Saturday, January 29, 2011

Elected Mayor or Sock Puppet? The Choice is Yours this Fall!

Hi everybody! I'm the City Manager!
Well, it looks like Lynnwood City Council has finally gone and voted to undo the will of the people and undermine our form of representative government. Boy was that a shocker.

On Monday, council voted 5-2 to squander scarce taxpayer dollars and put an entirely self-serving, power-grabby measure on the fall ballot for voters to decide whether they want to retain the Strong Mayor / City Council form of government that has served Lynnwood well for half a century in favor of a "City Manager" form of government.

At first blush, a city manager sounds like a veritable panacea. By Jove, it's good for what ails ya! Proponents will tell you all about how it will ensure that an executive with the right "managerial skill set" can be appointed to provide "professional" management to the city. We will no longer be constrained to Lynnwood city residents to fill the chief executive's role, we can conduct a nationwide executive search for the bestest and most qualifiedest candate ever! No more being limited to a selection of the hicks and rubes of Lynnwood!

Right. Like anyone is buying that!

First and foremost, this is Lynnwood, and it would be far more appropriate to refer to the proposed form of government as the City Council / Sock Puppet form of Government. It's so obvious I'm almost surprised they decided to sally forth with the effort.

To begin with, consider how Lynnwood City Council has collectively deported itself for the past couple years (actually, for a hell of a lot longer than that, but especially the past couple years and most especially this past year.) They have made it as screamingly obvious as possible that they are out to usurp as much governmental power from the executive branch as they possibly can. This past summer they hobbled the mayor by removing some of his basic executive authority (regarding his ability to hire, fire, and discipline his workforce) and arrogated that unto themselves. Aside from that, they were relentlessly obstructionist to the mayor at just about every turn.

Do they honestly expect anybody with an IQ of room temperature or greater to believe that they will hire a professional manager and then let him actually manage? Of course they won't. They will hire a rubberstamping sock puppet and will hold his continued employment over his head as incentive to obediently do as he is told by his masters on City Council. Everything this council has done recently points to this inescapable conclusion.

Even if we had some kind of assurance that the "city manager" would enjoy autonomy in conducting his duties as the city's chief executive, I have no confidence in the basic competence of this council to even conduct a valid and professional executive search to find a good candidate. My God, this is a collection of people who one year ago -- when we were already two years into the grips of the worst recession since the Great Depression -- could have put the kibosh on the $26 million White Elephant Water Park but chose to squander the public's money on it anyway -- and then a matter of months later came screaming hysterically to the people about how they'd have to Cut Fire Fighters! Cut Cops! Cut Emergency Medical! OMG! WTF! Because my God there's not enough money and how ever could we have possibly known? It's the Mayor's fault! That Awful Nasty Mayor! Waaaaaaaaaah!

And this bunch we're supposed to trust with hiring a CEO?



Really, the true hilarity here is that everything this council claims it wants in a chief executive is in all likelihood exactly what they got in the person of Mayor Don Gough. Based upon everything that the media has reported, he comes across as a no-nonesense boss with little time for the asinine, petty little fiefdoms, endemic incompetence and utter childishness that characterize a governmental bureaucracy. And when he acted like a real CEO like they claim they want, what happened? Everybody and their brother on council and in the city workforce pulled out all the stops to undo him, quite literally by any means necessary. When one frame-up or smear job didn't work, out came a fresh one. It was easily the most flagrant display of underhanded, filthy politics and exercises in character assassination that I've ever witnessed.

My advice? Vote down the measure in the Fall, voice your support for Mayor Gough, call him and beg him to run for another term if he can bring himself to do so, and then vote him in. Meanwhile, give the council an enema; if this town needs a fresh start, that is where it is most needed.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lynnwood Business Community Begins to Wake from Torpor

Welcome to Lynnwood!
Just a few days ago I predicted that there would be painful and dire fallout from Lynnwood's recent orgiastic frenzy of taxation, in particular the unabashedly extortionist employee head tax increase of 567% leveled against every business in the city, large and small, literally overnight and without a peep of warning as to the gratuitously huge new bill that would be due in a matter of months.

At long last, it seems that local businesses are taking notice. I guess getting a huge bill out of the clear blue sky like that would tend to make you start paying attention! Only two business owners are cited in the above-linked story by Lynnwood Today, but I can only imagine the droves of business owners who opened that envelope and either blanched, fainted, or swore up a storm, and with any luck Lynnwood City Council will be hearing from them quite loudly in waves and in droves at upcoming council meetings.

