Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Budgetary Priorities, Lynnwood-Style

Yesterday, Monday 1 November 2010, Mayor Gough presented his preliminary budget to Lynnwood City Council.

Where to begin...

To get an idea of the City of Lynnwood's apparent priorities, let us consider the case of Lynnwood University, because in many ways it is a perfect barometer for measuring how seriously this administration takes the city's fiscal state of affairs. Lynnwood University epitomizes utterly wasteful and profoundly irresponsible spending, given the current fiscal environment. To call Lynnwood University a non-necessity is perhaps the understatement of the decade.

For those unfamiliar with it, Lynnwood University is essentially a glorified Show-and-Tell program. The city spends precious tax dollars to fund a feel-good program whereby citizens who sign up are taken on tours of the fire department, police department, courts, water treatment facility, and so on, and sit in a "classroom" environment where they are given presentations by city staff regarding the budget process, permitting, our forms of government, budgeting, and a lot of stuff we all learned in Civics class during our grammar school years. Coffee, tea, snacks and treats, pens and paper and presentation material are all provided, naturally, at taxpayer expense.

Now, I ask: considering that the city has threatened to lay off workers including police and fire, which are conceivably the most basic of essential services, owing to lack of funds, does it seem proper to continue funding some kind of dog and pony show like Lynnwood University?

No? It doesn't?

Then consider the following, which I am quoting verbatim from the mayor's proposed budget. On p. 70, he proposes to:
"Continue Lynnwood University on a tightened budget. Develop advertising and promotion targets to encourage underrepresented communities to participate."
A tightened budget? From slide #39 of the mayor's summary presentation to city council last night, the reduction to Lynnwood Univrsity will amount to $4,000.

$4,000? A $4,000 cut to a textbook case of porky, wasteful spending that we cannot afford? Amid possible reductions in fire and police? And in an environment so dire that the city is simultaneously proposing increases to an entire raft of taxes plus some new ones?

This is one example snatched out of the blue after just perusing these documents. God only knows how much more waste and shocking misprioritizations pervade it.

Bottom line, the city of Lynnwood is faced with historic budgetary woes and they are entirely due to two things that characterize city government:
  1. Abject incompetence in assessing the state of the economy when it would have mattered most (not too long before the collapse of the nation's economy, when major decisions were being made in the city;
  2. A striking and chronic inability to resist compulsively spending every dime that comes in.
It is not possible to overemphasize that second point, as the state auditor recently observed  in its scathing assessment of Lynnwood. This city went simply hog wild, blew through its entire budget and even exhausted its reserve funds during a time of fiscal prosperity, and is still millions in the red even despite recent historic windfalls of millions of "extra" dollars from red-light camera revenues.

If you've had it up to here, get to the upcoming meeting, this coming Saturday, and voice your discontent and demand accountability from the mayor and council alike. Show up here:

Peoples Town Hall Meeting
Lynnwood's 2011-12 Budget
Saturday, Nov 6th
11:00 am"“1:00 pm
Edmonds Community College
20000 - 68th Avenue West
Snoqualmie Building, Rm 113

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lynnwood Mayor's Rebuttal

Man, it just keeps getting better.

The timing of the release of the mayor's rebuttal could not have been more perfect, coming as it does hard on the heels of the council's stripping the mayor's only ally of the office of council president.

Realistically, it is impossible to arrive at any conclusion other than that the council has abused its authority twice now, egregiously and with relatively flagrant contempt for the will of the people.

First (and worst) in censuring, calling for the resignation of, and curtailing the authority of a popularly elected mayor. However much individual councilpersons personally dislike the mayor, as a citizen I view their actions as a direct attempt to undermine my vote and the democratic process generally. Whether they like the mayor or not is irrelevant to me, I voted for him. Whether the mayor acts like an ass to city employees is irrelevant to me, I voted for him.

Second, last night they took similarly punitive action against the mayor's only ally on council.

And after all this, we finally, finally hear the mayor's side of the story, and it becomes relatively clear that this taxpayer-funded witch hunt of an investigation was not merely inconclusive, but was an out-and-out sham, deliberately designed to portray the mayor in as unfavorable a light as possible.

