Renton city attorney questions legality of library initiative
By TRACEY COMPTON
Renton Reporter Staff writer
March 15, 2012 · Updated 5:45 PM
City Attorney Larry Warren calls an initiative to keep the downtown Renton library over the Cedar River illegal and untimely.
City of Renton officials tried to set the record straight on the latest developments surrounding the downtown Renton library in a briefing with reporters Thursday.
Warren was joined by Jay Covington, city chief administrative officer, and Preeti Shridhar, the city's communications director, to discuss the issues.
Ideas such as the city intends to use the actual Big 5 building for the new library and to close the facility entirely over the Cedar River are "flat out lies," said Covington.
Among other points, Covington wanted to make it clear the building over the Cedar River will be kept in public ownership and a new building for the library is being constructed at the Big 5 site on Third Avenue.
Covington felt that information coming out of the initiative group has been "less than factual." He went on to say the city has tried not to get into a "he said, she said" battle with the citizens' group because the city's intent has always been to move forward
Stuart Avery of the Citizens for the Preservation of Renton’s Cedar River Library, submitted 2,108 new signatures to City Clerk Bonnie Walton on Monday, March 12. Initially, the group was 1,442 signatures short of the 6,375 needed to validate the initiative.
But, all that work may be useless to actually force Renton City Council to change its course.
The Renton Reporter received a copy of a memorandum Wednesday afternoon from Warren to Mayor Denis Law, City Council members and other administrators dated March 5.
In the opinion Warren details why he believes the initiative proposed by the citizens group is illegal. Among others, those reasons deal with breach of contract with the King County Library System, infringement of the council’s budget authority, an improper attempt to set policy and the language is “fatally flawed.”
In Thursday's briefing, Warren further elaborated why he feels the petition is illegal and untimely.
Warren is doubtful that there is anything that could stop the downtown Renton library from being reconstructed at the new Big 5 location. Doing so would put the city in violation of its contract with KCLS, he said.
Renton City Council has four options if the initiative is certified.It can adopt the initiative as it is, put it to a vote of the people, refuse to act on it because of an illegality or change the language and adopt it.
"It is a highly complex situation," Warren said. "It's not simply do you like the library over the river."
Covington wanted to stress that Renton will have three new buildings: two state-of-the-art libraries and a repurposed facility over the Cedar River.The city is working with KCLS to renovate the Highlands library branch.And, a steering committee will present new use plans for the current downtown library building over the Cedar River in about three weeks, Covington said.
Talks continue between KCLS and the City of Renton and none of the initial work, such as design, has been slowed or put on hold, according to Warren. KCLS and the city must fulfill contractual obligations, he said, and KCLS has been notified about the petition.
"You can't un-ring the bell, not without a tremendous amount of cost and difficulty," said Covington. Too many decisions have been made down the road by the council to stop the process now, he said.Contact Renton Reporter Staff writer Tracey Compton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-255-3484, ext. 5052.