Candidate debate touches on ratepayer lawsuit

If you haven’t yet, go here to read my coverage of Monday night’s City Council candidate forum.

One aspect of the discussion I didn’t have room for in my story was the candidates’ position on the Bainbridge Ratepayers Alliance lawsuit. The suit, brought in part to stop the city from using sewer plant bonds for other projects, may lead to a double or tripling of Winslow area sewer rates.

A forum attendee asked the six candidates’ to say whether they supported the lawsuit and what they thought should be done to resolve it.

South Ward candidate Kirsten Hytopoulos, who took the question first, noted that the lawsuit was not a matter for the council or potential council members. She then stressed that the Constitution allows citizens to sue their city.

“It’s a fundamental right,” she said.

Hytopoulos’ opponent, Tim Jacobsen, staked out a clear position against the lawsuit.

“It’s not the right thing for the community,” he said.

Picking up on Hytopoulos’ comments, Jacobsen agreed citizens have a right to sue their city, but they also have the right not to.

“One freedom of choice we have in this country is to not exercise the all the rights we have,” he said, urging citizens to sue or not sue with consideration for what’s best for the community.

He likened the lawsuit to a game of chicken between the alliance and the city.

“It’s not being played on a deserted road,” he said. “There’s a lot of bystanders.”

In the North Ward race, neither candidate staked out a clear “for” or “against” position.

Bob Scales, who hopes to unseat incumbent Debbie Vancil, urged the city to find out the alliance’s concerns and address them.

Citizens, he said, “file lawsuits when they’re not being heard.”

Vancil said she couldn’t comment directly because the matter is currently in litigation. She stressed that coming to a resolution is a “top priority” for the city. She drew applause when she suggested that the city should stop borrowing money from its utility funds and that an audit should be conducted on the funds.

Central Ward candidate Debbi Lester didn’t say whether she supported the lawsuit or not. She focused on positive developments that have occurred since the alliance expressed its intention to sue.

“It’s brought about change,” she said, noting the creation of a citizen utility commission, the promise of audits by the city manager and an account for the sewer plant’s bond funding that can’t be used for other purposes.

Lester’s opponent, Dee Dumont, strongly defended the alliance’s right to sue and took issue with the “verbal scorn that’s been heaped upon” the alliance’s members.

“I absolutely support the right of the citizens of Bainbridge Island to confront the city legally,” DuMont said. “To imply it’s not OK is to question the founding of America.”

5 thoughts on “Candidate debate touches on ratepayer lawsuit

  1. That comment by Tim Jacobsen was one of two comments he made that really demonstrated who this man really is. Who ordered up a Barry Peters mini-me?

  2. A question for SMB: whose mini-me is Mr. Jacobsen’s opponent? I must say I don’t understand the animus against Barry Peters, nor do I think Tim Jacobsen resembles him. Is there something wrong with a Council member, or a candidate for Council, who thinks and talks about what’s good for the community? There’s nothing wrong with disagreement on the issues, but SMB seems unable to do that. Barry Peters has been one of seven people on the Council, and sometimes one of four. The big question in this election is this: Will we have a Council that is more cohesive and effective in addressing the city’s many problems, or much less? To put it a little differently: Does the majority of citizens want to add strength to the Knobloch / Vancil / Brackett bloc, or to the other side? I prefer the second alternative, and I see Jacobsen and Lester as the better choices, as individuals and as participants in a problem-solving group.

  3. Mr. Quitslund, don’t turn my comment into something it’s not. My comment has absolutely nothing to do with disagreement on issues. It has to do with how our elected officials regard the people who they are supposed to represent.

    Why are you so quick to assume that I was criticizing Mr. Jacobsen. Did you consider for a second that I thought he showed himself to be a reasoned, non-confrontational man who believes in civil and neighborly dialogue? Or, that I want another council member who, like Barry Peters, wants all the hostile, rancorous, human-decency-lacking, disrespectful, unwilling-to-have-blind-faith citizens to sit down and shut-up so that the City can go about its usual business?

    No? Good, I don’t want there to be any confusion.

    If Mr. Jacobsen is a man of principles, then in his world any government run organization could do as they please and disregard the laws and the citizens they purportedly work for and represent because nobody would CHOOSE to challenge it. Do you really think that’s how he feels? Is that how you feel, Mr. Quitslund?

    Of course not, he just doesn’t agree with the Ratepayer Lawsuit and dismisses them as bad citizens because they chose to exercise their rights. Who did you imply had trouble with disagreement on issues?

    Disagreement on issues is not the problem. What I do have a problem with is a candidate who has now demonstrated himself as someone who will not apply the same standards and principles to everyone. How Mr. Jacobsen applies a standard or principle will depend on how the interests involved align with his own.

    For me, Mr. Quitsland, that is unacceptable. Barry has the same mindset, which is where the “animus” against him is derived from.

    It’s unfortunate that you are choosing candidates based on which “bloc” you want strengthened. I’m going to choose the candidates who best represent my values and believe in the importance of citizens’ voices and participation in the governance of the community in which they live.

  4. I think everyone agrees that citizens have a constitutionally guaranteed right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” and that lawsuits are a legitimate form of such petitioning.

    I can’t speak for Mr. Jacobsen; readers of this blog can make up their own minds as to whether his attitude toward citizens who may not agree with him are fairly characterized here. I think there’s some rhetorical excess in what’s said about the “mindset” of Barry Peters and the people who generally, but not always, agree with him.

    Let me clarify my own positions. On the subject of “civility”: I think somewhat different standards apply to people in public office (higher standards for them) and to citizens, who often have reason to be furious and impatient. We all need to blow off steam from time to time. But I hate to see grudge fighting and over-the-top nastiness: what purpose does that serve?

    The Ratepayers’ Alliance lawsuit may be, in some part, legitimate: let the courts decide whether the City mismanaged some funds. What has really got me going is the litigators’ decision (or a threat, at least) to pursue an appeal of the County-level summary judgment that set aside the most damaging (and to me, overreaching) part of the suit. That’s the part that’s potentially ruinous.

    SMB says, in conclusion, “I’m going to choose the candidates who best represent my values . . .”: with that, and the rest of the last sentence, I am entirely in agreement.

  5. My take is that if Hytopoulos, Lester & her mother-in-law (Vancil) get elected, then Bainbridge can only look forward to more of the same. Why do we keep putting the same people or types of people back in office & hope to expect different results? Everyone has a history of what actions (not words) they took, what they did, etc. Electing any of these council candidates brings about highly-predictable results. I hope everyone’s memory is not so short as to recall the newpaper stories after the last election. Remember the “Dream Team” exclamation? Reelecting Vancil & Knobloch and electing Brackett was supposed to be the end all for all that was wrong at the city. Now look at the city. Are we better off now, or worse? The answer should be obvious.

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