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More on last night’s failed Cheney Stadium amendment

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on March 10, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
March 10, 2010 1:11 pm

Last night, before the Tacoma City Council awarded a team led by Mortenson Construction a $26.5 million contract to renovate Cheney Stadium, council members debated a proposed amendment that would have imposed conditions on the contract.

Mortenson design, outside

I noted the amendment in my story today, but wanted to go into more details here — including whether Councilman David Boe‘s decision to vote against the matter affected its passage (some people say Boe, who had ties to a losing design bid, should have abstained from voting on the matter).

The amendment,  formally proposed by Councilman Jake Fey, primarily would have required a two-week period of public input on Mortenson’s ballpark design.  It also would have required Mortenson to provide the council with a cost estimate for extending the ballpark’s roof to provide seating coverage equal or greater than what the ballpark now offers (the roof issue had become a sticking point, as I blogged about here) and would have made the design-build team report back to the council with updates on the public’s thoughts.

Four council members — Fey,  Victoria Woodards, Ryan Mello and Mayor Marilyn Strickland – supported the measure, generally saying that despite the closed design-build process that led to the selected Mortenson design, the public should have had an opportunity to weigh in.

“I never imagined there wouldn’t be … some kind of public involvement in this process,” Fey said.

Added Woodards: “If we’re expecting citizens to help pay for renovations,  they need to have a place to have input.”

But four other council members — Spiro Manthou, Marty Campbell, Joe Lonergan and Boe – voted against the measure. With Councilwoman Lauren Walker absent, the deadlocked vote meant the amendment failed.

Manthou said he voted against the amendment because he felt it meddled with an already established selection process that was well in motion.  Campbell wondered if the public’s opinions, even if collected, could practically be used in a project with an already tight deadline and budget; and Longeran questioned whether the council could impose such conditions, presuming the design-build team would simply factor in public sentiment on its own (He encouraged them to include more public viewing areas, including perhaps rethinking the team’s view offices on the mezzanine level).

David BoeMeanwhile, Boe explained he was voting against the amendment because the process had been set and shouldn’t be changed.  Boe, an architect, later revealed that he had worked on the final designs by one of the losing bid teams, and voted against awarding Mortenson the contract because he felt the city had botched the bidding process (That concern was not Boe’s alone. That allegation, and several other concerns about the process, had been raised by several other members of the losing bid teams, according to the city).

Several people, including Tacoma Rainiers’ President Aaron Artman, City Public Assemblies Facilities Director Mike Combs and Manthou and Strickland, among others, say Boe should have recused himself from the ballpark issue because of his involvement with one of the bidding teams. Artman also blamed Boe last night for igniting most of the “negativity” surrounding the winning design, because Boe had offered critical comments about its look and stunted roof (Those concerns also have been voiced by others).

Had Boe recused himself, the vote on the amendment would have been 4 to 3.  Would that have been enough to pass the measure?

City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli said today that to be approved, the amendment motion only needed a majority of council members present and voting at the time (as opposed to a majority of the nine-member council, or five votes, which are needed for some council actions).  So, yes, if Boe didn’t vote, the amendment would have passed. Legally, though, Boe wasn’t required to recuse himself under the city’s ethics code because he didn’t have a financial interest in the ballpark project, Pauli said.

Boe said Tuesday he didn’t feel it was necessary to recuse himself, in part, because he was motivated to weigh in on what he viewed as the city’s flawed design-build process.  He added that he did his architectural work for the losing bid team for free, and became involved in that project before he was appointed to the council. Boe was a finalist for council appointment at the time.

But council members can and typically do recuse themselves from voting for ethical, personal and political reasons even when the slightest appearance of a conflict of interest arises, according to Pauli and council members. For instance, Manthou, an employee of Bates Technical College, said he abstains from voting on city contracts involving Bates, even though his work has nothing to do with them (Manthou added he isn’t judging Boe, saying the decision to abstain was solely up to him).

Ironically, by casting his vote, Boe actually helped to defeat an amendment unwanted by the Rainiers and Artman, who criticized Boe for not removing himself entirely from discussion and voting on the ballpark project.

Still, even had Boe note voted and the amendment been approved, it might not have meant much anyway.

Combs and Artman say they’re going to invite the public to offer input on the stadium designs and see how those opinions might be implemented into renovations. A Mortenson executive added that the project’s tight budget likely won’t allow for any major changes, such as costly roof extensions. Still, Combs said they’ll look for ways to add more public viewing areas in the mezzanine level and elsewhere — an issue that some citizens have raised about the winning design since its unveiling last week.

Even though the amendment failed, “I think in the end we still got what we wanted,” Strickland said today. Looking back, there should have been public meetings at some time during the process, she added.  It’s  something the council can learn from in future projects, she said.

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