Letters to the Editor

Langley mayor stories are one-sided | LETTER TO THE EDITOR

To the editor:

I wonder why the South Whidbey Record continues to publish one-sided stories about our mayor’s salary and council actions, rather than focusing its attention on the challenges of governing and positive outcomes these leaders have made possible.

Since the July 3 issue of the Record first publicly raised concerns, my review of subsequent articles (and associated email responses) have not yielded any satisfactory answers. Rather it has just increased my frustration with the repetitious content and complaints from the same sources.

Like many busy people, I rarely have time to follow-up on news article allegations. I hope for the best, a subsequent story from a reporter that seeks objective data leading the public toward fact-based understanding of all sides.

Since that hasn’t happened, I conducted my own search. I didn’t spend much time on the fuss about lawyer expenses when the mayor was accused of “improper actions” by the city treasurer (South Whidbey Record, Aug. 11) because most experienced managers know that investigative analysis and advice are required when an employee files a complaint against a person whose decisions/actions may affect them personally.

Here is what I learned:

When the recession hit business and budgets harder than anticipated and the city costs were higher than sustainable, the mayor and council took action to evaluate the practices and expenses of our city business and government structure. Shortly before taking office in 2008, Mayor Paul began a due diligence examination of the mayor’s office, working with the former mayor, Neil Colburn. Formal evaluation processes, beginning with the treasurer’s office in May 2009 were delayed due to budget constraints. They were restarted in October 2009, with a department-by-department review of expenses. This review is documented and dates show that the process did not start after concerns about the mayor’s pay were raised by the city treasurer, as reported in the South Whidbey Record, Aug. 11 headlines.

Focused on keeping businesses open in Langley and meeting city-as-landlord requirements, an unbudgeted expense for the vacant fire department structure was identified as necessary. This expenditure was reported in the Aug. 11 article as a concern for the treasurer, given the dire financial situation of the city. No mention was made of the financial benefit for the community, only that it was one of several expenses seen as problematic. Turns out, little effort was needed to find out the following. This expense generated an immediate addition to city revenue of $30K/year, a 667 percent ROI in the first year and payback within 1.5 months. As an aside, this action also met the goals of the state-mandated, city comprehensive plan, and supported the plan’s economic development component, fulfilling a long time dream of two, native Whidbey Islanders, to open a business in downtown Langley; a success story on many levels.

It has been documented by the reporter that the council erroneously deemed the mayor as an employee. By definition, the mayor would be entitled to vacation, healthcare and employee benefits such as retirement. Council members went on to acknowledge this was an unintended result of adopting an ordinance fashioned after Coupeville language. It has been widely acknowledged that this is inappropriate for an elected official. The reporter raised the issue of retirement-for-life and the resulting expense to the city (July 3) but neglected in subsequent articles to report that the mayor turned down the Washington-based required option of retirement. The concern about vacation accrual and payout never materialized, as documented in the investigation outcome, and would not have been an issue, given the mayor's status as an elected official.

The main issue for the Record and a handful of Langleyites (and, oddly, some folks from Freeland and Clinton) continues to be the mayor’s salary, according to and finally, a fact-based account in the Record on Saturday, Sept. 4. Unfortunately, the bias-based reporting continues with this article. It compares compensation across “similar” city mayor compensation (although pay displayed has been reduced in 2010, as mentioned later in the article on page A3). Unfortunately, and as many of us know, graphs can be deceiving. To add weight to its headline, the Record has chosen to graphically compare the two full-time mayor’s salaries to all the part-time mayor’s salaries. For those who don’t read the article completely to understand the majority of salaries depicted are for part time mayors, it sensationalizes and incorrectly leads readers to a distorted conclusion, at best.

As most of us know, there are many variables to be considered in determining salaries including, size, complexity, tax base, etc. Solid research would be costly and to what end? We just may find out that our city officials are compensated appropriately. But, since we have started down that path, would the South Whidbey Record be willing to devote space to more research into staff and elected official salaries? Seems like that is what Mayor Paul was doing when this whole thing started. Why not continue with a city treasurer comparison?

Kathryn Stevens

Langley

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