Bainbridge mayor, city manager try to move past last week's brouhaha

Bainbridge Island City Manager Doug Schulze and Mayor Steve Bonkowski both tried to mend fences Wednesday after last week's confrontation over a controversial outsourcing contract that some council members said had created a crisis at city hall.

At this week's council meeting, Schulze was eager to look ahead, and not back.

"The relationship I have with Mayor Bonkowski has been strong and I have had support from him since I was hired," Schulze said.

"Although relationships get messy, I don't see why what happened last week can't be left behind us," he said.

At last week's council meeting, the council was poised to vote on a contract that would have put the city's water system under the control of the Kitsap Public Utility District.

The idea of off-shoring the management of Bainbridge's municipal water system has been talked about for years, but Schulze — who joined the city as manager late last year — said the proposed contract with KPUD was flawed. He extensively outlined his concerns on the five-year agreement, and warned the council that it conflicted with the city's comprehensive plan and would also violate the city's contract with its employees union. Earlier, the business representative for the union, the International Association of Machinists, District 160, had warned that the union would fight the city over the contract, in court if necessary, if it were approved by the council.

Last week's council meeting went off the rails after Bonkowski unveiled a surprise proposal that called for cuts in the city's water rates and rebates for customers as the council turned to talk about the KPUD contract. A majority of the council refused to let Schulze speak about the latest version of the KPUD contract or share his concerns about the agreement. That led some council members, and Bainbridge residents, to complain that Schulze had been blindsided and his reputation damaged by the comments made about him by others on the council.

Bonkowski said it was the potential trouble with the city employees' union that prompted him to move in a new direction.

"That agenda bill was not actionable," Bonkowski said.

"In fact, if we would have passed the (contract), then we would be open to a lawsuit from the employee's union. As a result of that, I started working on alternatives," he said.

Bonkowski said that other council members and the city manager were not aware of his proposal before the June 5 council meeting because he didn't finish preparing his presentation until about 40 minutes before the the session.

His presentation was the result of delving into the city's numbers from 2012, he said, and pulling out the actual dollar amounts spent on the water system, which included paying for employee time and other services.

Bonkowski said he was acting within proper procedure on June 5, despite the heated debate that ensued or the fact that his proposal — which included six motions he asked to be passed that night — was not on the agenda.

He admitted the discussion took a turn for the worse.

"It turned into what I would characterize as a circus," Bonkowski said.

Talk of the future of the city's water utility will resume next week.

Schulze and city staff are reviewing Bonkowski's budget assessments of the city's water utility. The city manager will report his findings to the council on June 19.

Bonkowski said he expected his review to be vetted by city staff.

"I am reasonability confident, because I used the city's numbers, that the conclusions I've drawn are accurate," Bonkowski said.


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