Who is responsible for the mess that is Pullman city government?
How did we develop the present Byzantine bureaucracy now ensconced at City Hall with it’s confusing complexities?
How do we transition to an inclusive and accountable government?
And, very importantly, who is in control of today’s outdated, misconceived blundering administration?
Who should voters hold accountable?
I’m neither an investigative reporter, nor a reporter at all. I write an opinion column, op-ed piece or “view” for the editorial page; whatever you call it.
This means that I basically respond to published news or — the lack of it, plucked from the public rumor mill — sparsely seasoned with answers to a few questions for clarity’s sake.
There is an urgent need for the city to rewrite the processes by which it administers zoning and building codes.
By all appearances the current system is being misused and controlled by developers and the city code effectively works to keep city voters in the dark until they are blindsided by announcements of developments such as Evolve, Elevate and most recently, Paradise Lofts.
History suggests – no, it SHOUTS – that developers’ glib pronouncement of unenforceable good intentions are approved with little if any public input.
Residents complain of a lack of follow-up to ensure that developers fulfill their promise, and many promises go unfilled.
Even when promises are in black and white on paper, residents complain that often they aren’t enforced. An example is the requiring housing developers to put in sidewalks.
Lack of enforcement results in gaps, sometimes big gaps, in residential sidewalks.
Pullman’s cockamamie process for development proposal puts approval in the hands of officials who aren’t accountable to voters. Directors of planning and public works departments make critical decisions, many of which cannot be reviewed even by the City Council.
As I understand it, decisions by residents appointed to the city’s board of adjustment are essentially final. City code doesn’t provide for City Council input, oversight or approval. Thus, the mayor and council, who are supposed to be accountable, aren’t even in the loop. Unless, as a cynic might conclude, not officially or publicly.
Councilor Al Sorenson proposed a moratorium on downtown construction until a downtown planning study is completed in a few months; but the council refused to pass it.
Pullman is governed with an ancient city code, adopted in 1998. If it were written to promote a dense opaqueness instead of transparency, a better job couldn’t have been done.
Pullman’s government is a strong-mayor-City Council organization with a professional city manager.
Voters elect the mayor, instead of the City Council electing one of their members as mayor. So, theoretically at least, the mayor is accountable to residents and council members are separately accountable to voters in their districts.
But, the mayor has no legal power over councilors just as councilors have no power over the mayor.
The city manager is the executive who directs the day-to-day operation of city employees.
It is a form of government usually to my liking.
As a nonchartered code city, Pullman operates under an ancient code dating to 1972. Over time, the City Council apparently has given its authority to staff and the board of adjustment.
Pullman needs to rewrite it’s highly flawed code to not only provide, but to encourage and facilitate, transparency.
And it needs to start now and move as quickly as law allows.
If it doesn’t, developers will continue to have their way with the city, serving their own wants and needs rather than the city’s.
Terence L. Day and family arrived in Pullman in 1972 when he accepted a faculty appointment at Washington State University. He retired in 2004, after 32 years of service. He invites comments to email@example.com.