Mayor Seth Fleetwood Lacks Understanding of Transparency

By On
3:01pm —

Our new mayor, Seth Fleetwood, has trusted the staff he inherited from previous mayor, Kellie Linville, to handle a delicate situation, and it’s not going well. The staff has been tasked with drafting a lease for a replacement homeless drop-in center in the vacated Public Market building on Cornwall Avenue. This process has been going on in secret, unbeknownst to even City Council members.

Further complicating matters, it appears that north downtown business owners, realtors and attorneys are unleashing a petition protest on the mayor. It could hit city hall today or Thursday.

Seth has been quietly working to lease the now-vacant Public Market on Cornwall as the next interim shelter for the large number of homeless people currently accommodated at Bellingham High School. With the closure of schools in March, the city arranged to use the school for a shelter; but since we expect classes to resume in September, another facility has been the subject of citywide concern. Seth left the management of this process to one of Kellie’s former staff members.

Kellie Linville was a master of behind-the-scenes operations from her many years experience in Olympia. She was an expert administrator and personally managed and controlled her staff carefully. Due to that lack of independence, they are not up to serious project management themselves. Seth retained nearly every member of that staff, when in fact, he should have his own independent administrative supervisor and staff.

This week, a number of local business owners, commercial property managers and downtown attorneys learned of the plan to acquire the Public Market and convert it for homeless use. And this morning they have struck back, circulating a petition protesting the lack of public process. Frank Chmelik, a local attorney, has filed a public disclosure request with the city and also is leading the charge against the use of the Public Market by claiming the process is violating open government codes. This is truly ironic.

Frank Chmelik is the statewide go-to guy for instructing municipal governments on the finer points of public disclosure law. In my experience and opinion, Frank teaches them how to hide information from the public, and how to obey the law while keeping information secret. He is a master of this, honing his skills as attorney for the Port of Bellingham. Indeed, he successfully blocked me from seeing many Port of Bellingham records that should have been public. Now, ironically, he is claiming the city is being secretive. Too rich.

Seth is likely the most honorable person we have elected as our mayor in years - perhaps ever. But he is still getting a feel for things. He should have been more open about this process. I have it reliably that even the city council was kept in the dark. While the mayor’s office has denied this, I have it reliably from multiple council members that they were not informed. The county council, that needs to approve over a million dollars for this project, was also kept in the dark. City hall sources tell me that Seth relied on one of his inherited staff members, Tara Sundin, to initiate, control and push this project to success. She has kept everyone else in the dark. Seth needs new staff of his own choosing and more competence than the present staff.

No question that Seth Fleetwood needs to learn what “transparency” means in government. He was warned about this by supporters after the election and he was confused about what they meant. He is learning the hard way. Still, this is a misstep and an error that he can learn from. No big damage done except to egos. We all know Seth means well, but he has to also do his good work in full public view. Hopefully he will learn.

The issue of how to provide for the homeless is a major community issue and should proceed with full public participation.

For this article, I have contacted the mayor and his administration, seeking specific answers to questions. I have been stone walled much of today waiting for them to reply. I was asked to hold this article for an hour - and that was 5 hours ago. Since then, I have been promised a press release within a half hour or hour multiple times. And finaly in 10 minutes - a half hour ago. Nothing. This is stone walling - delaying an article while staff does damage control elsewhere. We can expect a press release sometime today on this issue by the mayor. But it seems that even answering simple questions is a stretch for this administration. And it seems that the mayor’s staff is not telling even Seth the truth about what they are doing, such as telling him the council is informed when, when in fact they are not being informed.

About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Konrad Lau

Jun 10, 2020

Is anyone really surprised by this “news”?

Leftist politicians are notorious for doing things behind the voters’ backs. Leftist politicians have little or no regard for their constituencies. They believe they are smarter, more compassionate, and more enlightened than the rest of the world…including their own smarter, more compassionate and more enlightened supporters.

It always makes me scratch my head to see folks who believe they can unleash a monster on the world (i.e. Leftist politicians with Leftist policies) and also believe that same monster will never bite them because they believe themselves to be smarter, more compassionate and more enlightened.

