April 22, 2013
City Manager's Report

FORETHOUGHT

 

Being right

Political inaction is a national contagion. It isn't just limited to Congress, it percolates all the way down to City Hall too. The roots of this issue are found in the way power operates: escalation and blame. The nutrients that feed these roots are fear. Fear and anger are intertwined. Instead of experiencing the fear and taking effective action, being right(eous) is frequently substituted. Explosive emotional outbursts are generally the outcome when being right becomes part of the equation.

 

Being engaged

The way to deal with defiant political power is straightforward; don't engage the escalation. I let the City Manager's inaction and excuses become part of the narrative. The audience for both of us is the community.

There are many ways to ameliorate intransigent behavior:

  • Bring the action to the attention of the State Auditor (03-28-13 email)
  • Engage in dialogue (04-15-13 presentation)
  • Communicate with more information (04-16-13 Letter to Council)

The original City Manager's report (below) and the actual video presentation that follows shows how things can be calmed through solution based action.

 

Original City Manager's Report
Abatement of code violations at an abandoned property in November, 2010

The following is submitted at the request of Councilmember(s) at the March 4 Council meeting in response to the public comment from Dick West about the City's abatement of code violations at an abandoned residential property in North Burien.

Mr. West stated at the Council meeting that he had hired a bankruptcy attorney to investigate the city's handling of abandoned foreclosed homes and believed he had discovered mismanagement and misuse of city funds in providing Chase Bank free cleanup at the home at 11416 26th Avenue South.

Actual events are as follows: in June, 2010, shortly after annexing the above property North Burien, the city began receiving complaints from law enforcement officers and residents (including Mr. West) about excessive dumping of trash, construction debris, mattresses, and stolen vehicles on the property and adjacent street and reports of unknown individuals entering the abandoned house during the day and night. The city was informed by King County that dumping in the street in front of the property had been habitual problem prior to annexation and the county had frequently been called on to remove the debris.

After researching property records, the city found the Chase bank had scheduled a foreclosure sale of the property but had not yet acquired ownership and the property owner had filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection. The city attempted to obtain code compliance from both Chase and the property owner but was unsuccessful in doing so.

Due to the urgency of health and safety violations and complains that had been received from the police, neighboring residents and Mr. West, the city negotiated a right of entry agreement with the property owner's bankruptcy attorney, in order for the City to enter the property to remove the garbage and secure the premises from unauthorized entry. On November 10, 2010, the property was cleaned and secured by the city public works crew(less than $2500 in in-kind labor costs). Waste Management provided dumpsters and vouchers to cover disposal costs and the city crew used materials on hand for securing the premises, so the City did not incur any additional out-of-pocket costs.

The city was not legally able to file a lien against the property for the abatement costs due to the “automatic stay”provisions in section 362 of the United States bankruptcy code., Which prohibits such liens for charges incurred from the time the debtor has filed the bankruptcy of petition until the bankruptcy has been discharged. As stated in the document provided by Mr. West, the property would not be surrendered and the automatic stay would not be lifted until the debt reorganization plan was confirmed.

This document did not state, as indicated by Mr. West, that the property was surrendered to Chase Bank on March 25, 2010. To the contrary, according to King County property records, the trustees deed upon sale transferring ownership from the bankrupt property owner to Federal National Mortgage Association did not occur until December 9, 2011. This was over a year after the city cleaned and secured the property. If Mr. West or his bankruptcy attorney has accurate contrary information regarding bankruptcy law or how and when the transfer of this property occurred, city staff would be very interested in reviewing it.

It should also be noted that April, 2012, the City Council adopted a new code enforcement ordinance, Chapter 1. 15 BMC. In this new ordinance, the city expanded the definition of “persons responsible for violation”to include mortgagees (such as Chase Bank) property that is subject to a foreclosure action or that has been abandoned for at least 90 days. This now gives the City an additional tool to deal with mortgage companies such as Chase Bank; however, it still does not avoid the problem of dealing with properties involved in bankruptcy proceeding. Accordingly, in order for the City to clean and secure the above property in response to the urgent complaints of Mr. West and others, the City would still have no choice but to absorb the cost of doing so.

It should further be noted that the City's code enforcement staff was successful in obtaining code compliance for several properties in the North Burien shortly after annexation without the City incurring any abatement costs other than staff time. These properties were being used as hangouts for various illegal activities, had been of significant concern to law enforcement officers for a long time, and had not been brought into compliance by King County code enforcement.

