Langley Inside and Out
All about the City of Langley from The Record and other sources
Nancy Lindholdt, a cherished member of the Langley community and an icon at the Langley Library where she worked for 20 years, died Tuesday. She was 84.
Lindholdt’s former co-workers remembered her as an attractive, personable and gracious woman.
“She was a great mentor,” said Betsy Arand, the manager of the Freeland Library. “I felt like it was a joy to work with her every day.”
“She was the most gracious person that I think I’ve ever worked with in Sno-Isle,” Arand added. “She was welcoming, she greeted people personally with their name, she had a wonderful sense of humor.”
“She just loved, loved the library, and she loved being involved with the community,” Arand said.
Lindholdt was born and raised in Cordova, Alaska, and graduated from the University of Washington. After she married Emil Lindholdt, the couple lived in Texas, Canada and Belgium, and they built a home in Langley when Emil retired. He passed away in 2008.
“Nancy was just the classiest lady, I always loved that about her,” said Jamie Whitaker, a public service assistant at the Langley Library. “She was extremely gregarious and warm.”
Whitaker said Lindholdt left a great impression on people at the library, whether they worked there or came by for a book.
“She was a very protective of intellectual freedom. That was very important to her. And she loved, loved her patrons and her community.”
“Every day I worked with her, she always thanked me at the end of the day. Every single day. That was such a treat,” Whitaker said.
Lindholdt was usually more interested in what other folks were reading, rather than sharing her own suggestions. Even so, she loved a well-written book, and wouldn’t waste her time on “junk food” reads.
Whitaker remembered one of Lindholdt’s must-reads, the A.S. Byatt novel, “Possession: A Romance,” a 1990 bestseller about two fictional Victorian poets.
When Whitaker kept telling Lindholdt it was a very difficult book to read, she would reply, “Just stay with it!” Whitaker did, much to her delight.
“Nancy just adored that book,” she said.
Whitaker recalled how patrons would come into the library after Lindholdt retired in 1997, and say how much they missed her.
“She was a lovely woman,” Whitaker added. “In fact, I never knew how old she was, honestly I never did. She always seemed so young. She was very spirited.”
A memorial service is not planned, but friends of the family said donations in Lindholdt’s memory can be made to Friends of the Langley Library, PO Box 365, Langley, WA 98260.
The community forum on Langley government that was canceled due to snow in late February has been rescheduled to Wednesday, April 6, said Barbara Seitle, a member of the League of Women Voters of Whidbey Island and the organizer of the event.
Billed as a “community conversation,” the meeting is 6 to 8 p.m. in the Brookhaven Community Room in Langley. The event includes a panel discussion of the three basic forms of city government — mayor and council, mayor/city administrator and council, council and city manager — and the panel will give a brief presentation and answer questions followed by small discussion groups for those who wish to participate.
Panelists include Pat Mason, senior legal consultant for the Municipal Research and Services Center, and Ken Carter, city manager for the city of Carnation.
A call for volunteers:
After much deliberation, the City Council has enacted an ad hoc committee to study Langley’s Personnel Policies & Procedures. The intent is to seek ways for the Council and the Administration to build upon our strengths and to make improvements where needed.
This topic represents a major concern to everyone who pays City taxes and/or receives services from a small group of dedicated employees in a time of diminished municipal resources. Langley has budgeted $837,860 for personnel expenses in 2011. That’s 62% of the City’s General Fund. It’s your money.
A well-organized, well-trained and respected workforce performing within a well reasoned, effective and lawful set of rules is crucial to the success of our city.
If you have experience, education and/or training in areas related to Human Resources Management in the public or private sector Langley needs you now.
Have you owned or managed a business with employees? Have you worked for an employee union? Been involved in Civil Service?
This ad hoc committee – scheduled to work for three months — will be open to the public and maintain a record of its discussions. Meeting times (about once each month) and places will be determined by the membership and announced in advance. Public comment will be welcomed.
Although the committee is not empowered to make specific “recommendations” to the Council, we will offer frequent ongoing observations: recognizing strengths in the current systems and providing informal suggestions for improvements in policies where they are appropriate.
I think you will find participation rewarding.
It would be helpful if you would be prepared to provide information as to your experience, etc. and how it will benefit the effort.
CONSUMER ADVISORY: This edition of Langley Live is going to sound like a broken record.
MEDICAL ADVISORY: This edition of Langley Live may cause dizziness and upset stomach.
Disclaimer: This bulletin is limited to podcast punditry, and includes no eyewitness observations or fashion reports from yours truly. Given the city’s no-doubt inadvertent scheduling of the council workshop on Tuesday afternoon, which started as our midweek edition was going to press and I was busy with that and also, completing my NCAA bracket, today’s blow-by-blow (or groan-by-groan) is brought to you in large part thanks to the mad recording skills of city hall techmeister volunteer Thomas Gill, who is creating podcasts of council meetings that will eventually be available on the Internet, once all the tubes are put in place.
