Opinion

Bainbridge city officials need to communicate

t Complex issues deserve clear explanations.

The City Council meeting on July 30 was right out of an old movie about small-town controversy and simultaneously a wonderful expression of democracy at work. If we can all recollect it in that fashion, it will go a long way toward cooling some of the emotions and providing some perspective about the issues themselves.

For those who felt the need to threaten the council members and the allegedly “ubiquitous” staff, in fairness it should be noted that neither group gets bonuses for any of their proposals and that conspiracy is best for literature, the military and the theater. Such allegations do little for resolution of problems.

More to the point: Why was there such a large turnout? And why was there such emotional outpouring for the revisions of the Shoreline Management Act proposals, which were later found to be moot by the courts – at least for now?

First, the proposals for the critical areas were complex, difficult to decipher and worst of all not communicated in a way that allowed most people impacted to readily understood them. Not that these were easy to understand simply because they were in print. In an effort to explain part of the problem, I opted for my favorite “Tevye Analysis Method,” which urges reasoning to help find a balanced conclusion. For those unfamiliar with my alter ego, you can ask any number of folks in the neighborhood about Tevye.

My points include:

1. The proposals were so complex, given all the cross references, single-spaced copy and bureaucratic wording that they could not be properly reviewed simply by putting them out there with little preparation. A solution would be incremental explanation of every single aspect, one at a time, with comparative views offered by knowledgeable people BEFORE a public hearing occurs. There will still be disagreement and controversy, but the public will be better informed. Such a step would also reduce time, cost and exasperation.

2. What was not clearly understood, even if the proposals as presented were legitimate reflections of need, were the expense – tens of thousands of dollars – property owners may incur if they were directly affected and agreed to make revisions on their shoreline property. I was approached by at least two people who, after testifying, told me they had just completed such a lengthy process in an effort to show they were doing the right thing, and the costs were prohibitive.

These obvious concerns should be required elements of any major proposal affecting the public in order to ensure that the communication process is valid and that there is a clear understanding of the effects to those who must respond.

Again, last week’s hearing was about democracy as it ought to be – with all its flaws: free-flowing commentary, uninterrupted by a council that respectfully absorbed some tough remarks, and no nasty reactions from the audience except for some applause – its drift depending on whose ox was either gored or massaged by the last speaker.

There’s still the absolute responsibility to ensure that future communications (some law somewhere will demand something on this issue) is not only incremental for easier understanding but inclusive of different sides of analysis (Tevye is there somewhere). That intensive attention should be given to ordinary management game playing to see how each requirement would operate and how it has affected each homeowner. And then to minimize those problems.

All the legal citations in the world and all the charges and counter charges of who is trying to do something, always to us and not the other guy, only contribute to confusion, not resolution. It’s a wonderful island, and we really can avoid nominal labels of alleged greed and worse.

We have a lot of bright professionals here, and one would hope that, for starters, the council and mayor might consider tapping those resources to help with all kinds of communication and other evaluations presented here.

We all deserve it.

Bainbridge Island resident Joseph J. Honick is an international consultant to business and government, and writes for numerous publications.

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