same over and over and over?”

– Douglas Crist

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***Utility charge break OK’d

The council Wednesday extended a discount on water and sewer fees for qualifying low-income seniors and disabled residents served by the city.

The discount was raised to 50 percent, up from the current 10 percent. It matches the 50 percent break already given to qualifying residents islandwide on their city storm and surface water utility fee.

Notice of the higher discount will go out to customers on the billing statements in February, city Finance Director Ralph Eells said.

It’s unclear whether all residents who qualify for the current reductions are taking advantage of them. Low-income seniors and residents are also eligible for a reduction or deferral of “excess” property tax levies for schools and parks.

“The one place where we may get some (new) interest is with renters who don’t pay property tax, and hence haven’t gone through the county,” Eells said. “They still qualify with us.”

– Douglas Crist

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***TPL works for Wyckoff site

The Trust for Public Lands may secure an option to buy the former Wyckoff property at Bill Point, as part of the effort to publicly acquire the Superfund site.

TPL representative Kent Whitehead told the Wyckoff Acquisition Task Force Thursday that the national land conservation group is “very close to having an official agreement” with property trustee Dan Silver.

That agreement, which Whitehead hoped would be finalized no later than the end of February, would protect the 55-acre parcel from purchase by other parties, giving the acquisition team time to raise public and private funds.

“As a nonprofit, TPL is able to act more flexibly, and sometimes more quickly, than public organizations in land acquisition,” Whitehead said.

TPL would also assist the task force in tapping federal, state and local monies, and in organizing a private capital campaign to cover the undisclosed purchase price – likely close to $8 million, a value identified in a recent appraisal.

While other terms of the tentative agreement were not disclosed, Whitehead said that TPL would have until December 2004 to purchase the property.

Upon acquisition, TPL would immediately transfer the property – still the site of Environmental Protection Agency efforts to remove an estimated million gallons of subsurface creosote and other contaminants – to the city, whose own option to purchase the site expired at the end of last year.

– Kathryn Haines

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***North-enders lose phones

As many as 900 north-end island residents lost phone service in midweek, when heavy rains soaked a utility box and damaged the equipment inside.

Customers were left without a dial tone or the ability to call out, in what was described as a “wet cable situation.”

It was unclear how many customers were out, as not all of the damaged lines were in service.

Michael Dunne, spokesperson for Qwest, said repairs for all working lines were completed shortly before 4 a.m.

– Douglas Crist

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