Kirby, Springer attempt to clarify issues surrounding bill that would end community council in Kirkland
By MATT PHELPS
Kirkland Reporter Regional Assistant Editor
March 16, 2011 · Updated 6:09 PM
Representatives Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, and Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, along with the City of Kirkland’s lobbyists have all said this week that they have asked the Senate to kill a bill that would effectively end community councils in Washington State. Both representatives have also tried to clarify Kirby’s statements on the matter in an effort to diffuse anger from the Houghton community.
The question now is what damage has been done to the trust between the elected officials involved and Houghton residents.
“There was a lot of opposition to this bill in Houghton as you would imagine,” Houghton Community Councilmember Susan Thornes told the Kirkland City Council Tuesday, citing an online petition that also took comments from the community. “The two big concerns were the opposition to the bill, obviously, and the concern and suspicion of the process. It seems that no elected official in Houghton and Kirkland except for Rep. Larry Springer was aware or knew the details about the bill and of course that was very disconcerting to a lot of people including myself.”
It seems all the elected officials are attempting to clarify what they knew, when they knew it and who they talked to.
Kirby said that he misspoke when he told the Senate Committee and the Reporter, in a subsequent interview in Olympia on March 8, that he had talked to Kirkland City Council members and city officials about the legislation.
“What I thought I said was that I had talked to people who have been on the Kirkland City Council,” Kirby told the Reporter Tuesday. “I never spoke to anyone on the Kirkland City Council. That came from a conversation I had with Larry. I felt bad that I threw people I have never met under the bus.”
Kirby said the mistake came when he used present tense and not past tense in talking about the council.
“No, I haven’t ... just the city council and mainly with city officials, Kirkland in particular,” Kirby said during the public hearing when asked by the panel if he spoke with community council members. Following the hearing, Kirby told the Reporter he has spoken with Kirkland Council members regarding HB 1812. He said he spoke with “representatives of the city. I actually don’t know all the players without a program. My involvement in this is just to facilitate all this and whatever happens, happens.”
He cited Springer as one of those officials and one other person in Olympia that he thought had served on the Kirkland Council. Rep. Deb Eddy (D-Kirkland) is the only other state elected official who has served on the Kirkland Council. Both Springer and Eddy have also served as mayor of Kirkland.
Kirby’s statements set off a firestorm as Legislative Committee members on the city council were silent at the March 1 council meeting when it was brought to the attention of the public by Councilmember Bob Sternoff, who is not on the committee. Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride told the Reporter on March 9 that she has never met Kirby.
Kirkland Council members took time Tuesday during the regular meeting to give statements on the matter.
“No one wanted the community council or the city council to be surprised by legislation that could potentially affect citizens of our city,” said McBride, who served five years on the Houghton Community Council. “I wouldn’t want this concern over House Bill 1812 to fracture our very respectful working relationship.”
One of the most concerning aspects to the situation for some is the fact that Springer is married to current Kirkland Deputy Mayor Penny Sweet.
“Well, I, more than anyone else on this council have probably been more tuned into House Bill 1812,” said Sweet. “But I have to confess that I really wasn’t paying that much attention. The existence of the community council has long been an issue in my family and frankly it has become background noise that I was not paying any more attention to this year than I have in the past ... I am not aware of any crafting or the launching of the bill. It is unfortunate that there are those who assume that there was any clandestine effort to sneak the bill through. It just doesn’t happen.”
Sweet went on to say that she cannot and does not follow all the bills her husband is involved in.
Springer, who testified in favor of the bill during the House hearing on Feb. 28, has since publicly stated in a letter to local media that he has asked the Senate to remove the bill from the agenda and tried to clarify Kirby’s statement.
“I attended the Senate hearing on the bill yesterday and need to clear up a very important point. When Rep. Kirby indicated he had talked about the bill with Kirkland officials, he was referring to me. He has never had a conversation with any Kirkland City Council member,” Springer wrote.
In his letter, Springer also talked about the accusations that the process of attempting to pass the legislation was not open.
“... I should have had the bill introduced much earlier in the session rather than as a late addition ...,” wrote Springer, who also said that he did not sponsor the bill because he had sponsored too many bills already. “Once it was introduced, the bill moved even more quickly than I expected, and it is my fault for not keeping closer tabs on the bill during the process.”
Springer also attempted to clarify the issues surrounding the council: “I can assure everyone that this bill was never requested by any city council member or city staff person ... Kirkland City Council members were not consulted during the drafting of the bill, nor have Deputy Mayor Penny Sweet (Springer’s wife) and I had any substantive conversations about it.”
The issue of stopping the bill has been approached by most involved.
“It is unlikely that it will move out of that committee,” said the city’s Intergovernmental Relations Manager Lorrie McKay. “Members of that committee, namely Sen. Chase, have indicated it will not move.”
McKay said that the city’s lobbyists have communicated to the chair and requested that the bill not be moved. McKay said she anticipates that the bill will die in committee.
HB 1812 would end the creation of new community councils in the state of Washington. It would also allow the entire city to vote on the existence of current community or neighborhood councils every four years. Only the community or neighborhood represented by the council currently votes on its existence every four years. Kirkland and Bellevue are the only cities with community councils in the state.
One of the reasons that McKay and the city’s lobbyists missed the bill when looking over the House agenda was the wording of the bill, specifically the fact that the community councils were labeled “municipal corporations.”
Kirby said that the wording of the bill was crafted by staff and lawyers.
“Most of us are not lawyers and I don’t think anyone would want that to change,” said Kirby.Contact Kirkland Reporter Regional Assistant Editor Matt Phelps at email@example.com or 425-822-9166 ext. 5052.