Elected leaders must respond to constituents

If you don’t want to respond to the public don’t run for office. It’s as simple as that.

Part of the responsibility of being an elected official is to respond to your constituency. They are the ones you are working for. They are the ones giving you direction of what they want Bainbridge Island to be. They are the ones you should be listening to. You were elected to represent us, not just yourselves.

True, you were put in office because many people agree with your general stances on issues. But that doesn’t mean they agree with you on everything.

Interestingly enough, at the recent BI City Council retreat one of the things they said they want to do a better job of is listening to all points of view and trying to possibly come up with some compromises. That is the ideal of politics. That usually leads to the best decisions because they are balanced.

But just a few weeks after that, it’s obvious that really wasn’t taken to heart.

In my couple of years as editor here I’ve heard complaints from the public that councilmembers don’t listen to people; that they don’t return phone calls or emails; they never get involved in dialogue; they never debate; and they seldom listen to anyone outside their small circle of friends.

I hadn’t run into that problem, until recently. Now I feel your pain. I also was jilted by the council.

I was following up on a very important story. Americans United for Separation of Church and State out of Washington, D.C., sent a letter to the seven BI City Council members.

The letter claims Washington state’s law giving religious organizations special privileges in developing affordable housing is unconstitutional.

It wanted to know what the city plans to do, as it is using that state law regarding a local affordable housing project put forward by Bethany Lutheran Church.

I wanted to know what the council members thought of the letter. Seems like a valid request from a news organization — to get the opinions of elected leaders regarding one of the top issues in the community at the time.

I was stunned because up until now the council has been really good about responding to requests for opinions on important issues. But when they don’t respond, it’s time to call them out on it.

I emailed all of the council members, and received only a reply from Jon Quitslund. The others didn’t reply, and I think the issue is important enough that all of them probably should have.

I’m sure the public wants to know what they plan to do. I know I want to know. But they don’t seem too worried about it. They actually decided to wait a few weeks before addressing it at their June 7 meeting, Quitslund said.

He said he’s sure the state legislature checked on the constitutionality of the law when it was passed. He also said he thought the argument in the letter was “pretty shabby. It treats the increased density bonus as a ‘special benefit,’ without regard for the public benefit achieved through the affordable housing.”

I found that comment interesting. And I would have been interested in knowing what the other council members thought of the challenge, too. Wouldn’t you like to know, too?

I’m actually afraid I’ll get stonewalled by the council for writing this column. But I felt it was worth the risk because the public deserves to know when they don’t respond to constituents or the press. It seems like it’s a basic responsibility of an elected official.