The public’s plea to be nice at public meetings

The last town hall-style meeting at the local American Legion Hall three months ago was as angry as I’ve ever seen a meeting on Bainbridge Island.

The sequel, held Tuesday night, had a more conciliatory spirit. Billed as a discussion of how to improve city government, a lot of folks stood up at the meeting to tone down the rhetoric.

Read my story below.

Some Islanders Issue Plea: Be Nice at Public Meetings
By Tristan Baurick

Like a lot of islanders, Karen Ross is fed up with city politics. But it wasn’t doubts about city finances, angry urges toward city staff or fears about the future of Winslow Way that spurred her to attend her first public meeting Tuesday night.

“My quest today is to ask people to be more civil,” Ross said to about 60 people gathered at the island’s American Legion Hall to discuss ways to improve city government.

Ross, who has lived on Bainbridge long enough to remember when “you could ride a horse across the island without getting hit by a car,” said the level of public discourse has taken a dive.

“Times have changed,” she said. “It’s very depressing to hear all the nastiness.”

There was a good dose of nastiness at the Legion’s last town hall-style meeting three months ago. A handful of elected officials and city staff were corralled into the center of about 140 angry people who lobbed accusations ranging from managerial incompetence to financial malfeasance. The February meeting also helped launch a campaign to abolish the mayor’s office.

While Tuesday’s meeting had plenty of the angst and was jokingly billed by its moderator as a “typical bitch and moan session,” a chorus of attendees urged their neighbors to ease up on the fiery rhetoric.

“With all the cantankerous letters to the editor and strong opinions we’ve heard, we have to ask ourselves: Who would really want to work for us?” asked Edie Hartmann, referring to a high city staff turnover rate and the recent resignations of the city administrator and planning director. “If we don’t want people leaving after only a year, we’d better change our tone.”

Hartmann’s comments came after property rights activist Gary Tripp accused a city planner of tricking the public, using City Hall to push a personal agenda and encouraging off-island groups to sue the city.

Iver MacDougall said personal attacks against city staff are unnecessary.

“We need to have some civility toward the city people with which we disagree,” he said. “These folks, in their way, are trying to do their best.

“Maybe they have the wrong point of view, but they’re not bad people.”

Kirsten Hytopoulos, a critic of recent downtown planning efforts, cautioned against “an atmosphere in which you can’t be critical.” She said some people didn’t come to the meeting because they were afraid of being pegged as overly negative.

Attendees didn’t spare criticism for Mayor Darlene Kordonowy, who sat quietly while weathering a salvo of sharp words.

One man said Kordonowy was incapable of running the city, which he equated to “a simple operation.” Another attendee said Kordonowy “is not listening” to the public and doesn’t understand the rudiments of city finance.

Former City Councilman Bob Scales also admonished Kordonowy for “mismanaging” city dollars.

“The city has been adrift (because of) a lack of leadership,” he said.

Dennis Vogt gathered signatures at the meeting for a proposed ballot measure that could replace the mayor with a professional city manager hired by the council. Vogt and others have collected 400 of the nearly 1,000 signatures they need to put the issue on the November ballot.

Legion member Bill Beck said voters will likely vote the measure down, as they did a similar ballot item 15 years ago.

Bob Burkholder doubted a change in government will fix the problems residents identified at the meeting.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of government you’ve got,” he said. “What matters are the people.”

With a recent infusion of new blood at City Hall, Burkholder expressed hope that change is on the way.

“We have a new council now and the administration has learned a lot,” he said. “Let’s give them a chance.”

One man was willing to give them more than a chance. In a rare move at a public meeting, he offered an apology.

“I’m sorry to the mayor and council for every bad thought I’ve thought about you,” he said. “Thank you and I’m sorry.”

2 thoughts on “The public’s plea to be nice at public meetings

  1. “The rest of the County looks upon the current troubles of Bainbridge government with great glee”

    In that Bainbridge contributes more than their “fair Share” in tax revenues to Kitsap County than is returned in services and operating revenues, I find that comment to be disengenuous . Following that line of reasoning,Bainbridge did not go far enough in only incorporating as a City. It should have become a county. That way the taxes that are levied here would be used here. The 800 pound gorilla on our doorstep , the Wa State Ferry, could be turned into a revenue source for the Island by creating a Port of Winslow and placing a “landing and departure tax” on each car and rider. This could be augmented by a “Non Resident Parking Surcharge”. The funds could then be used to fix the horrendous traffic problems created by the off-island ferry users who take such glee at the travails of the Island government,contribute nothing to the Island retail community yet place a significant strain on our police and infrastructure that is paid for by Bainbridge islanders.
    The Island is seperated from the rest of the county by a sovereign nation. The traffic backup on 305 is directly attributable to the light that was placed in front of the Casino less than a hundred meters from the Agate Pass bridge whose demise you are so anxiously awaiting. The County and the State had purview over the approval and placement of this light but I seriously doubt,despite a traffic impact study requirement,there was any concern given to the environmental impact on the Island. As for the growth management aspect, this was a rural community. Nowhere in the 25 years that I have lived here do I recall a mandate to “urbanize” Bainbridge, yet it has happened and with it we have had to deal with the very problems that we moved here to escape.
    Our Island government is a problem…but it is our problem and we will solve it.
    Unlike the mthyical Lake Wobegon not everyone on this Island are “above average’ we have some with special needs and we try to address those needs.We don’t have all the right answers but we don’t stop trying to find them. Not all our kids are gifted but they are ours and we go to great lenghts to insure that they are provided with the best educational opportunities and safe environment.
    The Town Meeting was a step in the right direction. It was not the ultimate solution but it gave and will give Islanders a venue to come together and air their concerns in search of solutions.
    That is the difference.
    Rather than just complain we recognize that we have problems and are working to resolve them ourselves. We do not look to Port Orchard or Olympia to solve our problems…we do it in house and are not concerned about airing our problems in public.
    Our island government may not be perfect…it may be be problematic and sometimes cumbersome… but it answers to us and we can change it.

  2. Please run for city council. Someone willing to take responsibility and make meaningful decisions is what this city needs. You got my vote!

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