The French Revolution is a great example. There was only one King and one Queen but when the tally was added up, over 40,000 were killed by that Leftist movement.

Everyone on the American Left apparently think that when the State rules completely, they will be in that “special” group who is not affected by the State and spared all those pesky, invasive rules and regulations.

History and this story prove them wrong every time.

Why have we not heard charges levelled for “abuse of power” or by-passing city charters or just for being a low-life weasel intent on amassing power?

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John Servais

Jun 10, 2020

A very unnecessary ad hominem in there, Konrad.  Characterize the action but not the person, please.   Your comments reflect the view of a minority that deserves to be read on these pages.   We can be sharp in our opinions and criticize harshly the actions, and we welcome that.  But back off the name calling.

To respond to the drift of your comment, your are sounding like a stuck record.  All generalities condeming the left as if it were worse than the right. We already know that is your opinion. 

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Konrad Lau

Jun 10, 2020

Well, as to “name calling”, I suppose I may have maligned any weasels in the audience and I humbly submit my apologies to them; however, the terms Leftist, politician, and references to their collective beliefs in their moral superiority and propensities for secretiveness and vague relationship with the truth seem spot on and hardly worth rethinking as those descriptions are, in fact, accurate.

I appreciate my ability to express my opinions on this website but if truth is to be subverted by hurt feelings, perhaps you should just censor “minority” commentary or eliminate it in order to achieve compliance with political correctness. Tell me to buzz off. I am a big boy and will understand completely.

There is a strong Leftist vein running through each of the reports and comments published here. I too know your positions on these subjects and feel it incumbent to respond to what I observe as blatant foolishness be it from an author, an editor or a politician.

Like I said, make a decision.

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John Servais

Jun 10, 2020

Apology not requested, but as given it is certainly accepted.  No decision needed, as we continue as before.  Your perspectives are respected.

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Todd Lagestee

Jun 10, 2020

Context matters…and while I wholeheartedly agree on the need to replace EVERY SINGLE exempt employee left over from Mayor “Spinville”... We have to look at why Mayor Fleetwood might not have…and it’s basically the fault of this pandemic, in my estimation.

When you’re thrown in a foxhole (never been, but even nuclear submarines seem small after 2+ months underwater) it is problematic to hate on your essential employees and direct support system for operation during a pandemic. Only 3 months in and Mayor Fleetwood was handed a large cinder block chained to an anchor and told ‘sink or swim’...I think he’s treading water remarkably well, and some of that goes to the previous staff and leadership. They could have done much worse. So, Mayor Fleetwood was depending on some people sitting in “interim” or just ad-hoc positions..kinda hard not to give them some stability, by keeping them in place. And it pains me to acknowledge that because I know plenty of them that should be tarred and feathered and run out of town for the lack of morals and ethics displayed under the “Spinville” regime.

Let’s be clear, the Chmelick office is right across the street (Railroad Ave) from the Public Market…total NIMBY move on their part…

That said, the wicked witch that killed the Public Development Authority and with it hopes of a public waterfront, is gone, so I’m hopeful that the reference to Old Town, in the release, will be the City revisiting the idea of the old Restore (or if you’re B’ham OG then the old ” Sash & Door” site)? The ability to clean up that concrete savannah next to our beloved creek while utilizing temporary construction to address the issue of housing homeless in something other than the fire trap that was the Drop-in center seems worthwhile…

Mayor Fleetwood has a lot of cans to pick up that Spinville and her cronies just kept kicking… normally I’d say that the massive hoarding of money in the City funds due to the denial of services by that neoliberal can-kicker extraordinaire would make that feasible…alas our hoarde of public treasure may just be used to keep this City afloat during the rough seas.

At least there isn’t a massive wave of civil unrest facing a brand-new Mayor during a pandemic and resultant recession….

When Seth leads us through this and we get on solid ground, I hope we can all acknowledge the trial by fire he’s been given!

Posted as a private citizen on matters of public concern (transparency of government, location of essential services, ethics in government leadership) and in no way does this represent an employer or union affiliation I may have.