In short, it seems to have been what I've thought it was all along: an exercise in good old fashioned character assassination by city employees and council in an effort to preclude the mayor from making necessary cuts to the career-bureaucrat mandarins amid a budgetary shortfall unlike anything the city has experienced thanks to the Great Recession. This benefits the bureaucracy since the mayor is now not able to make cuts (his ability to fire or lay people off was specifically removed), so their taxpayer-funded, steady-gig jobs and primo benefits plans are safe again. And it benefits council because they arrogate to themselves powers that rightly belong to the executive branch, and if this council has done nothing else, they've proven themselves over-the-top madly hungry for power.

Your government at work, people of Lynnwood. Lying to you, working to nullify your vote, and trying desperately to make sure you continue funding an overbloated bureaucracy with your tax dollars. And if you're out of work yourself? Well, tough shit, losers. Sucks to be you!

Basically their message to us is pretty clear:

Lynnwood City Council Prez Stripped of Office

The melodrama continues unabated in Lynnwood as city council, in an unexpected move, stripped Ted Hikel of the council presidency. Obviously he'll remain on the council but a different councilman (Mark Smith) is now the president.

I'm of mixed minds on this move. On the one hand, Hikel has been criticized as being the mayor's puppet on city council and I can see some validity in that, to a degree. On the other hand, is it really fair to call the guy a "puppet" simply because he shares the mayor's politics? The same could be said of any politician on council who happens to find himself in agreement with the mayor politically.

I suppose at the end of the day I'm fine with putting somebody less friendly to the mayor in the council president's role, if only because I am a huge fan of the legislative and executive branches being at perpetual loggerheads. Not that I like fighting for fighting's sake (which does seem to be the rule and not the exception in Lynnwood). But a healthy dose of confrontation reassures me as a citizen that the system of checks and balances is working as it should and we don't have a good ole boys' club up there colluding with each other without the public's best interest in mind.

I have to say, though, that I really need to hand it to Mr. Hikel. I have great respect for the man. When the mayor was censured and stripped of some of his executive powers recently by a city council kow-towing to basically an angry mob, he stood his ground and to a great degree gave as good as he got while the remainder of the council went hog wild shamelessly making political hay and sucking up to the city employees and their unions. All things considered I remain unconvinced that there was much if any merit to having taken that move and that it was dirty politics, pure and simple. Hikel held them accountable and highlighted some of the hypocrisy of those complaining most stridently, much to their embarrassment and much to my satisfaction.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Government Work---Nice Work if You Can Get it.

The Herald has run a follow-up to an article they published back in July, and I'm gratified to see a more balanced perspective presented.

This topic was worthy of revisiting, and I'm gratified to see that this time the perspective is far more balanced and realistic. Whether intended or not, the July article came across as a partisan apologia on behalf of state government workers, depicting them as hapless victims and even going so far as to preemptively scold would-be critics who would have the audacity to point out that, unlike many, they at least still had jobs.

I'm far more inclined to feel sympathy for some of the people featured in the current article than in the previous one. The single mom with a kid featured in today's piece who makes $32,000 per annum is a far cry from the clerk previously featured who lamented the loss of one measly day's pay and its attendant deleterious impact on her ability to have "shopping sprees." People were righteously indignant, mortified and outraged to the point of red-faced fury at that kind of "let them eat cake" remark, especially coming as it does from a steady-gig government worker whose paycheck is funded by tax-paying citizens who are frequently out of work themselves, and chronically so despite their best and most persistent efforts to find employment in this devastated economy.

The larger issue here is the relatively astonishing level of narcissism, selfishness, and outright greed evidenced by many government employees, the unions who represent them, or both. Couple that with what appears to be a breezy and blithe unconcern for those who are out of work and suffering good and hard for it, and it's no surprise that a lot of people who were formerly supportive of, or at least ambivalent toward government workers, are now screaming for their self-absorbed heads on so many platters.

We see this unbelievable government-employee dynamic right here in Lynnwood, as the Herald reported just the other day in an article that explained some of the cuts that the city is contemplating in order to deal with the reality of a $20 million dollar plus shortfall. Right there, Johnny on the spot, is an outspoken government employee imperiously declaring that she is "hopeful the council is not actually going to implement the cuts" to staff. Not a single word of concessions, not a hint as to a proposed alternate solution, just a show of disbelief that layoffs could even be considered.

The worldview of public sector employees truly is something quite apart from the reality the rest of us face daily.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mayor, Council, Staff and Unwholesome Alliances

Now that some time has passed with regard to the recent melodrama involving the mayor and the city council's censure of him, I believe I can sum up the whole state of affairs pretty neatly:

What a soap opera.

