Municipal campus stokes fire for council debate

POULSBO — The match that lit the fuse for an explosive city council debate had nothing to do with Wednesday night’s agenda, but rather Frank Shiers’ editorial cartoon in that day’s North Kitsap Herald.

Mayor Donna Jean Bruce took dead aim at the cartoon and its view of the city’s municipal campus proposal as “city hall hopscotch” as she opened council discussion.

“I want to state emphatically we (the mayor’s office and city staff) do not see the process of preparing for a municipal campus as a game,” Bruce said. “We understand our limited resources better than anyone and would never expend any money foolishly.”

City officials, including former Mayor Mitch Mitchusson, staff and the council, have discussed and worked toward a new municipal campus since 1991, she said.

After the 2000 purchase of the Morris property, which was later determined to be unsuitable for the project, the council decided to fund three transportation projects in 2003 instead of continuing the pursuit of a municipal campus, Bruce added.

“In response to council requests, in November 2004, I asked the public works director to review documents pertaining to the municipal campus project and suggested the possibility of looking at alternative sites,” she said, noting that Public Works Director Jeff Lincoln’s guidance led to the review of possible sites in January 2005 with the unanimous recommendation being the proposed 10th Avenue location.

That agreement led to the council’s approval of a 60-day negotiation period with Olympic Resource Management, which owns the property, as well as a contract with BLRB Architects of Tacoma to study the feasibility of the site, she said.

“This is not a ‘fast track’ process,” Bruce explained. “This has been a strategic and step-by-step process with council being involved and concurring at each of the incremental steps along the way.”

Bruce then gave way to Councilman Ed Stern, who returned after a two-week vacation, and Stern took the council to task over last week’s decision to delay the visioning process as well as recently expressed reservations about the proposed site.

“I am shocked at the apparent dissension and disarray of having a municipal campus,” Stern said.

While not directly questioning anyone’s motives, three of the individuals involved in the decision-making process are running for mayor and another person has a historic association with one of them, he explained.

“With unanimous agreement, there’s little they can do to distinguish one from another,” he remarked, noting that four years ago he openly opposed Mayor Bruce’s reelection.

If the council has not decided to move ahead with the municipal campus project by mid-September, Stern announced his intentions to recommend the city make the necessary repairs to its current building as chairman of the finance committee.

“There is a real cost to this and that is essential maintenance to this facility,” Stern said.

Councilwoman Connie Lord, who expressed her reservations about the 10th Avenue site in a memo to council members last week, said she had supported the municipal campus in the past.

“The reason I voted for the due diligence was to see if the site was suitable,” Lord explained. “However, I’m not sure how it will shake out.”

One of the ideas expressed in the city’s comprehensive plan is ensuring that the municipal campus would be pedestrian friendly and the 10th Avenue site may not meet that goal, she said.

“I understand there’s a possibility of a bridge over (State Route) 305, but I don’t think that’s realistic,” she remarked. “I think it’s healthy to have this type of discussion and I think it’s time to do it.”

Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Kathryn Quade asked that council put the project on the back burner until after the election, questioning the wisdom of rushing to judgment on a site in the last four months of the year.

“I believe we need to hold ourselves to the highest standard and I fully support the idea of a municipal campus at another location,” Quade said, expressing empathy for city staff working in the current building.

The city needs to seek greater input from residents, especially on a project of this magnitude, she explained.

However, Councilman Jim Henry said the time for action on the municipal campus is now rather than later.

“For once, we need to think civically. For once, we need to think on our feet,” Henry exhorted the council.

Delaying the visioning process because council members didn’t like somebody was an excuse, he said.

“I’m not one to stick my finger in the air and see which way the wind is blowing,” Henry remarked. “Enough of this. It’s an election year. Let’s get off our tail and do something.”

Councilman Dale Rudolph echoed Henry’s sentiments and decried the council’s behavior during election season.

“Every other year, we work hard for six months and watch it all blow up,” Rudolph observed. “No matter how close we are, you can turn it around and make it political.”

The city needs to get out of its current building before all of the large parcels of land in the city disappear, Rudolph advised.

“I feel almost helpless in some respects and it looks like it’s going to come down to how many votes do we have to move forward,” he said.

Councilman and mayoral candidate Mike Regis countered Rudolph’s assessment by stating that the discussion was merely part of the process.

“We’re all in agreement that staff needs a better facility and we’re in a process,” Regis said, adding that all options for the municipal campus need to be explored and all questions about the project should be answered.

“I’m happy because it tells me we’re on the right path,” he said, as the council moved on to the rest of the items on the scheduled agenda.

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