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Poulsbo City Hall causes City Council brawl

Poulsbo City Hall has again divided the city council. Under debate this time is whether a change order, or cost increase, should have been brought to the attention of the full council rather than at a Finance Committee meeting.  - Courtesy graphic
Poulsbo City Hall has again divided the city council. Under debate this time is whether a change order, or cost increase, should have been brought to the attention of the full council rather than at a Finance Committee meeting.
— image credit: Courtesy graphic

The ongoing debate over Poulsbo’s new city hall boiled over at a city council committee meeting last week, with one council member storming out early.

The row over the $15.8 million building, under construction, involved a $115,000 payment last year to the city’s architecture firm for additional design work.

Councilwomen Becky Erickson and Linda Berry-Maraist, critics of the project, said the full council was not informed of the “change order,” or cost increase, and should have been because it changes a contract. Lewis Architects originally asked for $200,000 for additional design work on the building’s parking garage, atrium and other features, officials said.

The payment was legal and proper, said City Attorney Jim Haney. The $115,000 sum was negotiated down by Mayor Kathryn Quade and paid in November.

Councilman Dale Rudolph, who left the meeting early after a taking offense to Berry-Maraist’s statement that the information was “hidden” from the council, said he knew of the cost increase and the negotiation, and asked to be involved because of his background in project management. Rudolph said information on the contract change had been included in council materials.

Rudolph acknowledged that he can be blunt-spoken but resented what he felt was an accusation that he was dishonest in not sharing the information with the rest of the council.

“If she’s going to say ‘You’re a liar,’ I’m just not going to talk to her, because I’m not a liar,” Rudolph said after the meeting.

However, Rudolph said he could work with the council despite the acrimony.

Rudolph wasn’t the only person to take offense to Berry-Maraist’s comment.

“I really do resent that implication,” Quade said.

Erickson said she discovered the payment about two weeks ago in a routine audit she performed as a member of the Finance Committee. Erickson was a member of the city hall project team in the fall of 2008, along with Rudolph and Quade. The firm’s original bill was about $660,000, officials said.

Erickson said she wants stronger controls on the city’s ability to negotiate contracts without knowledge of the full council, but

Councilman Ed Stern said those new policies would be meaningless, considering the city isn’t likely to approve such a large project soon.

During the meeting Stern remarked he preferred to have the discussion in committee, when council members would not be “mobbed by the public and the press.” Asked later to clarify, he said too much was at stake to air grievances at a full council meeting, which are better attended and televised than committee meetings.

The committee meeting, “doesn’t lend itself to demagoguery,” Stern said.

“When you’ve got $15.8 million in taxpayer money on the table, that’s unexcusable and not tenable,” he said. “That’s my commitment and that was accomplished.”

Stern said the flare-up was a sign of a healthy council willing to wrestle with issues.

“I’d rather have that than a bobble head council.”

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