Too much independence?

Independence is something that has always been treasured in American society. Our dedication to the concept of independence started with the entire nation’s battle for freedom from a monarchy that sought to control everything from our religious beliefs to the expenditure of tax dollars. We formed a country based on individual rights. But more than that, we revere the image of the rugged individualist, courageously standing alone against the powers that be.

And that is where our desire for independence ends, with the “powers that be.” We have never wanted our governments to be independent from the will of the people. For more than 200 years we have adopted laws at every level of government to ensure that those paid with our tax dollars conduct business in the open, where we are able to observe and comment on -- not to mention influence -- the decisions made.

It is a distinction that Bellevue officials would do well to recognize.


t has become apparent over the last few months that important business is being conducted not only outside the watchful eye of the public, but even without the knowledge of all elected officials. From employees being sent off to seminars at resorts without council approval to committee meetings not being advertised, the road leading Bellevue government behind closed doors has been firmly paved.

One of the most egregious examples of this came recently when every borough employee -- including elected officials -- received an unexpected increase in compensation in the form of free parking passes. Council traditionally approves free parking in the borough designed to encourage people to patronize local businesses because everyone recognizes that such occasional offerings do constitute a loss of income to the borough. Council has never voted, however, to give months of free parking to employees in all three of the borough’s municipal lots.

Nonetheless, that is exactly what has happened. Under the rationale that the parking once available in a lot adjacent to the borough building will be unavailable during the rehabilitation project, all employees and officials are permitted to park at any time, whether working or not, at absolutely no cost, in any municipal lot.

The state ethics law covering public officials defines compensation as more than just a paycheck. It encompasses anything of value, like, for instance, a parking pass that normally would cost in excess of $100 per month.

Free parking is not a benefit allowed under any contract or law currently in effect in the Borough of Bellevue. Someone just decided to tack this on to a compensation package that includes good salaries, medical benefits, and weeks of paid vacation and holidays.

Meanwhile, the people who get to pay for all this get no voice in the matter.

The people who get to pay for all this get to pay a little more, while borough employees who make well above the standard salary at a Bellevue business take a little bit more out of the public coffers.

This apparently is not terribly troubling to our elected officials, as none of them have raised the issue in a public meeting. Although a couple have expressed concerns, none of them have taken the public stand that they will not break the law and provide additional, unauthorized compensation to employees and officials. We’d be willing to bet that few of them even realize the legal and political issues involved.

And that is exactly what happens when government becomes independent, when decisions are not vetted through the process of public discussion and debate.

Perhaps what Bellevue needs this Independence Day is its very own “tea party,’ where people let the government know exactly how they feel about having to fill a meter with quarters while borough officials park for free.

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