Stevens: “A false majority is pushing the Winslow Way project”

City Hall watcher Rod Stevens disagrees that a majority of islanders want the Winslow Way repair project to move forward:

A few people have written that we should get on with the Winslow Tomorrow effort since the City Council has duly voted four to three to start construction. This raises interesting questions about the nature of majority rule, and how much “majority” you need to do things in a small community.

The “majority” on the council certainly think they have a mandate to act. Councilman Chris Snow has said “We have the votes”, which is similar to saying “I’m the Decider.” Councilman Barry Peters writes about those opposing the project as being in the “minority”, and while he didn’t say this, this is equivalent to saying “you’re not one of us”. A year or more ago Councilman Kjell Stoknes told those opposing Winslow Tomorrow that “the train has left the station.”

I see three problems with such “majority” arguments.

The first is that it is not clear that a “majority” of people on Bainbridge support the big downtown project. The city’s own community priorities survey put projects like this near the bottom of a list of 32 options. There’s been no vote, and there is no major upwelling of support being voiced in public meetings, in the newspapers or on the blogs.

Second, it is not clear that the mayor has played by the rules along the way. Some of the key citizen committees were rife with conflicts of interest. In seeking to redirect grants from Wing Point Way to Winslow Way, the mayor never told the council about the backfill requirements. A number of people that have looked closely at the document related to the backfill requirement consider it to be highly unrealistic, if not misleading.

Finally, the way that a community rallies around and plans a major project either builds or erodes the sense of community. Past island-wide campaigns to fund the libraries, schools, and open space all drew people together and helped the community define what it most values. This has not happened with Winslow Tomorrow, and instead we see an erosion of civic capital, of the ability of people to trust one another, to listen to one another, and to get things done. It is not at all clear that the council members now casting the deciding votes are genuinely listening. We are going to have to rebuild the sense of community here on Bainbridge, but that rebuilding will probably need to be done informally or in other organizations besides city government.
-Rod Stevens