But with the benefit of a little hindsight and some more recently developing stories regarding Lynnwood's fiscal state of affairs and its plans to implement layoffs to counter them, I believe it's relatively clear what really went down and why.

As a longtime resident of Lynnwood, I was surprised indeed when I read the initial reports that the city council intended to censure the mayor without the public's having seen any evidence as to why (the investigative report having been secret at the time of their vote). I was more surprised when they went even further, stripping him of some of his executive authority and calling for his resignation.

Initially, I naturally thought that the reasoning behind such a draconian course of action must be based on evidence that is completely and unambiguously compelling, and that there must be an issue of urgency in rushing this to a vote without full (or indeed any) disclosure to the voting public. Surely the mayor must be a monstrously abusive browbeater and, more to the point, a sexual harasser extraordinaire.

Imagine my surprise when the report was finally released and proved nothing of the kind. As in, nothing remotely of the kind. Not even in the ballpark. Basically it "proved" (since he-said-she-said testimony is apparently proof nowadays) that the mayor is difficult to work with, and may be patronizing, condescending and rude. In short, a Type A, Theory X manager.

From what I can tell, that's exactly what the employees of this city need, and here's why.

To begin with, it's fairly clear what's really going on here. To set the stage, you must remember that Lynnwood's city council has never been able to get along with the mayor, and the loggerheads mentality goes significantly beyond the natural and desirable state of mutual antagonism between legislative and executive branches that is the hallmark of a healthily functioning government. In Lynnwood's case, a number of councilpersons either have run or are likely planning to run for the mayor's job, so they have a vested personal interest in knocking him down, one way or another, by hook or by crook.

Add to this the fact that the city's employees are, with good reason, scared witless that their "sure thing" government jobs are no longer such a sure thing at all.

And so you see classic power politics at work. Coucil wants to do all it can to hamper and hobble the mayor, if only for spite it sometimes seems, and over and above that, individual councilpersons have their eyes greedily set on the mayor's job for themselves.

City employees are terrified that they'll be laid off due to the economic collapse and the fact that Lynnwood is something like $25 million in the hole. And this mayor, it seems, is just the type of no-nonsense manager who will not hesitate to perform the necessary layoffs.

So it's natural that the city's employees would collude with the council to rob the mayor of his ability to terminate employment.

To the extent that I and every other resident of this town have the privilege of subsidizing these people's continued employment at the very time that untold numbers of us are unemployed ourselves, I find this scenario, well, I suppose "unseemly" is the diplomatic way of putting it.

But I can tell you this. In light of everything that has transpired to date, I will be voting against every councilmember who voted to take this action against the mayor. In some cases, it will be difficult because I support their stances on other issues. But at the end of the day, some things are beyond the pale and we have long surpassed that benchmark in this fiasco.

And I will sure as hell vote for Geoff, if he can find it within himself to run again for mayor when this term is up.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Priorities, Lynnwood Style

I tell you, this town is going to hell in a handbasket. A 23-year-old gal was hit in a freaking shootout in the North end of Lynnwood. I have a friend with two very young kids who live just blocks from there, in a good, solid, nice middle class neighborhood of single-family homes.What the hell is this place coming to?

But what really, really gets me is this: despite life-threatening shit like this going down on a fairly regular basis here in Lynnwood, the powers that be are threatening us with cuts to law enforcement due to the ongoing budget crisis. This city is about $5 million in the hole due to shockingly incompetent budgeting and this is being used as an excuse to cut police presence.

At the very same time, the powers that be are continuing renovations on the public swimming pool costing us about $27 million...

And they are continuing to fund an obviously worthless department called "Lynnwood University," which so far as I can tell consists of a couple of people who put on little educational shows to inform Lynnwoodians about how chicken farms and timber shaped our destiny or whatever...

And they have collected record levels of revenue from red-light cameras placed throughout Lynnwood...

And they have just imposed a raft of brand new taxes on our utilities...

So basically, they have tons of money coming in from red-light cameras and new taxes, and they can fund luxuries like a swimming pool and dog-and-pony shows, but there's not enough money to pay for law enforcement in an environment where Lynnwood residents are being shot down on a fairly regular basis.

