All of us in city leadership roles, including council members, the mayor, city staff, chamber of commerce staff, partner jurisdictions, and newspaper editors share a common goal to keep our city prospering and our citizens working together. This is as true with our libraries as with anything else.
Often it works best to put controversial decisions behind us quickly, and move on. This approach can minimize times of conflict and keep things moving forward. This works well when everyone agrees that we reviewed all the information before we made a decision.
But powering ahead will not work when large groups of decision-makers feel they have not been given relevant information, or not consulted at all. This is why we find ourselves driving up on an August 7 library election. This is also why it is desperately important for citizens to have access to accurate, complete information before voting.
In yesterday’s Renton Reporter, the editor offered to help provide this information, and “to clear up any half-truths and untruths” regarding the library. I commend the editor for this, but I also issue him the challenge to truly investigate the issues.
The Renton Reporter has not had a perfect track record informing voters about this issue. For instance, three recent Renton Reporter editorials have claimed that voters have already made the informed decision to relocate the downtown library. Here are some quotes: (March 22, 2012) ” majority rules…the city administration was then obligated, legally, to carry out the public’s wishes and negotiate… the details of building two new libraries in new locations.”; (April 6, 2012) “We would argue that the public’s voice was heard two years ago, when a majority of voters decided to annex to KCLS, knowing that new libraries were on the horizon.“; (April 19, 2012) “The Renton Reporter has argued that the City of Renton and the King County Library System had already signed a contract to build a new library somewhere other than over the Cedar River. The plan was clear in election literature and in all the documents approved by the City Council”
But with all these bold (and controversial) assertions that voters two years ago clearly knew they were voting to close the Cedar River Library, had the Renton Reporter ever actually informed voters that a vote for KCLS was a vote for closing Cedar River library in 2010? No. The Reporter instead informed the public there might be a single new library, in the highlands, that the public would get to vote on. Here is an excerpt from the Renton Reporter editorial of January 27, 2010 a week prior to the KCLS annexation: “Renton residents will have some local control over whether the city builds a new library, perhaps in the Highlands, if and when a levy to do so is placed on the ballot. That’s a glimmer of local control, although the building would belong to KCLS.” Beyond this editorial, there were four special reports on the KCLS annexation issue, which you can find linked here; in these reports, the Renton Reporter never once mentioned that the Cedar River Library would be subject to closure with annexation to KCLS. Yet this possibility of closure is obviously an issue of paramount importance to thousands of trusting citizens.
In fairness to the Renton Reporter, I don’t think they knew anything different at the time. But this is an example of where the public needs to see some digging and investigative reporting before they make their decision in the upcoming August 7, 2012 election.
The last 20 percent of the city’s explanatory statement for the August 7 ballot is dedicated to re-purposing issues that go along with the library choices. These (admittedly incomplete) plans require “additional undetermined funding”. If the Piazza library site is chosen, this additional undetermined funding would be three to ten million dollars of one-time money, plus another million or two annually, for maintenance and operation of the Cedar River library building. The newspaper owes it to the readers to make an effort to scope this funding, and not simply refer to the Piazza site as the least expensive one.
As a council member, I am glad this is going to the voters for a decision, and I am happy to implement either location choice. While I prefer the Cedar River Library, I can see why some others like the Piazza location. My real concern is that everyone has the information they need for an informed choice and that they understand what they are signing up for. With less than 90 days before the ballots must be returned, there is no time to lose in terms of getting information out there.
For this reason, I’m going to post some blogs on this topic with the facts as I personally know them, and I’ll ask readers to give them peer review by affirming or challenging them in my comment section. I will be sharing opinions too, and trying to remain disciplined about keeping facts and opinions separated– please feel free to agree or disagree with these opinions. As long as there is a public airing of all the issues, I’ll be pleased with the election outcome. I am confident that this is a feeling city-wide.
Please let me know if there are any specific topics you would like to see covered.