Split down the middle
December 12, 2008 · Updated 4:58 PM
A reader hypothesized in an email this week about why the current City Council consistently votes 4-3 on most issues. As if you didn’t already know, Hilary Franz, Barry Peters, Chris Snow and Kjell Stoknes are members of a status quo that considers Kim Brackett, Bill Knobloch and Debbie Vancil dissidents. So, for an answer to why, Snow and Vancil were willing to represent the point of view of their respective sides.
Uncharacteristically, both were in actual agreement that there is a genuinely fundamental difference of opinion between the opposite poles, especially when it comes to spending, generally, and the Winslow Way construction project, specifically. About the only other thing they agree on is that both sides think they’re right and the other side is wrong.
For example, Snow says the foursome is saving the council from being totally dysfunctional because the trio’s negativity is nonproductive. He thinks the three “see their highest obligation is to basically champion the complaints of some community members,” whether it involves New Sweden Road, bike lanes or other issues that specific groups rally behind.
“I find it more productive to accomplish something positive in what I understand is the best interest of the community as a whole, rather than the loudest voices,” Snow said. “I’m a diplomat by training (35 years on the foreign service), which leads me to believe confrontation should be the last resort. They prefer to confront the administration and mayor in front of a packed audience and in full color on television. I consider that misfeasance.”
Snow also thinks it is “strange” that the three are monolithic in that “they haven’t mounted a very effective campaign to get a fourth vote for things they believe in.” So, do they really want to get things done or just play devil’s advocate? When they are adamant about an issue, Snow believes, there’s no give and take. “It’s either you’re for us or against us. Their stance is, don’t do this or that or the other thing. I think the point is to get something done.”
Vancil, on the other hand, thinks the four are the ones that are unbending and stuck in the mud, especially when it involves the quagmire known as Winslow Way. She believes the split is due to all of them making campaign promises that they are committed to honoring and the belief that they are always right.
“What’s discouraging is that I’ve never seen members who are so committed to a way of thinking that they don’t ask any questions of the staff and administraton,” she said. “They don’t question. That comes come from the three of us. Sometimes, when our questions lead to resolution, like the use of a value-engineering study to lower costs for Winslow Way, then they will take ownership of it. Like it was their idea. Mostly they are committed to sticking together.”
So there is agreement to disagree, likely ensuring that the 4-3 dynamic will continue until voters decide whether or not they want to change it. Frustrating for some, perhaps, but that’s democracy for you.