The lesson learned by this fiasco is the price of ambivalence, most particularly in the face of plainly obvious incompetence by the elected powers that be and, also on their part, a deep-seated inability to make hard but necessary decisions. I've long been of the opinion that a lesson isn't really learned from a mistake, and taken to heart, unless it was dearly paid for. Clearly, the business community of Lynnwood, WA has paid for not keeping adequate tabs on their elected representatives and one can only hope that will be put to rights before long now.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Predictions for 2011

We're well into the New Year now and it's time for some predictions. Before last year ended, Lynnwood City Council acted exactly as I predicted they would, namely they:
  1. Proliferated and inflated taxes on everybody to a degree that can only be described as breathtaking
  2. Made only piddling, token cuts to the city workforce
  3. Preserved a raft of frivolous money-wasting activities
So how do you think all of that will pan out in the coming year? I know I have some ideas and it ain't pretty. My assessment and predictions follow.

We're Gonna Tax an' Tax an' Tax 'em Till We Just - Can't - Tax 'em No More...

You know. Sing it to the tune of Boogie Oogie Oogie by the immortal and ever fabulous A Taste of Honey. Can't you just see our City Council Members up on their dais belting this out with a big ol' disco ball spinning on the ceiling and the entire city workforce singing backup and dancing themselves silly in the council chambers? It's a great visual and it makes for a wonderfully appropriate rallying themesong for every stakeholder in Lynnwood's future who's concerned with the tax situation here.

Anyway, let's take 'em by the numbers, shall we? I'll group things by the parties that Lynnwood city government has chosen to victimize:

Victim Group #1: Lynnwood Residents
These are the people who are literally being held hostage by this out-of-control, shake-you-down-for-cash government; people who have made lives and homes here and face the choice of paying over these taxes... or moving.

Property Tax: this went up 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The average home value in Lynnwood is $270,000, making for an additional $95 per year in property taxes, according to the Herald's story.

Politicians are prone to minimizing such money-grabs by comparing them to their equivalence in frivolous purchases, for example saying something ilke "Ninety-five dollars? Why, that's nothing! That's less than the cost of one pizza per month over the year!"

Let zem eet zee pizza!
What is clearly lost on the insulated Marie Antoinettes in Lynnwood government is that we've been in a recession of epic proportions for about the past three years now and there are innumerable people in this working-class town who have been budgeting so tightly in an effort to avoid losing their homes that they cannot remember the last time they threw money away on something as wasteful as a pizza. Hamburger Helper and a potato will keep them fed at a fraction of the cost and free up what little is left of their reserves to go toward the mortgage. But hey, this is Lynnwood government for you: "Let them eat pizza."

Utilities Taxes: these were elevated by 2%. Again, I'm sure it's "only" the equivalent of a dozen lattes or something similarly dismissive. The average fixed-income household will be hit hardest by this, but that certainly doesn't bother Lynnwood city government, nosiree. Why, my God, the alternative would be to lay off some do-nothing bureaucrats. Unconscionable! Unthinkable! Clearly, Granny will just have to buck up. Remember this the next time you see the little widow down the street at the supermarket buying cat food; she may or may not even own a cat.

Car Tab Fee: $20 per vehicle, just like that. Our household has three vehicles, so the impact for us is $60 transferred from our wallets to their coffers in one fell swoop. Naturally, it takes nothing into account other than the fact of ownership. This tax will be a bonanza revenue source for the city when it comes to households with two working parents and two or three older children, each with their own vehicle.

Victim Group #2: Employers
Employers are also held hostage to a great degree. Technically they could move their business, but the costs asociated with that are obviously going to be prohibitive most of the time, so bitter though it be, it is more costly than just paying over the increased taxes. Naturally this is not lost on Lynnwood city government, which if nothing else knows an easy mark when they see one.

Employee Head Tax: This was perhaps the single most breathtaking, unambiguous and in-your-face outright desperate and flagrant money grab of the whole lot. Overnight, at the eleventh hour of the fiscal year, employers who had been paying fifteen bucks and change per employee and had doubtlessly budgeted for the upcoming year based on that figure, were now, out of a clear blue sky, on the hook for $85 per employee -- an incomprehensible, mind-boggling 567% increase. 567%!

Victim Group #3: Shoppers
These are the people who provide the lion's share of Lynnwood's revenue, overly dependent as it is upon sales tax revenue.

Red-Light Camera "Tax": This isn't a tax per se but it's a colossal source of revenue for the city (which it has become addicted to and of course cannot spend fast enough), and is an integral part of the overall state of affairs, so it brooks mentioning here.

Connecting the Dots: Predictions for 2011 and beyond

Bottom line, it does not take any great mental effort to see exactly where this is headed.

The taxes targeted at the hostagesresidents of Lynnwood will provide an initial injection of cash into city's coffers, but the side-effect is more long term and as such it is entirely unsurprising that its seriousness is entirely lost on this city's government, which has proven itself time and again to be constitutionally incapable of understanding and taking into account the longer-term impacts of their actions.

