More than 40 Renton library initiative supporters rallied outside City Hall Monday prior to a Council meeting where elected officials would later decide to reject the document.
Council Chambers filled to standing room capacity— or 140 people — prior to the meeting and Renton Fire and Emergency Services officials began directing the overflow crowd into the Conferencing Center across the Hall, said City Spokesperson Kelley Balcomb-Bartok.
The City anticipated an overflow crowd, he said, and had prepared the room with chairs and a video feed from Council Chambers.
About 30 people watched the meeting from the Conferencing Center including 10 City staff members.
The rally drew the attention and camera crews of KIRO 7 News, King 5 News and Komo News, who remained throughout the Council meeting and reported on the decision during the 11 o’clock news hour.
Just before the vote, Law said that the issues surrounding Renton’s libraries have been confusing.
“You’ve received a lot of information. … There have been a lot of valid comments on both sides,” she said. “Whatever the decision tonight, we are going to support the vote of the council.”
Following nearly two hours of public comment and Council discussion, officials decided in a 4-3 vote to deny the petition group’s initiative, which was validated earlier this month by King County Elections. Council President Rich Zwicker and Council members Terri Briere, Don Persson and Ed Prince voted in line with the City Administration’s recommendation to “continue its present course of action in constructing both the downtown and Highlands libraries, and that Council decline to adopt or place the library initiative ordinance regarding this issue on the ballot.”
Council members Randy Corman, Marcie Palmer and Greg Taylor voted against the recommendation.
Public comment drew Renton citizens of all stripes including former Council member King Parker, Renton Chamber of Commerce President Bill Taylor, Initiative writers and supporters, downtown business owners, Library Advisory Board members, Renton homeowners and library patrons.
In an unusual move, Mayor Denis Law waived the 30-minute public comment restriction prior to the meeting and allowed everyone who had signed up — 19 in total, although only 16 spoke — to speak before council moved on to the rest of the agenda. Council received an additional nine comments following the meeting, for a total of 21 unique public comments.
Law also allowed much applause, which followed nearly every comment. Toward the middle of the meeting he did, however, remind attendees to continue in a professional, business like manner following cheering and shout-outs from the audience. In previous meetings he’s asked the audience to refrain entirely from clapping.
Following public comment council discussed the library initiative before settling on its 4-3 vote.
Zwicker said he could not approve the initiative because he believes that adopting it is unconstitutional. It is in conflict with an already existing contract between the City and KCLS, he said.
Briere agreed with Zwicker and said the Council must honor its fiduciary responsibility.
“We had to weigh the costs,” she said of the remodel and closure time. “It actually was a much more expensive process to remodel and update.”
Minutes before the vote Corman noted in his 18 years on Council that the library initiative “is the most serious decision that we’ve had to make.”
Council member Greg Taylor urged his peers to listen to the people.
“Placing the initiative on the ballot is good public policy,” he said.
Council member Palmer echoed the words of another commenter, “Any legal battle is a lose-lose,” she said, adding that the current library should be celebrated and the Big 5 site may still be used for an arts and tourist attraction center.
Council member Prince did not comment on the issue.
Following the vote, Corman asked his peers and Renton public to quickly work toward a resolution.
“I have a feeling from the comments tonight that there will be litigation. Once that happens there will be executive session,” he said, adding that once executive session begins Council members will be limited to what they can and cannot say.
Corman also pointed to Mark Martinez’ comment that he’s prepared to forego new tires on his 1997 jeep in favor of supporting the petitioner’s legal fund.
“What will be the ripple effect?” Corman said, noting that if residents decide to divert their money to the legal fund, it is money that may not go to Renton businesses.
And litigation is costly, especially civil rights litigation.
“I have no stomach for that,” he said.
Following the meeting petitioners Stuart Avery said his next step would be to speak with the group’s lawyer GHK, LLP. The group will likely file an injunction and examine if there is potential for a lawsuit “on a couple of different levels.”
“When it comes down to what we have accomplished, we can’t stop now,” he said.