Posted on 14 December 2013.
At Wednesday’s (December 11) City Council meeting, the Council celebrated the tenures of Councilmembers Kirsten Hytopoulos, Debbi Lester, and Bob Scales, all of which will end at the end of the year. Mayor Steven Bonnkowski gave brief introductions and speakers chosen by each Councilmember addressed the Council, reviewing the accomplishments of the outgoing public servants and making some pointed comments about the nature of public service. The three Councilmembers also offered their own remarks. The common thread through all of the remarks is that (a) being a City Councilmember is hard and you get criticized a lot, (b) the last four years have been especially tough because of the recession, and (c) the three outgoing Councilmembers were all hard workers with strong convictions and concern for the community.
State Senator Christine Rolfes
State Senator Christine Rolfes spoke about Hytopoulos. She recounted how Hytopoulos started off her career as a young parent on the south end who convinced her community to bring sewer service to that part of the island. Rolfes said she then “rallied the troops” to ensure that the proposed Lynwood Center development would meet the community’s needs. She helped lead the campaign to change our government from mayor run to the city manager form and then ran for Council.
Acknowledging the public criticism endured by Hytopoulos, Rolfes, a former Bainbridge City Councilmember, said, “One day you’re an informed engaged and generally well-respected citizen. And then you get elected to City Council. Your life changes.” She added, “You’re making decisions that impact people’s property, that impact their jobs, and that impact the safety of their children. There’s no way that everybody’s going to like your decisions, and a lot of times they don’t even like you.”
But, she added, “The most important thing when under fire is to stay true to your values,” and she said that Hytopoulos is an “amazing example.” She listed the challenges Hytopoulos faced, including the recession and the Winslow Way reconstruction project, and said “She gave us all hope that Bainbridge Island could remain an eclectic, progressive, interesting place to live.”
She also listed Hytopoulos’s accomplishments including the plastic bag ban, fighting for the liveaboard community, and rebuilding community trust in the Police Department, all the whole raising three kids and starting her own law practice. Rolfes said, “No one worked harder and contributed more,” and she encouraged Hytopoulos to consider another term once her kids are grown and the recession is over.
Rolfes concluded her remarks by admonishing the Councilmembers to “be kind to one another.”
Lester asked Bainbridge Island Museum of Art Director Greg Robinson, whom she has known for 20 years, to speak about her career. He started out by saying how “depressed” he was when Lester ran for Council and how “devastated” he was when she became mayor. He explained it was because it meant the local art scene would suffer from a reduced Lester presence, but he said, “The art world gets her back now.” He proceeded to tout her many contributions to the art scene, including her founding of Art Access, a long-running local magazine that tracks the Seattle-area art world.
Lester’s husband, attorney Ryan Vancil, also spoke about Lester. He said that, because of Lester’s wide-ranging interests and involvement in so many different aspects of Island life, he realized he was the “only person who could speak to all of her work.” He listed some of her many accomplishments including reactivation of the nonmotorized transportation committee, the Winslow Way reconstruction and its incorporation of public art, the hiring of a new city manager, solar panels on City Hall, the housing development demonstration project, the Waypoint Park project, the city website improvement, the SMP, the tree ordinance, and the Waterfront Park Community Center upgrade.
He described how she served on numerous regional and county boards, introduced poetry to the Council meetings, kept the July 3d Street Dance from dying during the recession by resurrecting it as the Island Vibes celebration, planted tulips along Winslow Way, wrote hundreds of cards to thank people for doing their jobs, paid daily visits to the Waterfront Park Community Center during its reconstruction to talk to the workers and check on progress, and possibly issued more proclamations during her year as mayor any of her predecessors.
He concluded by saying that a “positive and encouraging demeanor were the hallmarks of her term” and that “every Councilmember deserves our respect whether we agree with them or not.” He then gave his wife a bouquet of flowers.
The Executive Director of Helpline House, Joanne Tews, spoke about Councilmember Bob Scales. She said, “You must know your values and be very comfortable with a very small fan club as a public servant.” She said, “I tell my staff, if everybody loves you, then you’re not doing your job. There is always a cost to sticking to your principles.”
Tews said that, during her 14 years as Executive Director, she had heard from many Councilmembers. Some had indicated relationship with Helpline that wasn’t there, some had promised things that never materialized, some had “misstated facts,” and some had let peer pressure dissolve their resolve,” but, she said, never Scales.
She said that “every day we have to see clearly, listen carefully, and act wisely. Bob, I want to thank you for being green, for being comfortable with a small fan club, and for aligning your principles with your actions.”
The three outgoing Councilmembers got the last word—twice. First, they each were able to address the chambers and impart some final advice.
Hytopoulos said she hadn’t been prepared with comments. So she spoke extemporaneously, thanking her colleagues and saying, “We disagreed on a lot of things, but everyone has done so because we want the best for our community.” Then she expressed hope for the new Council and said, “We’ve got to try to see there’s truth in both ends of the spectrum” and hoped people would find common ground. However, she added, it’s “too easy to say everyone should just get along. Not everything can be compromised. There are things people shouldn’t compromise on.”
To the community she cautioned, “No matter what form of government, no matter who we elect, our community is not going to be able plug and play and walk away.” She told people to stay engaged.
Lester, who had prepared comments in advance, read a poem written by first grader Islander Julia Denlinger that was highlighted in the 2005 poetry banners produced by the Public Art Committee:
The Tree Story
The trees are the leaders of our island.
Stand up straight, reach out,
be kind and gentle, sway when
it’s windy. Give home for animals
or a place to eat, share your shade.
Be glittery as it rains. Be glittery
after it rains.
Lester said the poem is a “metaphor to “remind one to be a tall leader.” She said, “When we gather together, it is a sacred moment. Our friends, our neighbors, our children bear witness.” She added that “kindness, grace, generosity, and humor are wonderful gifts to share.”
She said her greatest lesson learned is that “it’s never an indvidual. It’s always a community.” She finished by saying, “We have done great things” and had her husband hand out gifts to the other Councilmembers, which included salmon she and her husband had caught and smoked and new Councilmember name plaques for the chambers.
Scales, who served for more than ten years with the Council, said that when he first ran in 2003, he ran unopposed and didn’t know what he was getting himself into. He mentioned that in those ten years he had worked with four different council configurations, and “it’s interesting to see how you’re perceived.” When he first served, he said, he was perceived as a property rights advocate. At the end of his last term he was called an “environmental advocate.” His conclusion was that “You are how you vote.”
Scales also acknowledged his fondness for “a good crisis.” His favorite time during the ten years was dealing with the financial crisis. He said, “It’s easier to operate as a council when there’s a crisis. You have unity of vision.”
He finished his remarks by saying, “I can guarantee I will not be back for a third term.”
The Councilmembers got the last word a second time when Mayor Steven Bonkowski, who had awarded each of them with a commemorative plaque and an orchid, read the three Councilmembers’ candidate statements from the 2008 voter pamphlet.
Hytopoulos had said that city spending and planning should reflect community priorities and that she would work for reasonable population increases. Lester wanted to reestablish council ward meetings, improve the city website, and increase opportunities for local food, arts, and business. And Scales had wanted to work for an improved decision-making process, conduct a thorough assessment of revenues and expenditures, and establish appropriate levels of service.
Bonkowski concluded, “We have three Councilmembers that have done an incredible job for four years of fulfilling what they said they were going to do.”
Photo by Simon James.