So let’s go to the tale of the tape, which starts with Mayor Paul Samuelson announcing that today’s [March 16] meeting is the first of many planned workshops.
Samuelson says he’ll act as a facilitator in the conversation.
Today’s workshop is devoted to Councilman Hal Seligson’s new ad hoc committee on finance and personnel issues.
Sound familiar? It should.
After considerable jawboning last month and then again this month, the council unanimously agreed to the creation of Seligson’s proposed committee on finance and personnel matters, with the plan they would meet again someday, this day, to hash out what things the committee should review.
So, on now to a discussion of the committee’s priorities. Maybe. We can hope, can’t we?
At the start, Seligson promises to play nice.
“As I said from the beginning, it is my intent this committee work in as collegial manner as possible,” he says.
The committee’s priorities, he continues, will be done in consultation with the council, with the membership of the committee chosen by the council.
Seligson now moves on to the topic of public access to committee meetings, a point raised in a memo sent to council members a few days before the meeting by Ursula Roosen-Runge.
In the memo, Roosen-Runge has continuing concerns about the radical idea (for Langley, at least) that Seligson’s committee meetings be open to the public.
“I’m not suggesting or requiring, certainly, that other committees of this sort be held in a like way,” Seligson says.
He again reminds everyone that when he volunteered to serve on the council, that he wanted open government.
And, for those who think the nature of his committee is just much too much for anyone to handle, he adds that many of the financial/personnel pieces are interconnected.
“I think that as a whole, there is a cohesiveness to what may seem like a broad spectrum of interests. But I believe that they are all interrelated and this gives us an opportunity to connect what is proverbially spoken as the dots that are out there,” he says.
And then, there’s that whole business of Langley’s recent record.
“We did, and I think we need to recognize, have an audit.
“The audit raised a number of questions and I think that it would behoove us to look into the audit, the results, to see what we can do to follow their recommendations.”
Taking such a structured look back can only increase the city’s credibility when auditors return for their next review, he adds.
Councilwoman Rene Neff is the first to chime in.
“I guess I’m confused. I’ve been rereading, and reading and rereading what you’ve given us.
“I think when we voted, I was confused about what I was voting for. Even though I see in the minutes that I made a motion to go ahead with the committee,” Neff says.
“I thought we were going to come together as a group and outline priorities. But this feels like you already have outlined the priorities. That’s how I read this. This is your priorities and what you hope to accomplish,” she says.
“Yes, those are my suggested priorities,” Seligson replies.
What nerve. Imagine, a committee chairman offering a suggested starting point for the discussion of what his committee would do. How impertinent. Just like Wisconsin dusting Belmont in the second round of the NCAA tourney and Michigan State falling to UCLA, completely blowing apart my bracket.
Neff attempts to set this new guy straight.
“When I gave my approval, or thought about making the suggestion that the committee go forward, it was under my assumption – which may have been a bad assumption – that we as a group would come together and look at the priorities that came out of the last budget session and bring those forward and that we as a group would decide which of those priorities we think the financial committee should be focused on.
“But it looks like you’ve already got a scope of work here completely outlined. So that means there’s no opportunity. It felt to me like there was no opportunity for the council then to bring forward what we thought were priorities,” Neff continues.
Seligson reminds Neff of what was decided at the last meeting.
“As I said, this is a beginning document that — as I said from the get-go here — would be subject to discussion, and your interpretation and recommendations, and ultimate decision.
“I think it was agreed upon that the ultimate decision of the priorities would be determined by the council,” Seligson says.
“That’s what I thought, too, that’s why I was so confused,” Neff replies.
“I thought it would be helpful for you to have my ideas, since it was my idea to come up with the committee,” Seligson adds.
Oooh, slam dunk. Let’s see if Seligson can steal the inbounds pass.
No chance. Councilman Bob Waterman has possession and walks the ball up the court. This council definitely needs a shot clock.
“I think this is a useful topic to explore,” says Waterman, which turns out to be foreshadowing in that the council will now take about an hour to rehash all the points/counterpoints made in earlier meetings about this proposed finance committee because, hey, that’s how we do things in the Village by the Sea.
But wait, there’s something new! The council has two memos to consider as the hindsightly handwringing continues; one from Roosen-Runge, that complains that finance committee meetings would be open to the public and that the committee’s charge lacks clarity, and another from Councilwoman Fran Abel that sets out roughly 30 questions that should be answered before the committee should move forward.
Since the council members will parrot what’s raised in the memos, let’s get back to the discussion.
Councilman Waterman goes to the defensive playbook we’ve all seen before, and the complaint that the ad hoc committee looks too much like a “standing committee.”
“To me, the other big question is, a lot of this seems to have a lot of overlap with the administration,” Waterman says, noting the mayor’s finance committee that already has two council members on board and looks at things from the administration’s perspective.
