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Disappearing Committees, Transparency, and Public Property!

Poulsbo city government is about to make decisions about two issues that seem under-the-radar but which affect YOU. One of them might sound wonky, but is quite consequential: the committee structure of Poulsbo government. The second concern is what looks like a land giveaway to Coffee Oasis—OUR (public) land.

A. THE IRON CURTAIN : Poulsbo’s City Committees

Dictatorships and other secretive regimes do away with committees, departments, and other annoyingly democratic subdivisions of government. Is this what’s happening before our eyes in Poulsbo?

Since last August 1, at Mayor Erickson’s instigation, the City Council has undone its committee structure and simply met three Wednesdays per month as a full council. Under the format they’ve been trying out, the first half of each Council meeting attends to items that would have been addressed in committees; and the second half consists of the regular City Council session that takes votes on Council agenda items.

The Council will decide by June whether or not to institutionalize this committee-free structure.

What are, or were, the City’s committees? They are the real places where representative councilmembers, informed staff from City departments, members of the public, and people with expertise from the community meet to gather and discuss vital information, hash out policy, and make recommendations to the Council at large. The committees and just a sampling of crucial things they cover:

- Community Services (everything that affects library, parks & recreation, etc.)

- Capital Improvement Planning (capital, strategic planning, finance/budget improvement


- Finance & Administration (finance dept. matters, city audits, personnel issues, salaries &


- Housing, Health, & Human Services (affordable housing, behavioral health, outreach for


- Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (reports on revenue from lodgings & how to spend)

- Public Safety and Legal (ranges from equipment needed for the police to do their jobs, to

how to conduct legal business during Covid; local crime; support needs of the prosecutor)

- Public Works (updates from Planning Dept. and city engineers on projects; Poulsbo’s

infrastructure & its maintenance, building new infrastructure for development; roads &

streets, parking...)

The city’s municipal code mandates the existence of these committees, and again, the Council has been operating without them and will decide in June whether to keep it that way. As councilman Musgrove says, they’re trying to pack 30+ hours of work per month into 9. What could have led to this insane way of running a city?

For councilmembers, whose salary for serving on the council is negligible ($1,000/month), an obvious advantage to the new regime is less time spent doing their public service. The advantage for the Mayor also seems clear: this greater “efficiency” inevitably aids the tendency to make decisions behind closed doors, or make them publicly in Council meetings but armed with powerful little information or time for discussion. When the Mayor wants something to happen, this is a great setup—think of Netanyahu in Israel currently curtailing the power of the courts so he can increase his power. Much more efficient.

What are some disadvantages of doing away with committees?

1. Uninformed decision-making. Committee meeting time allows staff and others with expert knowledge to give presentations and have in-depth discussion. Gone or largely absent.

2. Limited public accessibility & participation. Residents could attend committee meetings, learn about issues, give input. The smaller setting could allow citizen input to be part of the conversation. That’s gone.

3. We don’t even know what issues have fallen by the wayside, what mistakes are being made, and what is being kept from the public, with the drastically pared-down meeting schedule.

No other municipality of Poulsbo’s size that we know of is wiping out committees. It would seem near impossible for Poulsbo to carry on its business in an informed and democratic way without committees.

The Mayor often talks about Poulsbo government’s increasing complexity. How in the world does it make sense to reduce these meetings? If councilmembers find it difficult because of their outside jobs, shouldn’t we first think about increasing their salaries and providing them benefits? (This increased incentive would surely allow more age and cultural diversity on the Council.)

Let’s add a note about Commissions (Parking, Planning, and others). The Mayor appoints the people on these commissions, whose purpose is to advise the Council & Mayor. If she is the sole person picking the members, this seems to be one more mechanism for her tight rein on City government.

THE GIVEAWAY: Public Land to Religious Organization?

A 2022 issue of THE WAVE described Mayor Erickson’s plan to give city property to Coffee Oasis and to the Poulsbo Farmers’ Market. Since the final decision on that terrible plan (read on!) is coming sometime in the next two months, THIS IS THE TIME to get reacquainted with the issue and raise your voice about it.

The fate of 3.5 acres of City property along Iverson, the former home of the Public Works Department, arose last spring as a City Council agenda item, under the mysterious title of “Boundary Line Adjustment.” (Was this bureaucratic title assigned to the agenda item so it wouldn’t be noticed?) It turned out to be an illogical plan for the City to give the property away to two nonprofits, the Poulsbo Farmers’ Market and the Coffee Oasis.

Why? Why not just lease the property for a dollar a year to the Market we all love? (We’re intensely curious to find out if the Market indeed opens this spring on the former Public Works site; no one is saying.) Why give the property away? Could there be a problem with the property?

Yes! water, water, everywhere! an overflowing Dogfish Creek pours down the hill from the other side of 7th when it rains, and regularly inundates the whole area. If the City simply gives this mess to the Market, it doesn’t have to deal with the flooding and build the water mitigation structures it should have built long ago. (A 2017 Kitsap Sun article shows that Poulsbo received a $100,000 EPA grant in 2017 to help do exactly that—what happened to that money?)

Even more confounding, though, is the Mayor’s desire to give the upper part of that property to Coffee Oasis. Coffee Oasis is part of the strange empire of The Refuge Church, whose tax records show its millions in assets. The City owns the property Coffee Oasis occupies—it’s part of the 3.5 acres. We know nothing about what’s going on with it right now—is the enormous blue tarp currently on Coffee Oasis’s roof awaiting new roofing, and if so, who’s paying for it? In any case, why would a church be given City land? If The Refuge decides to finally improve that falling-apart building once they own it, and if they build proper concrete fortifications against the floodwaters that constantly assail it, won’t this just exacerbate the water problems downstream—i.e., the Farmer’s Market area and the trailer home park (one of Poulsbo’s few affordable housing options)?

Poulsbo for All strongly opposes any plan to “give” heavily encumbered land to any entity (some gift!), and also strongly opposes the granting of property to the religious organization that owns Coffee Oasis. The City of Poulsbo should, rather, bite the bullet, dig up that old EPA grant and apply for others, acknowledge the reality of climate change, and address it responsibly by undertaking water mitigation measures on the property. Poulsbo should support the Market by leasing this City land to the Market, and if it desires, continue to support Coffee Oasis by leasing to them.

What can you do?

Call, email, snail mail, telephone, or attend an upcoming Council meeting to share your concerns and suggestions.

Email: ; Snailmail: 200 Moe St., Poulsbo 98370

Phone: (360) 779-3901

City Council meetings by Zoom: Go to the City website, click “Government,” click “Agendas” or “Council meetings,” then follow the link. In person: Council meetings are the first three Wednesdays of the month at 5 pm, City Hall, Council Chamber. Contact us:

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