So really, I have to ask our city government: what, exactly, will it take, short of a 1930's style depression, to get you to do what you were elected to do, prioritize sanely, and trim the damn fat from your spending program? This is not a rhetorical question, I'd honestly like an answer.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bunglingly Incompetent Budgeting

From the Herald:

Financial review criticizes Lynnwood budgeting

Click it to go to the story and read for yourself. Kudos to the Herald for keeping the spotlight on the thrashings and contortions of this town's politicians and their lackeys as they continue to try to come to grips with the $5 million shortfall, which was entirely avoidable, as anybody with an ounce of sense has known all along.

It simply beggars belief that anybody with a reasonable amount of horse sense could have failed to perceive the impending economic catastrophe when the city's budget was being drawn up. Now here we are with a $5 million gap to bridge, yet we're continuing construction on a $26 million luxury of a Recreation Center and, to the best of my knowledge, nobody in the city has been laid off or even had their salaries systematically reduced in the spirit of desperately necessary belt-tightening.

Wake up, people! The parasites in your local government see you as basically nothing more than a money spigot. Everybody else in the real world has suffered mightily due to current economic reality but the government leeches continue in their cushy jobs with Cadillac benefits. Enough is enough, already.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Suicide at a Local Pawn Shop

You know, try as I might, I'm finding it pretty hard to find some good news about this burg. Granted, you can't hold the whole place accountable for the final desperate act of one man but it does seem there is an inordinate amount of gun violence or mayhem here lately.

The pawn shop in question is up on Highway 99 at the base of what used to be referred to as Gunnysack Hill, across the street from a marvelous piece of Lynnwood history that I hope never goes away, namely the Keeler's Corner gas station. What a dichotomy.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

IMAX is at the Alderwood Mall!

How on earth did I miss this? The mall is within walking distance of my home and I had no clue they were installing an IMAX theater there. Right on! Plus? Clash of the Titans comes out on Friday! In 3-D! On IMAX! Man, my week seems shorter already.

EDIT -- Okay, I was totally mistaken here. Clash of the Titans is NOT playing at the IMAX, it's across the street at the Alderwood 7. Dammit.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Looking over these first few posts, I see that I've given a pretty bad first impression of Lynnwood. Lest you think this is one big ghetto, let me say that it's actually a fine place to live. Some neighborhoods are rougher around the edges than others, but by and large Lynnwood is quite nicely livable. There's no doubt we have more hoodlums than, say, Bellevue or Kirkland, but then again we more than make up for that with our relatively affordable housing and the consequent lack of pretentious yuppie millionaires and their bimboey trophy wives driving jewel-encrusted Hummers all over the place. Lynnwood's a nice, working class town with all the wonderful things, and the challenges that come with that and I'd sooner live here, in a modest, clean, unpresumptuous neighborhood.

It's precisely because I like this town so much that I began this blog, and given that its purpose is to hold up to the light of day some of the undesirable goings-on, it's inevitably going to have a negative slant. Still, the old saying is as true today as it ever was: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. My motive here is to avoid "doing nothing." One lone voice in the cyberwilderness may not be striking a historic blow for Truth! Justice! and the American Way! ... but it's something and we all do what we can.

In any event, there is a wonderful article about Lynnwood at HistoryLink.org that's well worth checking out if you'd like to learn a bit about our history. It's damn hard to believe that as recently as fifteen years ago parts of this town were downright rural in character. In recent years, it's seemed like there isn't a single blessed wooded patch in sight that doesn't have some developer's crosshairs leveled up against it. If there's been any good to come of this ailing economy, it's that it's slammed on the brakes to the wanton building up of trashy strip malls and cheap apartment complexes. Inevitably, Lynnwood is poorer for those trashy things in the long run. For every slip-shot, two-bit Krappy Kondo Komplex that goes up, for every chintzy, slapped-together strip mall and megaretailer and so on, we lose a little bit more of what makes this a nice place to live.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Guns Galore Gone

Well, more great news. Gun-related, natch. The Herald reports that something like a hundred firearms have been stolen from Lynnnwood Gun and Ammunition up on Highway 99. Coincidentally, this business is not very far from the shooting that took place a few days ago near the skating rink. And, as with that shooting, the police department has no suspects yet, owing in large part to the absence of security system footage.