“What’s laid out here looks like a tremendous task,” Waterman says. He raises the question of whether it would wander into the purview of the administration. And that, of course, would probably prompt a whistle for traveling.
Which begs the question: Is anybody listening?
Seriously, Seligson has addressed these questions many, many times in recent weeks. Are council members just tuning out when he begins to talk? Would they listen more if he did a Donald Duck impersonation every time he speaks up? (Or maybe Dick Vitale, to continue the basketball analogy thing.) Should we start having pop quizzes at the end of every council meeting to see how much they have retained?
Seligson gets the rock and plays council historian again.
He reminds the council that when they approved the committee, they set a one-year life span for the group, and at the end, will determine whether it should continue as an ad hoc committee, be transformed into an ongoing standing committee, or just go away.
Somebody wants to take the ball right now an dgo home.
Neff says she’s got a problem with how long the committee will operate. It’s one of her “biggest concerns.” And what’s all this stuff about a group that may actually come up with recommendations? Doesn’t anyone realize how hard this will make it for all the other council members?
“Having been on the council for five years, what I have noticed is when there is a committee or a body that is working or a body working on something for a long period of time – to me a year is a very long time for an ad hoc committee.
“When that happens and they bring their, and the other thing I thought we said, we didn’t want recommendations, we wanted suggestions or ideas brought forward, not recommendations.
“But regardless, if I have worked on something for a year, and I bring that forward, I have enormous ownership in it.
“And that’s where I feel like it makes it extremely uncomfortable. And it’s something that I’ve been very cognizant of the whole time I’ve been on the council.
“It makes it extremely uncomfortable to go against what that committee has brought forward, because they feel so much ownership in it.
“It’s hard for us to be decision-makers then, because that group has an enormous amount of ownership in what they are bringing forward,” Neff says.
And another thing, if someone took so much time to do so much research, well, that wouldn’t make the rest of us look so smart, now would it?
“Plus, if I took a year and studied all this, I would have background knowledge that the council would not have,” Neff explains. “And therefore the council really isn’t in a position to make a decision about something that they haven’t spent that year studying in that kind of depth.
“I really feel strongly that a year is way too long and that this scope is way too huge.”
“I’m kind of going back on my support,” Neff says.
“I want a finance committee, but I don’t particularly agree with the way this has been set up.”
Seligson offers a defense, and quite frankly, it echoes what the council has heard before; say, before they actually voted unanimously to approve Seligson’s finance committee in February.
Seligson says the committee won’t work for a full year and then spring something on the council.
“The purpose there is to not come back a year after the fact, catching the council with a full-blown, fully invested, isolated report,” he says.
“But rather, to be an ongoing community process, where the council says, ‘That’s very interesting, however, X. We’d like you to change course, or would like you to proceed further in that direction.’”
The committee would address one thing at a time, and likely, one issue would lead to the next.
Neff says perhaps the committee should tackle just one small thing at a time. Then another ad hoc committee could be formed for the next item.
There’s still confusion, she adds.
“It really feels like, and completely, in my mind, is a standing committee. And I also feel like it is blurring the lines between the administration’s finance committee and a finance committee that’s more council-based,” she says.
Having two finance committees could confuse the public, she says.
Because, apparently, they are keeping score of such things.
“I think it could be extremely confusing. And it could be really difficult to come up with decisions,” Neff says.
“Not to mention I can’t imagine biting this much off and not spending enormous amounts of time with the staff in order to understand some of the things you’re asking for.
“It’s like a double duty for the staff,” she says.
“I also have some concerns about the breadth here,” adds Councilman Robert Gilman.
“And one of my concerns is that we’re already down the track, we’ve already discovered a bunch of things where there are issues that need to be addressed. And it would be great to be able to have the horsepower, if you will, the mind power that this committee would represent, able to focus on the things that emerged as prior issues.”
Gilman says the city needed to do more work to see if the salaries and benefits for city employees were comparable to other cities.
The city’s personnel policy manual also needs review.
“I had these thoughts independently,” Gilman adds, noting the mayor had also raised the potential for Seligson’s committee to work on a review the city’s personnel policy manual.
He’d also like to see what other approaches to budgeting are being used by cities elsewhere.
“For me, one of the things that I want to see in the ad hoc committees is that the ad hoc committees see themselves as … researchers and educators. As opposed to boards that are out making … working on recommendations.”
Note to Seligson: Next time, maybe you should ask to form a book club.
Gilman touts the benefits of research.
“There are ways, in my experience, in the years I’ve been on the council, ways in which the decisions that happen within the city of Langley are not as well-informed by what’s happening elsewhere in the state as they might be.”
To his credit, Gilman is the first council member to suggest an actual priority for the new committee.
