Mill Creek City Council Meeting 7/9/2019

The first major topic this meeting was that Mill Creek has had issues with two Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFB) that were installed in 2010 near Heatherwood Middle School and Mill Creek Elementary. Matthew Feeley presented on the problem and proposed solution on behalf of the city.

For once, the problem is pretty straight forward: the current RRFBs are solar powered, but don’t get enough sun in the fall and winter to operate effectively. This creates dangerous conditions for students, and many calls to the Police and Public Works Department.

In response, staff applied for, and has received, a Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) Complete Streets Grant for $300,000. The grant does not require matching funds, and has a deadline for completion of work in 2022. The proposal will install RRFBs with hard-wired power, and also bring the curbs into ADA compliance.

For comparison, Feeley presented a few other projects that would also qualify for the funds, which could benefit if there is grant money left over from the primary project. The first would be to add bike lanes to Village Green Drive. This was shot down pretty definitively by Brian Holzclaw, a bicyclist himself, stating that dedicated lanes would not fix the primary danger, which is drivers pulling out of neighborhoods. Mention of doing some updating of pedestrian warning signs also did not gain much traction.

Mike Todd made a strong statement in favor of prioritizing safe routes to schools as part of a policy of being a safe, walkable community. He pointed out that different areas of the city are being treated too far differently, citing for example Village Green Drive versus Silver Crest Drive, or the Heatherwood West area. He also made the point that, while we are not required to spend the grant money until 2022, we can apply for more funds, and that you get more money by doing a good job with what you’re given.

After Mayor Pruitt and Councilmember Steckler expressed support for what Todd had said, Brian Holtzclaw asked whether we have a list of places we have sidewalk issues. Director of Public Works Gina Hortillosa had the Comprehensive Plan available, and was able to list places that lack sidewalks on both sides of the street.

This led to a tangent about streets that have designated a side of the street as sidewalk using raised pavement markers. It traveled into ways to prevent people from driving/parking on that type of sidewalk, with both Mark Bond and Chief Elwin talking about the connection between ticketing and compliance.

Mayor Pro Tem Holtzclaw brought things back to the core conversation about RRFBs, noting that all of these extra ideas only matter IF there is money leftover. He also brought up the possibility of moving the crosswalk, which Matthew Feeley and Mike Todd both thought merits consideration. City manager Michael Ciaravino spoke up to say that staff would talk about the possibility the next day.

Chief Elwin snuck in a question about whether the city might want to explore allowing people to pay tickets with food bank donations. Councilmember Bond is in favor of doing as much as you can to avoid writing a ticket, but thinks people have to pay once you hit that point, and the Mayor agreed.

Bond also suggested that, in the future, the Council might want to reassess how the city deals with infractions that have a big impact on quality of life, such as parking and noise violation. There was not action anticipated for the evening, so the conversation ended rather abruptly on a general agreement that people who regularly flaunt laws should get tickets, and first-time offenders should get warnings.

Server upgrades came back up, for the third time. Mayor Pruitt offered an apology at the beginning of discussion for having sent a number of questions to James Busch, IT manager, at the last minute, so that she had not had the opportunity to review his answers. However, he was able to go over the answers in the course of the presentation.

After Mr. Busch was finished, Mike Todd made a motion to sign off on Nutanix, the staff recommended service. This was met with an unheard of silence, and the motion failed for lack of a second. Councilmember Todd expressed confusion and consternation, pointing out the number of opportunities Council had to familiarize themselves with the question.

Mark Bond commented that he appreciated Busch’s work, but was concerned that, like the solar powered RRFBs, it could be a regret later on. Councilmember Steckler said he was also surprised by the lack of second, and that he would be ready to move forward, but he was also okay with more time, as long as we don’t miss the contract deadline. This led to establishing that Busch would have to work during his long-planned vacation if a decision was not made that night.

Mayor Pruitt, whose questions and comments tended to suggest that she would prefer a cloud-based solution, said that she would like more time. She pointed out that she has a day job, Legislative Aide to County Councilperson Terry Ryan, and had a lot of information to digest.

Trying to get a better idea of the stakes of the decision’s timing, Councilperson Bond asked what the risks are of doing nothing. The answer was the reason the conversation was happening: the current servers are reaching end-of-life, and transferring to the new system will take time.

Vince Cavaleri wanted to know if moving to the cloud is inevitable. Busch explained that we’re not going to be using old technology, just different technology. He again expressed his confidence that Nutanix is the right solution for us, we won’t regret it, and that the minimum 3-year life is a fairly short-term commitment. He also reassured Councilperson Holtzclaw that there is no additional cost even if we move to the cloud in three years.

Stephanie Vignal mentioned that she has more security concerns with the cloud. Mayor Pruitt reiterated her feelings of unreadiness, but that going ahead or not was up to each person. At that point, Todd pointed out that this was the third conversation on the topic, that he did feel prepared, and made his motion again. This time, Mark Bond seconded.

Todd commented that, sometimes a decision just has to be made, even when you don’t feel ready. Bond made the point that, given that no one on the Council understands the technology, they just needed to trust the staff. The measure passed 5-2, with Mayor Pruitt and Councilperson Cavaleri voting against.

I’m glad that the decision was eventually made to trust the person who would be responsible for implementing and maintaining the network, who was far and away the most knowledgeable person in the room. The Council has a responsibility to set policy, and make sure the policies are being executed in accordance with their vision, and that responsibility cannot be abdicated to staff. However, there should be a reason given for going against staff recommendations. This issue got far messier than necessary, and James Busch showed remarkable patience and resilience getting the decision over the finish line.

The waters got murky again during the Study Session on the East Gateway Urban Village (EGUV) Spine Road West Connection (Phase 1) – Professional Services Contract. The emotional exhaustion and frustration from the previous topic carried over, with some openly frayed nerves being exposed. Up for vote was the execution of a contract with an engineering firm Gray & Osborne, Inc. to do preliminary work assessing what will be necessary to build the road through EGUV properties.

The bottom line with the Spine Road is that we have to have it, but we don’t own all of the property, and we’d also like for someone else to pay to build it. This engineering work is a necessary step in development, and was included in the current budget. A lot of the uncertainty in the discussion was establishing that we need information to take action, and we need to take action to get information. Fortunately, no action had to be taken at the time, so the Study Session was ended without need for consensus.

After proceeding with alacrity through the Consent Agenda and Reports, Council extended the meeting until 9:30, and recessed to Executive Session.

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