Renton's libraries in good hands | Editor's note

It seems the Cedar River library has a lot of friends in its boat, including the Renton City Council.

Monday night the seven council members committed to renovating the iconic library, which, in my view at least, puts to rest any inkling that the Piazza library was still in play.

Bill Ptacek, director of the King County Library System, was at the meeting, too. He is eager to get moving on the renovations. Ptacek is keeping an eye on an improving economy that could increase construction costs.

And, following the overwhelming public support for keeping the Cedar library expressed in the Aug. 7 vote, the council committed to involving the public in every step of the way through listening and open houses and presentations.

What everyone had hoped – that the city and KCLS would work together to design and rebuild the Cedar library within budget – is happening.

But the residents’ group, Renton Advocacy Coalition, isn’t resting, just a few short weeks after it formed. Member Beth Asher wanted to know just how the city would include the coalition’s concerns into the design process.

Certainly, the citizens’ coalition can’t have a seat where final decisions are made about library design. That’s the job of the elected city leaders and the KCLS trustees. Those elected city leaders have a team of experts who can ensure they are well-informed.

But the coalition should have every chance to influence that decision, in discussions and at meetings with city staff and council members. That’s the same access accorded others who have a stake in city business.

To be honest, I was a little concerned about the expectations of the coalition. Someone on rentonreporter.com called the group a “shadow government.” Then at the Sept. 10 City Council I heard Garrett Huffman give his stamp of approval to the wording of revisions to the city’s transportation and parks impact fees. He had a hand in that wording.

So I figured that if the government affairs manager in South King County for Master Builders could have a say in something dear to builders, then why shouldn’t ordinary citizens have a similar say in something dear to them, the Cedar River library.

This is all about access to policymakers and citizens should always be first in line.

Now comes Monday’s City Council meeting, where a number of top city staffers gave council members a detailed briefing on the status of design work for the Cedar library and the equally important new Highlands library. It was a powerful show of expertise.

I got the sense that the show was intended, so everyone would know the city has the staff to provide oversight from finances, to engineering, to working with other government agencies on permitting.

The point is that there is an important role for everyone in such critical issues.

Council members need to ask the tough questions in highly public settings, such as its Monday night meetings, and not just in committee meetings where the audience is often paid to be there. And the public needs to engage enough so it’s satisfied the tough questions were asked by its elected leaders. That is what the Renton Advocacy Coalition is doing; if it’s not satisfied, then it will have to ask those tough questions itself.

It is bolstering its arguments and ideas with its own set of experts.

In the end it’s the city staff who live and breath the details, often day and night, that will provide the mayor and City Council with the knowledge it needs to make informed decisions.

We pay them to provide that information, just like we elect and pay mayor and City Council to make those decisions for us.

In any case the downtown library over the Cedar River and the new library in the Highlands are in good hands.

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