“We’re at a point where we could relay benefit from having a committee that could take our existing personnel manual and really do some research, in terms of what, how does that work in other jurisdictions,” Gilman says.
“There are just a variety of different personnel-related issues that I think are substantial at this point,” he says.
Samuelson comes in off the bench.
“The personnel manual needs legislative review,” the mayor says.
“The personnel manual is a legislative piece. And it needs review.”
He doesn’t say what exactly needs fixing, though.
“We, I, and we, as a staff, really see this as a huge need right now. And it does encompass a lot of things,” Samuelson says.
“That one part would be great if you just did that,” Neff adds.
Neff warns against moving too fast.
“We’re learning about what we expect ad hoc committees to do. We’re in the beginning stages of creating those.
“I would just like to go slow and take it little bits at a time. That’s where I feel very strongly,” she says.
Now Councilwoman Fran Abel enters the discussion, and the councilwoman says she’s given it a lot of thought.
If only she had voted no. Again, it comes down to what the committee will do.
“I also have to eat crow about my vote. I had every intention of voting no because of the scope of the committee. And I screwed up.
“Not because I don’t believe in finance and personnel and working on it and doing a good job and having you work on it.
“I think there is a real question in my mind how we are overlapping with the finance committee that the mayor has set up.”
“We need to be careful about the structure we set up, for not only this council but future councils so that we are real clear about what an ad hoc committee is, what a standing committee is, what a board is, and what the administration does, versus what a policy setting legislative body does.
“It feels pretty confusing to me what we’re doing with this.”
Abel also suggests that the committee not to try to do too much at once.
Hopefully, no one will bring chewing gum to future committee meetings.
Taking small steps will lead to progress, Abel says.
“That’s something, frankly, I think Langley really needs.”
“Because we’ve had a lot of really big projects in front of us where we haven’t been able to feel very many successes. And where it’s gone on and on and on and on. And it’s very frustrating.
“We need some little bites so that we can have some major successes.
“Personally, I’d like to backpedal and have a committee that’s not under such a huge umbrella,” she adds. “That I, frankly, don’t understand what the committee would do, except in bits and pieces, so why not just do it in bits and pieces?”
Abel admits she’s still unclear about it all.
“I truly don’t know what the purpose, how we define the purpose of the committee. I just don’t understand.”
Seligson tries again. He’s coming at it from a policy perspective, and not trying to step on the mayor’s tennies.
Neff said she didn’t have experience that would match that of Seligson, who spent 21 years as a senior administrator at the New York State Psychiatric Institute/Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons in New York City, a background he would tap to guide the work of the committee.
“I’m still lost. I don’t what you’re talking about,” Neff says.
“It’s so huge and broad, I don’t know what exactly you’re talking about.”
Seligson makes another attempt.
“Do we make best use of our money. Do we make best use of our resources in terms of staff. Are our staff fully trained. Are our staff fully given the kinds of resources they need to do the job. Do we have modern IT, so that information is manageable so that we don’t write the same thing 15 times in 12 different places. That data becomes information in a meaningful way for people.”
Neff has found a solution. She says if Seligson would just join the mayor’s finance committee, the information that he seeks might become apparent. The mayor agrees.
“Just by being on the finance committee for a year, you would have a lot of this knowledge and then know where the places we’re weak were, immediately,” Neff says.
Abel says what Seligson has suggested sounds like staff work.
“We have a good administrator in this city that’s doing a really good job. That’s kind of what’s unfolding. And we have a really good staff that’s doing a lot of that,” Abel says.
“It’s not the council’s position to run the city,” Abel adds.
“No one is saying that it is,” Seligson says.
“But it feels that way, with all due respect,” Abel says. “It feels that way. And once again, I’ll go back to what Rene said, this is so broad, I don’t know what you intend to do.
“But as I heard you explain it, it felt like a staff task.
“I’m still sitting here kind of going, ‘Aaahhh, I’m confused.’”
“I don’t know how many different ways I can explain my point of view. Or maybe it’s just not getting across,” Seligson says.
“The view is to try to look at, to discern from the council, its policy priorities, and to take a legislator’s view rather than an administrator’s view.”
The legislative and executive branches are equal, with one providing oversight to the other.
“We had an audit. There were a number of things in the audit, and quite frankly, I think the city was somewhat fortunate in what some of the things the auditors had to say about what they did or didn’t discover,” he adds.
The city’s whistleblower policy was one item of recent note; the recent audit shows the city had not followed the policy it had set on whistleblower complaints.
“That’s definitely a policy that we know we are changing,” Abel says. “It’s on the work list to get that changed.”
She says the city already has oversight.
“We have regular audits,” she says. “It’s a standard operating procedure. And it’s very thorough. And there is that check and balance. And we’re not auditors.
“I thought, and I still think, that that audit found a few minor problems that have all, almost all, been corrected,” Abel says.
“So I’m not sure where we are digging in there.”
Gilman says more important topics for review were raised during the budget process last year.
“It seems to me that the issues that came up during the budget, for me, are more substantial than the issues that came up in the audit.”
“Me, too,” Neff adds.
Gilman says he was not interested in being on the mayor’s finance committee any longer, and it would be great if Seligson joined the committee.
Abel and Neff agree.
Gilman also says one theme keeps coming up.
“What’s the administration role here, what’s the policy role here,” Gilman says.
“It’s very blurry right now,” Neff agrees.
Gilman says the council is still learning its place.
“And I think that reflects the way, in which we’re still low on the learning curve. As a city. All of us. On that,” he says.
Neff is again agreeable: “In terms of our roles and responsibilities. Where they mesh. Where are the boundaries.”
Gilman recalls talking to a legal consultant at Municipal Research about the council’s ability to investigate the actions of the administration.
“He said, now wait a minute, actually, unless you’ve got a clear policy purpose, council shouldn’t go there.”
“I think the question of how does the council actually have appropriate oversight of what the administration is doing, is one of those roles and responsibilities things that is not clear to me,” he says.
“I think we’ve got some more territory to go through to figure it out,” Gilman says.
Now Neff says she’s done.
“Unless you’re willing to take a chunk and work on a chunk, and we can decide which chunk, then I would like to rescind my vote,” she says.
“I don’t feel … the way this looks now … I just really don’t feel I would want to go forward with this the way it is.
“And so I would either rescind my vote or ask us to be more, uh, narrow this somehow.”
“What you have here is just way too big. And I think it is extremely redundant with what is already going on in the city.
“I am very hesitant to ask the administration and the staff to do double duty at this point.”
Seligson should take a seat on the mayor’s finance committee, she says again.
“I’m kind of at a place where I would like to revisit the whole thing. The whole finance committee motion. I don’t know how we do that.”
Seligson says there is still a need for a finance committee that works independently of the mayor.
“I see this as the precursor for an ongoing process for the council to be aware in detail of finance issues that relate to its determination as to whether or not its policy objectives are being met,” he says.
“Again, I’ve said from the very get-go, and some people voted for me and some people didn’t vote for me to sit here, is that I have a strong belief in coequal powers, a separation of duties, and checks and balances. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish here.
“And if this seems complex, it’s because government is complex.
“I think these issues all need to be tended to. I think the citizenry of this city has come to me…” he continues.
“The whole citizenry of the city has come to you?” Neff interrupts.
“No, not the whole citizenry, of course not,” Seligson answers with more than a bit of exasperation evident in his voice.
“But members of the citizenry have come to me and asked [for] this.”
Gilman said he’d like, someday, to get to the place where the council does have its own finance committee, but other things would need to happen first.
“Ideally I would like to see us get to a point, where we have sorted out what the appropriate council-related goal is relative to finance, and what the appropriate administration role is relative to finance. Once we do that, we will have … some good checks and balances.
“I think I come down on the side of taking some smaller steps. I don’t think we’re there yet. I think we are still learning.”
Gilman says he can imagine a day where the council will have its own finance committee, and the relationship between the administration and council will be clear.
“But I don’t think we are there yet,” Gilman says, again pushing Seligson toward taking a seat on the mayor’s committee.
Now comes Abel, again pining for the chance for a new vote on the idea. But, alas, the council can’t take a vote because they are in a workshop session.
“We have set up a structure for a committee that I feel decidedly uncomfortable with,” she says.
Gilman says he doesn’t want Seligson to be in the hot seat alone.
He recalls that the move to create an ad hoc committee for finance came during a discussion of standing committees, which the council wasn’t ready to create. Seligson was given an ad hoc committee instead.
“I think this is a learning process that we are all going through,” Gilman says.
“I’m going to claim part of the hot seat, too,” he says.
“I just want to own that I’m learning. I think we’re all learning in this process,” Gilman says.
And that brings us to an end to this blog recap, with the mother of all questions still hanging in the air.
When does the basic on-the-job training end for city council members?
Let’s ask that question in light of the record.
Three council members – Gilman, Neff and Waterman – have a combined time of more than 17 years on the council.
Neff is starting her seventh year on the council (appointed in January 2005; later elected for a term beginning in January 2006, then re-elected in January 2010).
Gilman is starting his eighth year as a councilman (appointed in January 2004; elected for term starting January 2006, then re-elected for another four-year start that started January 2010).
Councilman Bob Waterman was appointed in August 2006, and subsequently elected to a term that started in 2008.
So how is it that the newest member of the council can see the need for a council committee on finance/personnel issues – it’s not too wackydoodle of an idea, given that city councils across the state have such committees, and the Langley Municipal Code cites a finance committee as a worthy thing to have — but the suggestion makes the rest of the council go cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?
