Off the Press

March 16, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Warren Kagarise Press reporter

Help make the sausage: Get involved in government

Cynics — or, perhaps, realists — equate the political process with sausage making. Although in Issaquah, the sausage would be the lean, chicken variety — organic, of course, and maybe a touch dry.

Like governments everywhere, Issaquah functions with endless deal making, proposals and counterproposals, revamps and rewrites as officials make policy. I suspect the long gestation process keeps citizens from following issues from bill to ordinance.

Officials seldom solve issues in episodic fashion, through no fault of their own. Municipal government plods, in part to solicit input from residents.

But the deliberate pace can turn, well, boring. So, residents steer clear of the Council Chambers during most months — a shame, too, because the City Council makes decisions every other week with impacts across Issaquah.

If city government had dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin and aired in hourlong blocks on NBC, people would watch for the characters alone.

The cast includes: a pizza-slinging former banking executive, a motorcycle-riding rocket engineer, a retired Army Corps of Engineers colonel, a psychologist-turned-hospital-executive-turned-local-pol and a fresh-faced, idealistic attorney.

Add dozens of supporting roles in the form of municipal employees and the members of city boards and commissions, and the process turns livelier still.

And yet, nothing. The same handful of residents turns out for City Council meetings. The group at council committee and city board meetings feels even more elite.

Yes, people lead busy lives with little time for civic engagement. But the political process merits at least a quick check from time to time, at least to see how officials decide to spend hard-earned tax dollars.

Sure, many indicators point to the contrary, but residents tune in when something will carry widespread impact, or, at least, affect them.

Take, for instance, the ongoing effort by the city to overhaul Newport Way Northwest — a traffic nightmare every weekday morning and afternoon for most of the year. When the city announced plans to unplug the clogged arterial street, dozens of residents turned out for open houses. The involvement continued through subsequent council and committee meetings, too.

Controversial issues — like the decision last year to revamp food-packaging rules for restaurants and groceries — always attract the most attention, but officials welcome input on uncontroversial topics, too.

Big decisions await the council on environmental, growth and transportation issues. Attend a council meeting sometime and speak up. Although some meetings can stretch for hours, the council wrapped up a recent meeting in 10 minutes — a rarity, to be sure, but a hopeful sign.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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