Opinion | Councilmember Penny Sweet's Thoughts on the Houghton Discussion

[box type="note" style="rounded" border="full"]The following is from Kirkland City Councilmember Penny Sweet regarding HB 2610 and the Houghton Community Council. The opinion piece refers to two Kirkland Views articles about which there has been much discussion: Houghton Community Council Meet Your Maker: State Legislature Pulls the Plug with HB 2610 (Poll) and HB 2610 — if passed, Houghton Community Council to be retired[/box]

Dear Kirkland Views:

I think it is important that I weigh in on the Houghton Community Council Discussion.  To be clear, I did know that there was going to be a bill forthcoming. My husband, Larry Springer said as much last session when the original bill was killed and he told Rick Whitney, HCC President, last December.  In addition Larry talked about it at a gathering on January 6th and informed both Toby Nixon and myself that a bill would be introduced in the next week or so.   On Tuesday of this week I was notified by the city manager that the bill was now out there.  When I spoke with Larry that evening he indicated that he had notified both Rob Butcher of Kirkland Views and Rick Whitney, president of the Houghton Community Council.

When I ran for office in 2008, I was asked if I could support the HCC and I said that I didn’t have any objection to supporting an organization that seemed to be an adjunct of the democratic and municipal process.  That was before I learned, first hand, how the process works.  After just two years in office I have come to change my opinion.  While I have observed and participated in good discussion and exchange with the HCC, and I respect and appreciate every member of the Council, I cannot in good conscience support the concept of this extra layer of bureaucracy.

It’s been difficult to pin down the accurate cost of the Council ( I’ve heard anything from 25K to 75K per year) but beyond staff time and meetings, and extended time lines on any planning issues because of it, the fact of the matter is that the HCC has been built into every layer of decision making in our Planning Department.  Every land use issue that the Planning Commission or the Planning Department comes up with is subject to review not only by the City Council, which costs money anyway, but FIRST by the HCC and then again finally by the HCC after the City Council makes its decision.

I believe the HCC might have been a good idea at the time it was established and for a period beyond that because it enabled two bodies to grow and develop some trust in how the beginnings of their not so trusting relationship could be helped.  Since then, we have had 40 plus years of evolution and opportunity for Houghton to assure that they feel and are “represented” in the same fashion that every other citizen of Kirkland is represented.  At this point I believe the HCC is a costly redundancy.  It adds significantly to the cost of doing government and that cost is not borne by the 6000 or so it represents but by the full 81,000 Kirkland residents.  It is past it’s time.  Like so many agreements and laws and “promises” in our history it is time to move on.  Times do change.

Perhaps, as some suggest, if I lived in Houghton I might like having the HCC and be among those who feel so strongly about keeping it.  I don’t think so.  I believe that the HCC, given the expense and redundancy, is not a practice of good, efficient government.  I believe strongly that all the citizens of  Kirkland should enjoy equal representation.

Sincerely,

Penny Sweet