Anchors Are Weighed
Wednesday, October 23, 2019
ANCHORS ARE WEIGHED: Ballots for the November general election dropped last week, and with them comes a seismic shift in local government.
The executive branch, and the administration it leads, receives the bulk of public attention. But it is in the legislative branch—the municipal council—where policy is crafted and new directions are born. The inner working relationship of that council and, outward, how well their work coordinates with the administration lays the foundation of effective government.
The Bellingham City Council that is taking shape in this election has seldom been more promising and exciting. The city is blessed to have so many outstanding citizens run for public office.
Earlier this month, Terry Bornemann took the opportunity to toast his many friends and supporters at a celebration as he retires from long service on City Council at the end of this year. He will all too soon be joined by Gene Knutson, who will not seek reelection and will close out an even longer service on Council.
With Terry and perhaps even more so with Gene goes the deep historic and institutional memory of city legislation and policy—the reasons why things were done or not done, and the understanding of why certain actions were more complicated or took longer to unfold than others. Their looming departure creates a new plurality, alignment and transition on City Council.
A precarious moment is approaching Bellingham city government, as the institutional memories of elected officials depart without leaving behind a cohesive and coherent center on City Council. Which is not to say the current Council is incoherent. No; they’re a focused group. But they are as a group remarkably incurious by the standards of past councils—seldom straying into the deep weeds of city policy, seldom asking the penetrating follow-up questions to staff presentations.
That curiosity is about to be reinvigorated with (we hope) the election of Lisa Anderson, one of the most qualified and exciting candidates to apply for an elected position in city government in many years. She’a applied to fill Bornemann’s position in Ward 5. As a member of the Bellingham Planning Commission, Anderson’s observations have been penetrating. Her questions are detailed and insightful. She’s a joy to watch work.
There’s been a traditional and time-honored way to sign onto City Council, and that is through service with a neighborhood association, or through one of the city’s many advisory boards and committees. Those organizations help establish a foundation and working knowledge of city actions. Of the boards and committees, the capstone has traditionally been the Planning Commission, which studies and guides how a city grows.
Lisa Anderson will ask the penetrating questions.
We’re also excited by the candidacy of Hollie Huthman in the Council’s At-Large position. Hollie is a business leader with unique insights into Bellingham’s “second economy”—the arts and music scenes that are the lifeblood of the city’s vibrant identity. She represents and embodies a vital (and underrepresented) demographic.
“I am running as an average resident of Bellingham in order to represent average people,” Huthman says of her campaign.
She’s too modest, but there is truth that she represents a cohort that is currently struggling to make it in a city that increasingly unaffordable to that cohort.
Hollie Huthman will be their voice.
We’ve noted before the collision of talent in Bellingham’s Ward 1, the seat being vacated by April Barker, where two phenomenally electable people are going head-to-head for the position. Both can’t win, although City Council would be stronger with both on it.
Beth Hartsoch is a passionate advocate of alternative transportation. She’d be a strong voice on Council. But hers is a specific advocacy that can also be expressed through groups like the city’s Transportation Commission or its analog through the Whatcom Council of Government.
Hannah Stone, currently serving on Council’s new Justice committee, is at work on vital equity and social justice policy to protect the city’s most vulnerable populations.
Hannah Stone’s work must continue.
Dan Hammill seeks reelection to represent Ward 3 on City Council. Hammill has been a powerful voice for social justice and equity. He’s been a champion of behavioral health reform, with focus on treatment for mental health and substance abuse. He was a leader in the establishment of the Bellingham Home Fund, which more than any other single effort has produced tangible deliverables in affordable housing.
Dan Hammill serves to anchor to emerging and established Council policy.
And on the subject of anchors, we come ’round to the mayor’s race, and why the Gristle thinks Seth Fleetwood is the superior choice.
By comparative résumé alone, Seth is the more qualified candidate, with experience at all levels in city government—and in county government as well. In values, both Seth and April are rock-solid. But as the institutional memory of City Council fades and a new generation of gifted and highly qualified yet relatively inexperienced members arrives, it is more important than ever to have that memory and experience and public confidence represented in the mayor’s office.
The past two mayors have benefitted from being grounded by a veteran Council. The next mayor will not have that benefit, and a strong working relationship with staff will be critical through the transition. That’s just one reason we support Fleetwood, but it is an important reason.
We hope April will continue to be a strong voice for the issues she’s championed. But Seth Fleetwood should be elected mayor.