 

Cost of Abandoned Residential Properties

At the March 18 Council meeting, Councilmembers asked staff for information in response to the public comment from Dick West about the cost to the City of eight abandoned residential properties and 50-100 other such properties throughout Burien.

Mr. West showed the Council photos and eight apparently they can houses. He said, “According to the FDIC each of these houses cost the city $34,000 in lost revenue and surrounding home values go down by $220,000”. He further said that these losses occur every year. Apparently extrapolating these amounts, Mr. West then said, “These eight houses on the screen have cost the city $589,000 in lost revenue in the last three years. The residents of Burien have lost $208,125,000 in net worth last year above and beyond our surrounding municipalities, because the City refuses to take action against these types of houses.”

Staff has reviewed the FDIC website and found the following statements, which were based on 2005 Chicago studies:

“Homes in foreclosure that become vacant provide sites the crime and other neighborhood problems. One foreclosure can impose up to $34,000 in direct costs on local government agencies, including inspections court actions police and fire department efforts, potential demolition, unpaid water and sewage, and trash removal....One foreclosure can result in as much as an additional $220,000 and reduce property value and home equity for nearby homes.”

Thus, as actually stated on FDIC website, the $34,000 figure does not represent annual lost revenue to city government nor does the $220,000 figure represent annual property value reduction in Burien. Although city staff does not disagree that abandoned foreclosed homes are a significant problem, Mr. West calculated total cost attributed to this problem are difficult to substantiate.

Staff has also reviewed the eight houses reference by Mr. West. All are apparently up to date on King County property tax payments. One of the eight (#6) is an active code enforcement case. Three of the eight (#1,37) are closed code enforcement cases that have been brought into compliance. Four of the eight #2,4,5,8) have never been reported to City code enforcement.

Thus, the record contradicts Mr. West's statement that the city refuses to take action against these types of houses.

Although City staff does not have a precise or approximate count of the number of vacant homes in foreclosure in Burien, needless to say there are more than anyone would like to see. If Mr. West's estimate of 50-100 such homes and his estimate of 40 hours of staff time to abate each one are fair approximations, then the city Council would need to significantly increase the city's code enforcement budget in order to proactively address the situation. As part of the budget process, city staff is very willing to review this situation more carefully and propose possible courses of action and budget options for dealing with it.

 

City Manager Video

The first couple of minutes the City Attorney will share the legal aspects of the situation. Immediately following him, the City Manager will provide his position on the matter.

I do not own the copyrights to this video. It can be seen on the City website. Choose April 22, 2013. Click Video and at 1 hour 21 minutes, the presentation begins with the City Attorney.

 

RECONNAISSANCE
April 22, 2013

The information from this presentation comes from the City Manager's Report found in the Council Packet.

Engaging in revenge and escalation is what power is used too. I denied him a way of deflecting his responsibility in this matter.

Allowing power to act ineffectively through its own word and actions is the way to engage it.

He only did this once before starting to deal with the issue.

 

 

AFTERTHOUGHTS

Gifts in the political world are where a person oversteps / overreaches / blames etc. This “gift” is then used against the giver. I don't offer gifts, and I don't accept them either. If I had accepted a gift from the City Manager, the following would have occurred:

 

Excerpted from A Game Free Life, by Stephen B. Karpman M.D.

The Drama Triangle is about power struggle. Each role is either dominant or submissive. Someone is the:

  • Victim
  • Persecutor
  • Rescuer

Each person's role would change as the power struggle unfolded.

  • Had I retaliated for statements from the City Manager, I would have found myself in the persecutor role.
  • The Council's role would then be that of the victim.
  • The City Manager would be seen as that of the rescuer, helping defend his employers against unjust attacks.

This situation would have continued to escalate with the roles changing with each volley of blame and counter blame. In this scenario, resolution and cleanup of these houses would elude me. The Drama Triangle shows how engaging in escalation maintains the status quo.

 

Victim

In order for me to become the Persecutor in the Drama Triangle, I would first have to assume the role of the Victim. We are only victims if we choose to play with the Drama Triangle. It is a three sided teeter totter requiring a Persecutor, Rescuer, and a Victim to function. It grinds to a halt, without the participation of all three parties. Without the Drama Triangle, solution now becomes possible.