Split Renton City Council opts not to put library initiative to vote of the people

The Renton City Council opted Monday night not to put an initiative to a vote of the people that could have kept the downtown library over the Cedar River, heeding a recommendation from Mayor Denis Law.

Karen Hensley of Renton paraded back and forth with her Save Renton Library Monday evening in front of City Hall before the City Council meeting. The council voted 4-3 to decline to place on the ballot an initiative to keep the library over the Cedar River. BELOW: Renton City Council member Ed Prince

 

The Renton City Council opted Monday night not to put an initiative to a vote of the people that could have kept the downtown library over the Cedar River, heeding a recommendation from Mayor Denis Law.

The council’s 4 to 3 vote was made before a packed City Council chambers with some spilling into an overflow conference room. The initiative required library improvements for a downtown library to happen at the existing location. It also required improvements not to occur at any other location unless approved by a majority of Renton voters.

Council members Rich Zwicker, Terri  Briere and Don Persson were all vocal in their reasoning for voting against adopting the initiative. Council members Greg Taylor, Randy Corman and Marcie Palmer were equally as vocal with their explanation for putting the measure to a vote of the people. Council member Ed Prince was silent as the deliberation went on into the night.

Zwicker cited his oath as a City Council member to uphold the Constitution as the reason to reject putting the initiative on a ballot.

Briere said she was not convinced the initiative represented a sufficient portion of the city’s 90,000 residents and felt the council had to weigh the costs of remodeling the library at its current location vs. the new Big 5 location. Persson also agreed that the council needs to look at the costs and KCLS’ request to build a library that fits their needs.

“This needs to be directed and driven by our voters,” said Taylor, explaining that the initiative needs to be put to a vote of the people.

Taylor drew upon his experience as a former Renton Chamber of Commerce member and business owner to explain that the library move to the Big 5 location does not make sense. He cited the initiative group’s lawyer’s letter to the council and Law that called it good public policy to put the initiative to a vote of the people. Corman weighed in saying Zwicker had over-thought his position.

The city should just put the measure to a vote now to escape expensive litigation in the future fighting a lawsuit brought by the people, Corman said.

Palmer expressed sadness at seeing a division of opinion on the issue. She, too, could foresee Renton taxpayers having to pay for a lawsuit against the City of Renton that want to see the library keep its current location.

Although Prince also voted against putting the initiative to a vote, his silence upset Stuart Avery, spokesperson for the Citizens for the Preservation of Renton’s Cedar River Library.

“I’m very disappointed that council member Prince did not bother to have any comment at all,” Avery said. He found it “disturbing,” he said, that on such a big issue, as noted by Corman, Prince would not offer his opinion.

The citizens group will now consult with their attorney to find out “what the next steps might be on a legal platform,” Avery said after the council’s vote.

Many supporters for and against the initiative came to Monday’s meeting to voice their opinions. Nineteen people signed up to speak during public comments session during the meeting. Included in that bunch were residents who had lived in the city for a few years to more than 40 years. Former City Council member King Parker and Chamber of Commerce President Bill Taylor spoke in favor of rejecting the initiative.

Prior to the City Council meeting, about 45 initiative supporters gathered for a rally in the parking lot outside of Renton City Hall.

Karen Hensley held up one of the many signs that read, “Save the Renton Library, Put it on the Ballot.”

She compared the library over the Cedar River to icons around the world and wondered at the sense of changing the building’s function. “That’s Renton’s icon to me,” Hensley said. “That’s the architecture that we can be so proud of.”

 

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