And the list of such contentious issues could go on, and on. And on. What do they have in common, other than of course the sometimes-volatile exchanges verbally and in print?
More importantly, how are decisions made concerning them?
Marijuana was a topic addressed at the Tillicum Woodbrook Neighborhood Association (TWNA) meeting this past September 7.
Jordan Michelson, “a would-be recreational pot store owner” in Lakewood, wanted to know how the city – represented this particular evening by Councilmember Mike Brandstetter – would spend the considerable amount of money Michelson estimated would be generated from marijuana sales tax revenue.
Michelson, who has been “locked in an ongoing battle with the city” since he applied in 2014 for a recreational marijuana retail license and to date awaits the green light to sell the green stuff, estimated “a quarter-million” from each of two stores.
That’s a lot of green.
Brandstetter replied that the numbers “run the gamut, from $50,000 to $300,000 annually.”
Even if money were the deciding factor as to the matter of making marijuana available locally, it matters not in any case since Lakewood is one of the last remaining holdouts for holding up marijuana businesses from operating within city limits.
That could change.
In January of this year the editorial board of the Tacoma News Tribune (TNT) opined “Lakewood City Hall needs to get off the fence when it comes to retail marijuana.”
Let alone the media, pressure has been applied from Olympia, per the TNT, with House Bill 1099: “Cities must take an official stance on retail pot or forgo 70 percent of state distributed liquor revenues.”
In the minutes of the council’s study session of July 10 of this year, Brandstetter’s fellow councilmember John Simpson “asked the council to act on the marijuana matter” (p.013). A month later, during the public comment portion of the August 21 council meeting, Michelson “asked the council to make a decision about cannabis retail” (p.006). Simpson again that evening reiterated his request that the council address the marijuana issue (p.009).
And at the TWNA meeting Sept. 7, Brandstetter said that “the city will move forward with some kind of answer by the end of the year.”
Therein – in that answer, and in the repeated requests of both Simpson and, for that matter, Michelson, along with the demands of the media and Olympia – lies a common fallacy of what constitutes good governance framed in this question:
Who is the ‘city’?
The TNT says, “Lakewood City Hall needs to get off the fence”; Simpson “asked the council to act;” Michelson wants “the council to make a decision”; Brandstetter said “the city will move forward.”
But who is the ‘city’ and how does the ‘city’ decide, whether the matter concerns marijuana legalization or rental inspection?
A public hearing?
Is a public hearing really about hearing from the public?
For example, despite near unanimous disapproval from the public with abundant and adamant testimony in strident opposition to the Rental Inspection Program (RIP) leading up to and at the July 5 public hearing concerning the issue, the City Council on August 1 passed Ordinance 644 establishing the RIP anyway.
“The public hearing is the worst way to involve the public,” writes Kurt H. Schindler.
“While there are many ways to effectively involve the public, the public hearing is not one of them.”
The public hearing, according to Schindler, “is the ubiquitous event that local governments use to have ‘public input’.”
More often than not a frustrating, fruitless exercise in futility in fact.
‘Schindler’s list’ of inadequate decision-making practices includes “very large public meetings, public notice about meetings is not active and instead are only found in places like in the classified or legal notice sections of the local newspaper, or only a hearing at the end of the planning process after all decisions have already been made.”
A better way?
Per Schindler, government should “bring together a large number of people representing different stakeholders and viewpoints and to facilitate, talk, and mediate toward a consensus.”
A consensus, from the grass-roots. Not an ultimatum, from on high.
“Too many in office equate leadership to ‘we make things happen for you’” wrote Carl H. Neu, in an article entitled “Local Governments: The America that Works.”
What doesn’t work – at least what doesn’t rankle so much when it works – is when Americans aren’t invited to do the work.
That’s what the rental inspection program could have been. People encouraged and empowered by education – not coerced and threatened by government intrusion – to do the rental property improvements the city says it will now do for – and to – you.
Again, from Neu: “Leadership focuses on people – the fundamental element of successful communities and our democratic republic. Leadership is the dynamic process of awakening and expanding the best in people and inspiring their capacity to define and achieve positive and responsible outcomes for themselves and future.”
Their future. Their capacity. Their city.
Lakewood asks the question, rhetorically it appears, “Should marijuana be allowed or banned in the city?” but then admits “to date the Lakewood City Council has had minimal conversations around marijuana.”
Well, neither have we, the city.