At Wednesday’s Bainbridge Island City Council meeting, the last for outgoing councilmembers, Councilmember Bob Scales distributed to the council and to reporters attending copies of a memo that City staffers say they found on the glass of the city photocopy machine. The memo offers political strategy advice to an unnamed four-person majority and accuses City staff of lying and other forms of corruption. City Manager Brenda Bauer assigns responsibility for the memo to outgoing Councilmember Bill Knobloch.
She said, “Councilmember Knobloch used the copier, and immediately after he left, the staff person who walked past him into the room to use the copier found the document in the originals tray. They shared it with another staff person or two who came into the copier room, and then it was given to me.”
I asked Knobloch if he had written the memo or left it in the copier and he said, “I am not the author of that document.” I asked him if he had any idea who was, and he said that we should not be conjecturing about something that we had no way of knowing. He agreed that it would be significant news if the memo had been written by a councilmember. But then he repeated that the accusation was “totally false.” He questioned the reasoning behind sharing the document at the Council meeting: “What good is that especially since it was a festive evening?”
The memo (shown below) addresses four out of the seven city councilmembers without naming them. It recommends that, despite the fact that the four will have enough votes to control outcomes, they operate so as not to appear to be bullies or inept. It tells the four that at times they will have to be actors to achieve the appearance of being calm and polite. It gives advice on how to “neutralize” the opposition by allowing them to “self-destruct” through their anger and by including them in a negotiation “pattern” up until the moment of voting—it suggests that they “practice” this technique in advance. It advises the four to exclude the City Manager from council discussion about a shakeup of her office until the Council has decided how to proceed. And it reminds the four that “salesmanship” is an important part of public perception.
Scales said to me that before the meeting he distributed the memo on the dais, one to each councilmember, on the table for reporters, and on the sign-in desk for the public. Someone gathered them up, so he made more copies and redistributed them. He says that he then sat down and saw Councilmember Kim Brackett gather up all the copies he had put on the table for the public, crumple them up, and hand them to Knobloch, who put them in his bag. Brackett did not return my call.
Councilmember Debbie Lester said, “We get all sorts of stuff from people. I don’t know the reason for printing it out and distributing it.” She added, “Everybody should go have some eggnog and chill out.” Lester said, “I am looking forward to a collaborative, collegiate spirit in the coming years. We have the community work to be done and all these issues were not serving the community well.”
Local blogger Althea Paulson felt it was important to focus on the memo’s content, writing in a post about the memo, “I cannot imagine why anyone would advise council members to sandbag their fellow council members and strategically fail to negotiate in good faith.” She adds, “How can any council work with any administration if people on either side believe from the outset that there will be rampant lying and protection of power and status?” She writes that the author of the memo “has ensured that the Council and City administration will begin their relationship with mutual distrust.”
Paulson concludes her post this way: “Many of my neighbors and friends have wondered why politics at City Hall has become so poisonous. People are losing confidence in a political environment where both government and citizens are more interested in battling with each other than in working toward effective, efficient government. Attitudes and strategies like those contained in this document profoundly hurt our community.” Like Lester, she hopes that “the New Year will bring a renewed focus on substantive, productive work, conducted with real commitment to collaboration, relationship, and fair dealing.” She calls on the new members of the council to offer reassurance that this will be the spirit guiding their work.
Here is the memo: