We elect our city council to ensure basic municipal services such as street clean-up, garbage collection and public safety are delivered effectively and efficiently. Typically, these topics do not get much public attention because the work gets done without fanfare or controversy — but are important to livability and quality of life.
Another main reason we elect our city council is to help guide and then implement the direction our city takes — hopefully based on solid data and the enlightened will of our residents.
I know from experience in having served as one of Sammamish’s original incorporators, a four-time mayor and council member for 19 years. And even though I am no longer in public office, my dedication and devotion to Sammamish and its future has never waned.
I also know from my council tenure that leadership matters. Without good leadership that carries out governance and planning based on an inspirational vision, a city can go backwards.
Unfortunately, I am sad to report that based on what is occurring at City Hall, our city is falling further behind on both basic services and beneficial, aspirational policy directions. This concerns me very much and should concern you also. Consider the following council actions that have all occurring in the past year:
- Sammamish was judged to be in continuous legal violation of the state’s Growth Management Act (GMA). The city council is expending over $1.2 million in taxpayer funds on lawyers. The city has not allowed our adopted Comprehensive Plan to be implemented and is thwarting the state’s GMA planning goals on housing and economic development. The proposed 2022 City Budget continues to set aside a sizable amount of public funds for ongoing litigation — mostly aimed at frustrating our planned growth.
- Because of these ongoing violations, the Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) recommended to Governor Jay Inslee to impose the severest sanctions allowed under state law against Sammamish, including the withholding of state funds for city projects. Only under this significant threat did the city take actions to remove a growth moratorium — but not before altering the city’s controlled traffic concurrency model to be sure most new projects would not be allowed.
- Early in 2021, a council member resigned his position because he felt the city was illegally abusing its moratorium authority. He was proven right by the state hearings board which adjudicates such issues. Fundamentally, the city was using moratoriums to not allow implementation of our adopted Comprehensive Plan.
- A group of citizens filed a lawsuit against the city in Federal Court for free speech violations by the City of Sammamish.
- The city council voted to raise Sammamish’s local property tax for the first time in over a decade because its adopted budget was no longer sustainable.
- Sammamish’s city manager, Dave Rudat, sought out and appointed by this council, is the subject of an ongoing ethics investigation. He is the sixth city manager in just over three years.
- Because City Hall has been consumed by lawsuits, lengthy closed door executive sessions during council meetings, and ongoing investigations — all of which were avoidable — several basic city obligations such as planning new lane capacity road projects, athletic field improvements, capital spending on park improvements and road overlay pavement programs have fallen by the wayside.
As residents of Sammamish, we can do something about this. We should have a city government that matches the excellence of its community and populace.
We have local elections every two years to decide whether we are satisfied with our city council or need new leadership. This November 2, four of the seven city council positions are contested, and three of them are open positions. Watching the debates, and studying each of the candidates’ websites, it is clear to me that Dr. Nazir Harb Michel, Kali Clark, Karen Howe and Amy Lam are offering positive, inspiring and thoughtful solutions for our community.
Sammamish was once a model of local city governance, and we should strive to be so again. We should be setting the example of how to balance and manage growth, investing in infrastructure, preparing for more diverse housing choices, and attracting and retaining the best public servants to help effectively manage the city’s operations, services and finances.
This could, and should, be the path for our future. But to adopt this path, we need change at City Hall. It is up to you. Remember to vote!
Don Gerend served on Sammamish City Council from 1999 to 2017.