Specifically, in this case, Lynnwood now has a reputation of being a high-risk place to settle down and make a home, and people looking for homes in this area of Snohomish County will be far and away more likely to opt for places like Bothell, Kenmore, Brier, Shoreline, Edmonds or parts of unincorporated Snohomish County. Consequently, over the long haul there will likely not be a net increase in revenues because there will be fewer people to levy the taxes against.

In a similar vein, the residents of nearby portions of unincorporated Snohomish County have gotten the signal loud and clear that this is the last place they'd want to be a part of, so I will be surprised indeed if they vote in favor of annexation -- so I predict that issue is pretty much dead in the water.

The stupefyingly huge employee head tax is a larger problem, as it also sends a loud-and-clear signal, this time to businesses: Lynnwood has done a 180-degree turn from being business-friendly to being overtly and nakedly hostile to businesses. Try as you might, it cannot be construed otherwise. An overnight 567% increase in head taxes can be interpreted in no other way than as a textbook example of a shake-down. It's an announcement that opening a business here a huge gamble.

However, what is far worse is that the Lynnwood government has pretty much solidified its reputation: it is not  unpredictable, but worse -- it is entirely predictable: one may rest assured that as soon as Lynnwood overspends -- and the past few years' behavior indicate that they may be relied upon to do so no matter what -- they will make practically no cuts to the bloated ranks of their workforce and will simply raise taxes across the board. Do you honestly think this is lost on businesses which may have been considering opening up shop here?

As the beaten, battered and bloodied economy slowly and ponderously lifts itself from the floor, I predict that there will be practically no new businesses opening in Lynnwood beyond the new Costco that's supposedly going to occupy the old Lynnwood High School, and perhaps the Whole Foods scheduled to open at what used to be Circuit City, both of which were likely already too deep in the works when the anti-business tax-grab took effect.

Businesses Fleeing Lynnwood
In fact, as the business climate improves, I predict that many existing businesses will in all likelihood make the long-term investment in their future well-being by getting out of Lynnwood, so it's entirely possible that there will be a net shrinkage, thus nullifying the huge increase in head taxes. Again, so much for long-term thinking...

And when that happens, I predict that Lynnwood city government will act predictably and enact a B&O tax to make up for the shortfalls. You can take that to the bank.

Finally, the much-discussed red-light camera "taxes"... the continued presence of these widely detested money-making cameras is in some respect the final nail in Lynnwood's coffin. I've lived here for a while now but I have kith and kin all over the Puget Sound region. I am absolutely not kidding when I tell you I have lost count of the number of people who I personally know who will not set foot in Lynnwood to visit the mall to go shopping.

Please, hear me well: they literally make it a point to actively avoid shopping here because they're terrified that one of the red-light cameras -- which are deliberately set to a shorter-than-recommended yellow caution cycle as was reported by KING-5 -- will slap them with a ticket. Even if the case could be made that they are only there for public safety (pardon me while I laugh for the next fifteen minutes), the salient fact is that the public's perception of them ensures that probably thousands of shoppers avoid Lynnwood. That means they avoid the Alderwood Mall, the car dealerships, the whole nine yards. For a city so utterly dependent on sales-tax revenue, this is simply incomprehensible.

Bottom Line
All told, the level of stark incompetence evidenced by this city's government has been nothing short of stunning. They have made it abundantly clear that the quick-and-dirty, short-term-gratification solution is the best we can ever hope for from them.

As a resident of this city that scares the hell out of me. Many of us are doing everything we can to ensure that this is not forgotten when the next elections are held and you can look forward to our keeping this in the public's face when that time comes.

Meanwhile, if you are a resident, a local business owner, or somebody who works or simply shops here, I urge you to plague city council meetings from this point forward and let your voice be heard. I grant you, the council has also made it clear that it collectively has little but contempt for "little people" who express opinions they don't want to hear, but their work meetings are recorded and freely available on Youtube, and the more people who who show up and voice their concerns, the more evidence will exist in the public record when it comes time to judge them on their record.

And you may rest assured that the government is keenly aware of the public's perception: it has been well over a month since the city council meeting during which council voted to override the mayor's veto and decisively stick it to everybody in sight with all of these taxes, yet strangely enough the minutes of that meeting (Dec. 13, 2010) have yet to be posted to the city's website. Fancy that, huh?

So, folks, consider how desperately they shook down everybody in grabbing distance, when the city opens up its $25.5 million White Elephant Water Park this spring. Your tax dollars at work! But more importantly, consider it when elections come 'round. We'll be here to remind you, depend upon it.

Meanwhile, let me humbly suggest a new logo for Lynnwood: