Annexation hearing ends abruptly, after some semi-drama

The result wasn’t surprising – in a Tukwila meeting room tonight, the Boundary Review Board accepted Burien’s move to withdraw its North Highline Annexation proposal, at least tentatively – but what happened in the moments before the hearing ended, held a little drama, particularly the statement made by an attorney representing the city of Seattle. ADDED 10:30 PM: Here are full details:

The hearing was supposed to be all about Burien’s North Highline Annexation proposal (involving the area shown on that city-created map), so when Burien announced last week it was withdrawing the proposal, at least temporarily (as first reported here on White Center Now), the hearing seemed like a moot point.

However, as Burien city manager Mike Martin told us, it had to go on – the only question was what would happen at the hearing. So, now that it’s in the books, here’s what happened:

First, we’re betting you don’t know much about the Boundary Review Board. Neither did we. Chair Claudia Hirschey explained it to the dozens in attendance as the proceedings officially began; every county has one. There are 11 members — 3 appointed by the governor, 3 by the cities in the county, 3 by the County Executive’s office, 2 from special-purpose districts like fire, water, sewer. Each serves a four-year term; the board is served by three staff members, including a “special assistant (state) attorney general.” Hirsch explained that “the board functions as a judicial body.”

That lawyer, Robert Kaufman, then provided backstory on how the process got to this point — first the city of Burien “invoked the (Boundary Review) Board’s jurisdiction”; then the city of Seattle did so too.

The hearing was scheduled, time went by, then last week Burien requested the withdrawal. “A copy of the letter appears to have been mailed” to Seattle city leaders, Kaufman said, but since all parties to the potential action would have to give their consent to withdrawal, they needed to hear from Seattle, and hadn’t as of that very moment.

So, they asked, was a representative of the city of Seattle at the meeting and available to come forward?

That’s when assistant Seattle city attorney Roger Wynne stepped up to the microphone:

Wynne said he’d spoken with Kaufman as well as reps from Burien and the North Highline Fire District to get clearance to stand up and “share (Seattle’s) thoughts.” (The fire district is a key party in the annexation proposal because of concern over how its operations and finances would fare in the process; Burien has posted this response in its annexation FAQ.)

Wynne said Seattle believes the annexation “violates King County policy … regarding collaboration and cooperation,” which he said is mandated in such situations under the state’s Growth Management Act.

He contended it’s “been frustrating for the city of Seattle … (because of) the characterizations made by the city of Burien, both in the press release (about the withdrawal) and in the letter (to the Boundary Review Board). … The letter paints Burien as a model of collaboration, and Seattle as the spoiler.”

Wynne said Seattle takes exception to the letter’s contention that Seattle hasn’t answered requests for “mediation and meetings” and its suggestion that Seattle tried “to derail the annexation process.”

According to Wynne, Seattle accepted an offer to meet at the end of last year, and he said Burien deferred that meeting till early this year, which Seattle wasn’t happy about because it was so close to the start of the legislative session.

And that’s when he brought up the subject of the state legislation that enabled smaller cities like Burien to get sales-tax revenue in an annexation situation like this, but not larger cities like Seattle. “Any city that is considering annexing, needs it to be able to pencil out in a way that makes financial sense … to get part of the sales tax as an incentive … right now, we (wouldn’t) get that. Burien has singlehandedly killed that legislation – Burien has reasons for that; we are not here to debate those. But frustration doesn’t justify mischaracterizations in press releases and representations to this body.”

He concluded by saying Seattle thinks the annexation proposal violates King County Comprehensive Planning Policies, though Burien doesn’t agree. And while Wynne said Seattle, as a party to the process, has the right to withhold approval for the withdrawal, “we’re not going to do that.” They consented to the withdrawal “not because we support the (Burien annexation) proposal,” Wynne said, but “in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration. We have issues to resolve; we need to get on with that, in a proposal that works within the (Comprehensive Planning Policies) – let’s not conduct this process through press releases – let’s not paint one side as favoring collaboration and the other (not) – let’s not take steps that will predictably lead to litigation.”

Wynne was the only person who spoke to the board, as chair Hirschey moved immediately afterward to lay out the three options: Accepting Burien’s request for withdrawal, which would immediately end the hearing; opening the meeting to testimony regarding consideration of the letter; or denying the request to withdraw, and proceeding with the open hearing.

Option #1 was the relatively rapid result, though one board member (whose name plaque was notably out of view) made a statement saying he’s “very disappointed” in the way the hearing ended, because “we have a lot of people who came down here to express their position; they get yanked around enough by political parties, and I believe Burien(‘s contention) that Seattle is playing a game with them.”

Hirschey ended the meeting by saying she “would like to encourage all parties to sit down together to sort out these issues between jurisdictions, and the Fire District,” adding an observation that while the Growth Management Act passed in 1996, it took a decade before anyone expressed annexation interest in the North Highline area, “and suddenly we have these strong issues … we encourage each jurisdiction to sort out these issues so an orderly annexation process can proceed.”

And then, 22 minutes into the meeting, it was over. So what happens next? We’ll be checking with Burien, Seattle, the fire district, and the county, for any sign of talks or other movement; Burien has said it expects to resubmit an annexation proposal later in the year. Meantime, all this will come up at two upcoming meetings involving the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council — its regular meeting 7 pm this Thursday at Fire District HQ, and a community meeting NHUAC is convening 9/18 at St. Bernadette’s Parish School (128th/Ambaum; map).

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4 Responses to “Annexation hearing ends abruptly, after some semi-drama”

  1. Roger Wynne’s statement that Burien “has singlehandedly killed that legislation,” meaning HB 1139, is utterly bogus.

    Seattle based its numbers for the amount needed on the total number of residents in Seattle, not the total number of residents in NH, as has been pointed out earlier. HB 1139 would have given Seattle $9 million per year, $90 million over 10 years, to annex NH.

    Legislators in Olympia are not all a bunch of rubes. Several of them saw this for what it was — a raid on the state treasury.

    $90 million could buy a lot of health care for poor kids and a lot of early childhood education. And it could fix a lot of potholes in South Park.

    Senator Prentice and the members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee delivered a well-deserved coup de grace to this bad bill, and would have done so no matter what the Burien City Council decided.

    Not only is annexation to Burien a better deal for NH, it’s a better deal for the taxpayers of the state of Washington — at least for those of us who still hope for some fiscal prudence.

  2. Everything Seattle has done and said regarding annexation reinforces my view that annexation to Seattle would be bad for the residents of NH and Burien. The threats of litigation that Seattle has made over the past few years and its opposition to Burien’s annexation proposal were the deciding factors that caused Burien to withdraw its annexation proposal. Now Seattle has the nerve to say it will not block withdrawal of the proposal! What is going on there and why is Seattle so afraid to let the people of NH vote on annexation?

  3. Kudos to the BRB member who spoke up and called it as he sees it! Hopefully, Seattle listened and stops playing games with the people of NH. The annexation decision is going to affect thousands of us for a very long time. This is not a game and Seattle needs to stop using us as pawns in its empire building scheme. How refreshing to finally hear a public official say it like it is.

  4. I agree with Ramona that it was surprising and refreshing to hear the BRB member state that he was concerned that Seattle was playing a game with Burien.

    I know it is Wynne’s job to advocate for the position of the Seattle Mayor, but I sensed he may have advocated a bit too strongly and may have gone on too long. To steal a phrase from Hamlet, it appeared to me that Wynne doth protest too much. The result was that it made some of his arguments seem a tad disingenuous.