The Black Diamond City Council will soon join its neighboring cities in having seven members.
The ordinance increasing the size of the council was approved unanimously during the Aug. 1 meeting after a lengthy, and somewhat tense, discussion.
“With all of the building that’s going on, with all the houses that are built and ready to be sold, the timing is right,” said Councilmember Janie Edelman, referencing the Ten Trails housing development, which expects to bring in around 4,800 homes at full buildout in the next two decades. “There’s no point in waiting to increase the size.”
According to Washington state law, cities are required to have a seven-member council once they reach a population of 5,000 residents. However, so long as cities have at least 2,500 residents, they can elect to have seven members at any time.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Black Diamond had an official 4,151 residents in 2010, which has grown to an estimated 4,500 residents in 2018.
Any state or federal census, as well as the Washington State Office of Financial Management, can officially determine when a city has reached the 5,000-resident threshold.
In an interview before the Aug. 1 meeting, Edelman said she didn’t know whether Black Diamond has reached that limit.
“Whether it all happens by the 2020 census, I don’t have a crystal ball for that. We just figured the time was right — let’s do it now, and get people up to speed so that when we really do get into more big city legislation… we won’t have five brand-new people that don’t know what’s going on,” she said.
But several citizens voiced some concerns about this plan.
One issue that came up multiple times was that residents should be able to vote in new councilmembers, rather than have them appointed to the council.
“The voice of the voters is being cut off by allowing the mayor and council to appoint council members they feel are best,” resident Mike Fettig said during the public comment period.
However, state law requires the two seats to first be filled by appointment before being put onto a general election ballot, council members pointed out.
Others were concerned about how the council expansion would affect the budget; council members told the room they’re only compensated $160 a month for their work, but conceded adding two more members would put more strain on staff when it came to making sure enough copies of documents were made and the like.
Finally, there were anxieties about who would have the real power behind picking appointees, and the reasons for doing so.
“It’s going to create a power imbalance between the mayor and the council,” said resident Gare Johnson. “There’s a risk the appointed persons would be pre-selected by the mayor to support the mayor and the developers.”
Various council members responded, saying the appointment process is taken very seriously, the mayor has no vote, and council members don’t know how their peers will vote until a vote is called.
“Having been through the process of appointing a council member, we take it very seriously,” said Councilmember Erin Stout. “Those interviews are entered into with a really serious sense of responsibility, because bringing someone onto the council to fill an empty position is actually fairly daunting… It would be kind of nice to say, ‘I opt out, let’s flip a coin.’ But you can’t do that, because you’re talking about the respect and honor that we have sitting on the city council and fulfilling our responsibility to the citizens of Black Diamond.”
Councilmember Tamie Deady chimed in about how quickly the council was moving with this piece of legislation.
“I would love to hear more from residents. I would love to have, maybe not a work study, but maybe a hearing or public input period where people can come forward and give their input,” Deady said. “Eight years ago, seven years ago, six years ago, [one thing] we talked about very much on this council was never to vote in anything that was just presented that night, or hadn’t been thoroughly talked about. And this hasn’t been thoroughly been talked about.”
In fact, it was procedure two years ago to introduce legislation to the council, send it to a council committee for review and recommendation, and then have the full council make a final decision. This process was scrapped after the 2018 election, since the remaining council members believed the process was too slow, and many pieces of legislation never left their committees.
Additionally, the topic of expanding the council was discussed in April 2018. However, Edelman ultimately withdrew the ordinance, citing the fact that there would have been five brand-new members on the council if they went through with it, having just gone through a general election and a recall vote.
Councilman Chris Wisnoski said that because council expansion has been on the table for more than a year, residents shouldn’t be surprised it’s come up again. He added that the council got very few comments about expanding the council back then as well, and beyond the comments and emails they already received this time around, didn’t expect more people voice their opinion.
Mayor Carol Benson said there was one other item to consider when it came to the timing of expanding the council.
“We’re going to be heavily into the budget process later in the year,” Benson said. “If you have somebody that you want to select, you want to give them the longest time possible to learn the budget process.”
In fact, the council had just approved the 2019 calendar for the 2020 budget meetings before discussing expanding the council; Sept. 26 would be the first workstudy meeting on the budget, only one week after the council now plans to appoint people to the new seats.
Now having voted to expand, the city council has 90 days to nominate new members. According to Edelman, the tentative schedule is to have all applications due Set. 3, have interviews during the Sept. 12 workstudy, and vote on the nominations Sept. 19 after an executive session.
You can submit your application at www.ci.blackdiamond.wa.us/public_notices.html.
City Attorney David Linehan pointed out that whoever is appointed first will have a vote in who is appointed second.
Both appointees will serve at least until the 2021 general election, where one seat will be up for grabs with a two-year limit, and the other with a four-year limit.