Perhaps there is an even bigger question. Does anyone have any campaign brochures from the last two times Gilman ran for re-election? You know, ones that say, “Vote for me, I have so much more to learn!” or “Vote Gilman: He’s going to get this city stuff figured out someday.”
Do you have a good eye for catching typos and inconsistencies? The Langley Municipal Code (LMC) needs your help.
At its Feb 7 meeting, the council established an ad hoc Code Clean-up Committee to systematically go through the LMC and identify places where:
- there are misspellings, typographic errors, and grammatical errors
- there are out-of-date references
- the language is ambiguous or otherwise unclear
The LMC hasn’t gotten this kind of attention for more than a decade and it could use it.
As the committee chair, I’m looking for a few people to join me in this spring-cleaning of the LMC. Along the way, we will also learn a lot about just what is in the code and what qualifies as well-written code.
Even though this is called a “committee,” we won’t have many meetings. Much of the work will be done individually (or in pairs) at whatever time each committee member chooses. As chair, I’ll make sure members get all the support they need so that the work can move smoothly and enjoyably.
In addition to its own review of the LMC, the committee will serve as a collection point for information from staff, the public, and elected officials about problem places in the LMC.
Once these problem places are identified, the committee will propose corrections or alternatives and provide these to the council, administration, and public for their review. The council can then use this material to update the LMC as needed.
We will also collect information on places in the LMC where there is interest in more substantive changes, but the committee won’t do anything about these places other than pass the list along to the council.
Interested? Know someone who might be good at this? Please let me know.
Time to tie up a few loose ends from the March 7 council meeting.
We mentioned in an early blog post that Councilman Hal Seligson had raised questions over several items in the voucher list of the city’s bills for February during Monday night’s session.
Seligson asked about expenditures listed for Lift Station 2. This month’s bills included $9,171 in work.
City staff said the costs were associated with the ongoing upgrade of the lift station, and the project is mentioned in the city’s comp plan and is in the budget.
Seligson also asked about the bill for the services of Larry Kwarsick, the city’s planning director who is being paid under a consultant contract.
“Is there an itemization of services on file?” Seligson asked.
“And, just as a matter of course, those services are reviewed by whom, in terms of who is the contract manager?”
“That would be me,” said Mayor Paul Samuelson.
Kwarsick said, as part of his billing, he recounted how his hours have been spent.
“I’m confident of that,” Seligson replied. “I just wanted to make sure for the record.”
For the record? Or for the Record?
Thanks, either way. We had previously requested Kwarsick’s invoices to the city to see how the new chief of planning has been spending his time – Kwarsick gets $2,500 a month for a minimum of 34 hours of work – but his actual invoices to the city leave everything to the imagination.
Here’s what those bills look like.
Obviously, there’s no breakdown in those bills that show exactly what work the city was paying for, or how many hours Kwarsick was devoting to certain tasks. Getting an accurate accounting on consultant hours/expenses is something that should be on the radar for the city, given events in recent years and the just completed state audit, so it was refreshing to hear that Kwarsick is providing those details to the city.
Here’s the breakdown from Kwarsick, provided by the city on Wednesday.
Kwarsick mentions two meetings “with property owners regarding a potential project on Al Anderson Road which would involve Saratoga Housing.” Sorry, I have no details on that. Kwarsick said he did not take any notes during those meetings, so there are no public records on that, the city says. No application has been submitted.
Some folks may be interested in the note about Langley’s Urban Growth Area. City officials have talked about making the UGA smaller, but Langley would need the county’s approval.
Kwarsick notes: “While the city has not officially heard back from the county on the request to review the existing Langley UGA, I did speak to [Island County Planning Director] Bob Pederson following his discussions with the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on Feb. 2. The BOCC was not able to grant the request to include the UGA review in the county’s 2011 work program but Bob Pederson has agreed to begin the foundation of our collective GMA plans with the collaborative evaluation of the existing countywide planning policies and the terms and conditions of the existing interlocal agreement between the city and the county. These efforts would commence this year. There is the possibility that in 2012 (with the benefit of Census data) we would review the city’s buildable lands as the next step of UGA boundary review. In the interim we should integrate infill incentives into the finalization of the ‘Whole Langley Code’ project. Since the city will be updating its water plan this year the adoption of annexation policies that are tied to utility service should also be considered.”
So, long story short, the UGA will not get changed this year. The county wants to talk first with all three cities on Whidbey Island about countywide planning policies, so the UGA change won’t be on the docket until 2012.
Property owners should keep this on their radar, though, given recent UGA discussions in town. Here’s an interesting bit from the minutes of the Langley Planning Advisory Board meeting on Feb. 23:
“[PAB Member] Gail Fleming raised the issue of retaining some of the UGA for greenbelt purposes. Larry questioned whether this was an appropriate reason for UGA definition. Gail cited the Comp Plan goal 2, and asked where greenbelts were to be preserved if not in the UGA. Larry responded that they were to be part of the urban context.”
