Yesterday the city council tabled the library bond issue. In its present form, it is probably permanently gone. The project was a concoction from former mayor Mark and was intended to provide a parking garage for city hall and the courthouse. I have written on this website for years against the plan of a huge downtown monolithic library - but have stayed quiet these past few weeks in hope that our new mayor and council would act on their own to stop this process. Whew. That is not any new tactic of mine.
Scott Ayers of the Bellingham Herald has posted a very well thought out opinion on his blog. There is a link in the right column to his blog and I am including another at the bottom of this post directly to his specific post on the Herald's site. Scott correctly notes that under Asmundsen the cost of projects seemed to matter little and most of his grand projects ran well over budget. Our new mayor, Dan Pike, has brought a careful approach to the question of what can we afford and Scott appreciates that.
Contrary to John Watts assertions, I have attended quite a few Library Board meetings over the past 15 years. I noted at some that he never showed up even though he was the liason for the council - and others when he would come in late. I would have attended more except the past few years they have been like watching Groundhog Day. Board chair Edelstein urged board members to forget about cost and instead think of what they might really want if we could just build anything - and that set the tone. Each meeting would wander around without any real plan. There would be silences - broken by someone asking what else they should talk about. This went on for years. It seemed that the real planning was being done by staff and consultants - not the board. Just sitting still through an hour of this was painful. Now it is over.
They hired a geologist to test the ground in various places for suitability for a large building. They liked his report so well that the former mayor appointed him to the board. Things sort of went like that. There has long been the suspicion of many local political junkies that mayor Mark appointed Edelstein to the board in a quid pro quo for granting Edelstein's Chuckanut Ridge development permits in a record three days. Under this scenario, Edelstein was supposed to deliver a parking garage to the mayor. He failed. I expect some resignations from the board. We shall see. Some members seem to have little interest in library policy and more interest in construction.
At a recent meeting of the Friends of the Fairhaven Library we questioned library Director Pam Kiesner if there was a plan B for making needed repairs to our library if the bond did not go through. Her answer was there was no contingency plan. We pressed the issue, asking why not and expressed our concern that repairs had been already delayed for years. She had no answer. We sent a letter to the mayor in January expressing our concern. We got a polite reply but no real answer. You can expect us to be meeting soon to petition the mayor and council to act now on this.
Indeed, the Library board and director went out of their way to exaggerate the needed repairs for the Fairhaven Library as being $2 million in order to help get votes for the bond issue. Last year we friends got a tour of the building - inside and out - with a city engineer. We had the overly generous renovation plans in hand as we did the tour. By the end, we realized the needed repairs were less than $1 million. Some repairs should be done this summer - before another winter. Our building is in good shape but needs the maintenance the city has delayed for years in anticipation of putting it all in the bond issue. A very irresponsible and political process.