Debbie Vancil: Citizens’ priorities must come first

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

-A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

It’s time for Bainbridge Island voters to take the second important step for new city government. In May, the electorate overwhelmingly voted to authorize a change in government. Now, by voting for its first elected City Council, the electorate decides who will determine how this government works for years to come.

What kind of city will we have? Our city is in financial and organizational crisis. Times of crisis can also be times of great promise and renewal. Hiring excellent city management to run the organization is crucial. The next council will work closely with an interim “work out” city manager, with proven management skills for restructuring new cities. Community Leadership must come from the council, and must be the basis for all city actions.

I ran for re-election to take this next step to insure we launch a community-led government that puts citizen priorities ahead of organization priorities. Our government has been disengaged from the community it serves. Without addressing this core problem first, nothing will really be any different; not the finances, not the management, not City Hall culture and attitude.

Despite all the citizen participation, too long our community has struggled against its own government. We have seen the results of this struggle on the council. The clear disconnect between city government and the community it serves has been a failure of government, not community. We need to fix that, by bringing our community into its government and recognizing that citizens are the owners, not the customers.

Efficiently run and well-managed organizations are based upon strong partnerships of owners and workers, who understand and support agreed-upon goals and priorities. Without a cooperative partnership, neither partner finds support or success.

“Front loading” broad public participation instead of bringing it in at the end, will improve efficiencies and effectiveness, avoiding costly divisiveness. Abandoning predetermined outcomes allows projects and policies to become better shaped by the public process. The old way of internal decision-making with selective public input has resulted in failed implementation of major efforts, like Winslow Way infrastructure repair, Strawberry/Cannery Park and Grow Avenue.

This small community cannot sustain continued organization growth. Cash balances illustrate clear trajectory downwards for many years, despite council and community objections that argued against the former city administration’s consistent efforts to grow the organization, with continual development of long-range plans and expensive consultants, for major projects we couldn’t afford to do.

My 25 years of real business management and teaching experience gives me confidence that our hard work will achieve good financial planning and management for our new government. If we shift focus to citizen priorities, we can afford to get the basics done well and on time for health and safety; maintenance of public infrastructure like utilities, roads, walkways. We must base our financial and land-use decisions on accurate information and sustainable practices, supported by routine audits and resource monitoring.

In the North Ward, voters have a real choice. My work to change our form of government was a personal commitment to bring our community into City Hall; my opponent supported the old way by speaking against the change.

It’s part of the council role to understand how to work with the community.

Good council members should be elected for their abilities to listen and respond to their constituents. They are not elected to be consultants or professional advisors.

I’m not a “hands off” representative, who promises to minimize my participation. My long record of diverse public service ranging from children’s programs to senior center concerns, demonstrates my dedication to the community, and my strong commitment to getting real things done for real people.

I believe we can have truth in government. Please join other islanders and me, who are working hard to keep real change happening at City Hall. Let’s keep moving forward together, and take the next important step to build a responsive island government we can all afford, and are proud to call our own. We won’t get another chance to do it over again.

Debbie Vancil