There’s the rub. While a UGA is expected to have greenbelts and open space, it is primarily the land that the city expects to annex within the next 20 years to accommodate more development and homes to handle a growing population.
The current city limits pull in about 644 acres (the 2007 estimate from the city’s comp plan), with 452 acres in the UGA.
The city’s 2007 Land Use Inventory lists 190 vacant acres in the UGA, with 43 acres in agriculture and 194 acres in residential uses. There were 36 acres of ag land inside city limits, and 237 acres in residential uses.
While the city’s comprehensive plan encourages new growth in the existing city first, and then in the UGA, it also seeks to “preserve to a significant extent tree cover and open space in the unincorporated UGA and Joint Planning Area for watershed management, habitat preservation, wildlife corridors and Langley’s visual character.”
There is also a policy that directs Langley to “collaborate with existing conservation groups, such as the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, to prioritize Langley Urban Growth Area and Joint Planning Area lands for preservation.”
How the city will resolve the strong desires of some to keep large swaths of the UGA undeveloped, but also allow for urban densities in the UGA, is still a mystery.
And so, speaking of mysteries, the newsletter for the Langley Chamber of Commerce landed today. The numbers are in for Mystery Weekend, but it looks like the snow in the days before the big event and the craptacular weather that followed had an impact.
“The weather was awful, but the laughs were many,” says the chamber newsletter. “We’ve heard some great reports from merchants as to sales numbers that weekend, so if you have some news to share with us, please do. Numbers of participants were down about 20 percent, so unfortunately our net was a bit lower than the past years. It’s the chance we take with outdoor events.”
The 20-percent figure was based on ticket sales, according to the chamber. The chamber did not say how many tickets were sold, though.
While we are on the subject of mysteries, also from the chamber newsletter: “We’re moving forward with a HUGE sign initiative that will be announced at the upcoming city council meeting and then more broadly explained at an Experience Langley meeting.”
The next Experience Langley meeting is April 20.
The sign project has been in hush-hush mode since late last year. Those who attended the city’s 2011 budget hearings can recall the dancing that was done to avoid any detailed explanations of how $18,000 in this year’s budget would pay for signs along Highway 525.
So let’s break open the mystery with this SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT. Here are the details of the HUGE sign initiative:
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign! Blocking up the scenery, breaking my mind.
Sorry to go all Five Man Electrical Band on you — especially any long-haired freaky people who may be reading this blog — but the initiative will mean new signs along Highway 525. Surprise!
Here is what they will look like, as well as the much anticipated route of the Langley Loop.
The Langley City Council will hold a special meeting on March 22 to talk about the controversial Langley Passage project.
The meeting is at 3 p.m. at city hall.
According to the notice of the meeting issued today by the city, the council will “consider matters associated with the Langley Passage preliminary plat application/ related appeals and to take action thereon.”
I delivered the following memo to the council and mayor last evening, March 7, 2011, regarding using the MRSC’s hosted Help Desk as a tool for handling citizen, business and internal complaints, comments and suggestions:
I brought up this idea some time ago but just recently completed additional research on how the Help Desk system works. I did a search on MRSC’s Help Desk link to better understand the service they are providing plus I talked with a staff person, Colin Mercer, at the City of McCleary (population 1500) regarding that city’s use of the service.
Here’s what I found in discussions with Mr. Mercer:
1) McCleary uses Help Desk to reduce liability at the request of their insurance carrier.
2) MRSC developed the software, hosts the site and provides support, including unique-to-McCleary support;
3) McCleary personalized data to establish criteria specific to their needs, for example the categories for citizen input were customized;
4) McCleary claims it is great!
5) McCleary says it keeps them out of trouble.
Here’s what I found is researching the MRSC site’s Help Desk:
1) The system records, assigns and tracks service requests from citizens, businesses and staff;
2) A centralized log of requests is generated;
3) The system provides for assigning tasks to staff, with the ability to review the status of the request;
4) Follow-up reminders are generated;
5) Weekly, monthly or annual reports of the number of requests can be generated;
6) The cost for Langley would be $100 per year.
Here are some site specifics:
1) An administrator within the city manages the site insuring privacy;
2) There is privacy built into the system in that an employee’s list is not visible to other employees;
3) Department heads can see all employee data within their department for supervisory purposes;
4) The mayor can see activity in all departments and of all employees for personnel management purposes;
5) There is good follow up so action items are not misplaced or forgotten;
6) Once there is resolution there is an archive system;
7) Record keeping is automatic for purposes of tracking and accountability.
My recommendation: As a policy issue I believe using Help Desk would reduce the city’s liability and improve efficiency, thereby reducing costs. Beyond saving money I believe the Help Desk would provide an efficient method of handling suggestions and complaints lodged by citizens and businesses as well as internally. Accordingly, I would like to see this item on the agenda for discussion as soon as possible.