I'm a pretty ardent supporter of our right to keep and bear arms and I dislike the general idea of over-regulating things in this department, but why on earth would you not have a security system in place at a gun shop of all places? That's just bananas. If it's not a requirement to have such a security system at this type of business, then it should be.

Here's hoping none of them make it into the hands of local hoods. The last thing this town needs is more of that.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


There are days I just want to throw in the towel and move to a cabin in Skykomish. Today would be one of those days. Today, not far at all from my home here in Lynnwood, two guys are walking down the street when a car pulls up somebody in it shoots one of them. In a separate event, a student at the local middle school got expelled for bringing a freaking gun to school.

I really don't know what to say, other than "WTF," for the bazillionth time, it seems. The frequency and magnitude of violent events in Snohomish county generally has been noteworthy for some time and seems only to be getting worse. Regrettably, I can't imagine what can be done about it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Drama, Part Deux

Apparently the city's finance director has resigned in the wake of last week's brouhaha. Too bad, really. I mean, c'mon, everybody should be entitled to lose it once in a while and the poor guy did sound pretty beleaguered.

Anyway, the cold-hearted pragmatist in me will be curious whether they will back-fill the position or allow it to go unfilled in the interest of saving money until the economy, and tax revenues, pick back up. If my experience working in government is any indicator (and it is), promoting the next in line and not backfillling that vacancy will result in no diminishment in efficiency or productivity. Local governments are notoriously overstaffed.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Drama in the Council Chambers

The Herald reported yesterday that Lynnwood's Finance Director, John Moir, abruptly left the council chambers at a council meeting last Wednesday, apparently indignant at a question posed to him by Councilwoman Lonergan. I have to admit, my first reaction to the article was to laugh. The scene depicted struck me as pretty comic. Just reading the transcript, my take-away was that the councilwoman was trying to insinuate that he's fallen down on a committment he'd made to have financials available at that meeting, and was calling into question his professionalism and competency, whereupon he told her in so many words to go shove it and just got up and left in high dudgeon.

The difficulty or impossibility of indicating tone of voice in print reporting is something that's plagued print media forever, so kudos to The Herald for making the audio of that meeting available on their website. (It's also available on the city's website, here.) Having listened to it, I can no longer fault Lonergan, who seems to have mistakenly called Moir on something he never promised, whereupon she offered her apologies but he flew off the deep end anyway, and ran off in a huff.

But, whatever. Listen for yourself and draw your own conclusions. We could fill a warehouse with what we don't know about the backstory here. The more important issue is that the city's financial outlook is obviously just as grim as, or worse than we've been led to believe. Enough so that the pressure that electeds and their staffs are feeling is beginning to show in embarrassing, public ways like this little drama. It's no surprise that everybody will be seeking to cover their own asses while trying to deflect blame for the current state of affairs anywhere but upon them.

For my part, I find the situation to be pretty clear. The handwriting was on the wall that the economy was faltering for long enough that plenty of steps could have been taken to mitigate the inevitable impact on the city's tax revenues. Nevertheless, what have we seen? Taxpayer money being flushed down the crapper hand over fist for such frivolous non-essentials as refurbishing the city's recreation center and paying consultants to come up with a "brand" for the city, and a council frittering away it's time deciding how many inches long residents may allow their grass to grow before being fined by code enforcement.

The city needs to be taking one damn hard look at where cuts can be made. The $80,000 thrown away on the "brand" is gone for good, but suspending work on the rec center fiasco would be one possibility. Furlough days for city workers would be another, along with suspension of projects that are non-essential.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Welcome to Lynnwood, a suburb of Seattle and one real gem of a whacky place. This is one resident's attempt to chronicle the goings-on here, sometimes humorous, other times outrageous, and frequently incomprehensible.

You may find Lynnwood fascinating for any number reasons. For example, the curious mix of capitalistic opportunism with Soviet-style surveillance in the form of red-light-trap "gotcha cams" on just about every other street corner. Or perhaps the fascinating decision by our esteemed city government to spend beaucoup taxpayer dollars giving a face-lift to a perfectly serviceable recreation center during the worst period of budgetary shortfalls in years. Or maybe our "Sexpresso" huts staffed by scantily clad buxom baristas will tickle your funny bone (ahem).

Whatever, take your pick; there's plenty o' reasons to find this place amazing.

Please comment, especially if you're a resident. This place is all about the free exchange of ideas. Try and keep it civil.