-Todd Lagestee

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Satpal Sidhu

Jun 11, 2020

The main point, as I see it, is that we as community have had this major need on our plate for past couple of decades. It has been getting more and more acute by the year. It would be great if we can all work on a solution, which is reasonable and practical. Perfect is enemy of good. NIMBY is our our hill to climb!

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John Servais

Jun 11, 2020

Satpal, thank you, and yes, I agree.  We “all” need to work on this.  My article is about the mayor’s office preventing any outside his office from working on this. The secrecy led to lies by the mayor and by staff in attempts to keep the process secret - even from his own city council.  At last Monday’s council meeting, Tara Sundin spoke of possibilities while she and the mayor had already committed to the Public Market space.  Tuesday morning they continued working on the lease agreement.  She - and at his direction and he was present - lied to the council.  They demanded that those who had to be in on the process, keep it secret.  When I inquired, I was given the run around for 5 hours.  I got my information from other city hall people who, of course, spoke on the understanding their names would not be revealed.  How sad that Seth Fleetwood is the person who managed this.  We expected him to be true to his professed inclusive beliefs. He can now learn.

This mayor, a fellow we all like and value, has made an error in judgement in keeping a process for “all” to work on to just himself and his close staff.  He speaks of their having no other choice than the Public Market building, as if  that excuses the secrecy. Yes, we all need to work on this.  We will all pay for this and be impacted by this.  It is our community, not the mayor’s private fiefdom.  He and his staff need to be told that and held accountable.  That is what my article was attempting.

Transparency.  It is necessary before we “all” can work on anything. It has nothing to do with nimby or perfect.  

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Konrad Lau

Jun 11, 2020

The homeless “problem” was and remains a symptom of public policies pushed by thirty years of liberal ideology. 

It is common to see bumper stickers saying, “There is No Farmland Without Farmers” and that same person is more than happy to vote for higher and higher property taxes because they have been told and believe those taxes will only affect “The Rich”. 

Bureaucrats then determine landowners, regardless of actual wealth held in banks, are The Rich and raise taxes on the farmers. Mom and Pop farmer die and leave the property to the surviving children. Then the State presents them with a bill from that inheritance. Yes, they have land, but they have no real cash and then are forced into selling the land to developers who build homes. 

The bureaucrats are even happier now because those homes’ tax bills far exceed the taxes previously claimed on the farm. 

Now, the tax bill continues to climb and eventually, rents and monthly mortgage payments exceed the average family’s ability to pay. 

Then we have the bureaucrats wanting money to deal with those who can no longer afford normal housing. They institute higher taxes to deal with the “homeless problem” Guess where those funds come from? 

At the same time, liberal programs providing food, medical aid, drugs, alcohol and cigarettes are brought online and the word gets out about the wonderful benefits. Then, more homeless come to our area. 

At the same time, everyone is doing everything they can to destroy living wage jobs by running manufacturing and heavy industry out of Washington. 

It has taken decades of failed policy to bring us to this point. Even if we turned about face, it would take a decade or two to recover and truly end homelessness. 

Until folks understand the root causes of homelessness (i.e. low wages/high rental costs, high taxation, drug addiction and alcoholism), the problem will never be fixed. 

Does anyone expect an about face any time in the next century? 

Crickets… 

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Tip Johnson

Jun 11, 2020

Wait until the evictions and foreclosures commence following this mass unemployment. Peoples’ opposition to such facilities may change when they need to move in or visit their former neighbors. 

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Nicholas Sotak

Jun 11, 2020

It’s too bad this decision was made without the appropriate process. That said, I think the location makes sense.  There are a lot of services in the area and despite the rhetoric about how we got “here”, “here” we are and the people who benefit from the City providing this resource to the homeless aren’t only the ones using the resource.

 

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Todd Lagestee

Jun 12, 2020

I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve had the opportunity to argue open government against the City, on multiple occasions… they’ll do what they want until challenged and will bluff and retaliate when they can…BUT

The City has limited open government obligations for Real Estate issues…

https://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=42.56.260

Now once they have a lease option secured, they could (and should) seek public input…

But to beat up on transparency, in this instance, seems a bit of an overreach to me…

That said, there’s plenty of other reasons to throw out Linville’s leftovers, cause they’re kind of rotten and starting to stink…

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