The dog talk continues at the Langley council meeting.
The city usually issues about 150 dog licenses a year.
Licenses cost $7 for neutered or spayed dogs.
“Four dollars for seniors,” said City Treasurer Debbie Mahler.
“For senior dogs?” Mayor Paul Samuelson asked.
It’s the biggest larf of the night.
“I couldn’t pass up the …” he said.
“It’s $27 if they are not fixed,” Mahler continued.
Dog license fees are due in January, but they usually take through March to collect.
Councilman Robert Gilman said there were probably 150 dogs in town. “At least.”
If the city had only 15 licenses issued by now, the city was running “a little behind,” he said.
Someone asked if the city should take out a little advertisement in the newspaper, to remind residents about dog licenses.
“Gee, this may be on the front page of the Record,” Gilman said.
Maybe wanted posters should be put in the post office, Waterman joked. “The 10 most wanted.”
We’re at that point in the meeting that Abel warned about; her report to council. Would her proposal for handling citizen complaints and suggestions be met with a professorial nod of approval, or descend into a we’ll-be-here-past-8 p.m. gabfest?
Abel gave a short presentation on the Citizen Help Desk, an online service hosted by Municipal Research and Services Center that cities can use to create a database of requests and responses from citizens and businesses, and then track those complaints or comments.
MRSC hosts and updates the system, which would cost the city $100 a year to use.
Abel said she talked with Colin Mercer at the city of McCleary (population 1,500), and the Help Desk received a big endorsement as an archiving and records system.
“It sounds like just an incredible system, and they were really happy with it. They think it keeps them out of trouble, and they claim that it works really well,” she said.
MRSC can set up a 30-minute demonstration via conference call to show off the system, Abel said.
“I would like to recommend that we get this on the agenda for discussion,” she said, after city officials have time to watch the demonstration.
On a policy level, Abel said it would reduce Langley’s legal liability, improve efficiency and save money.
She handed out an information packet to the council and vowed to put it on the city’s blog sometime soon.
Only a few weeks ago, it looked like council members wanted to avoid committees like the plague. This week, they got the fever. The ad hoc fever.
Councilwoman Neff said she would be bringing forward a proposal to create an ad hoc committee on parking.
Councilman Waterman said he has recruited six of seven people to serve on his new ad hoc committee, the Committee for Sustaining the Character of Langley.
Waterman said the group now had representatives from the Historic Preservation Commission, the Planning Advisory Board, the Main Street program, and a community representative who is also contractor. The group would probably have its first meeting this week, and be back before the council in 60 days with recommendations.
Also, May is Historic Preservation Month, and Waterman said the Historic Preservation Commission was looking at different projects that would be undertaken this year. Anyone with ideas on how to highlight Langley’s history should contact the councilman.
Councilman Hal Seligson gave an update of his proposed ad hoc finance and administration committee, previously greeted as a liberator by the Langley council and mayor.
Seligson said he sent out information to the council on some minor refinements that had been made to the proposal, as well as a statement of priorities.
Neff said she didn’t get the information.
Mahler, however, shook her head yes, it had been distributed to council members.
Neff said, not unless it was within the past few hours.
“No, it was a week ago,” Mahler said.
Any-who, Seligson said there had been some early interest from volunteers who wanted to be on the committee, but for some, their schedules would not allow them to serve the city right yet.
Still, Seligson said he hoped to bring the membership before the council for approval soon so it could start work.
The mayor reminded everyone there would be a council workshop devoted to the topic – this new finance and administration committee – because that’s what they wanted, right?
Abel shook her head yes, vigorously.
That workshop would be open to the public, right? Seligson asked.
Yes, the mayor said.
Council reports concluded, next up was department reports.
With Kwarsick having exited already, gone sick, Mahler gave her finance/clerk report.
There was good news, bad news.
The general fund began the year up, about $22,000 higher than expected. But a $68,000 insurance payment had to be made, and it left the city in the red.
The general fund — the pot of money that pays for police, parks and general government services — is now in a $1,900 hole.
“We should make that back very soon,” Mahler said, her eye on tax revenues soon to arrive.
Gilman wondered if it was time to transfer funds to cover the amount, something Mahler said may need to be done. But first, she’ll be reconciling the receipts for February in the coming days.
In citizen comments, the last agenda item, Kathleen Waters again pressed the city to do a better job in getting timely responses to citizen who contact the council.
Volunteer techmeister Thomas Gill said he was working to have e-mails sent from residents to the council land in their in-boxes at the same time it hits the clerk’s in-box.
Time for adjournment. The mayor grabbed his gavel and gavel pad (is there actually a name for that round piece of wood you smack the gavel on? we’ll get back to you on that) and tucked it in his left jacket pocket.
“It’s 6:25; less than an hour!” Gilman shouted.
“A miracle,” Seligson said.