Newcastle City Manager John Starbard fired

February 4, 2010

Former community development director named as replacement

John Starbard

Rob Wyman

At a special City Council meeting Jan. 12, the council voted 6-1 to terminate City Manager John Starbard’s contract without cause, effective immediately. The only dissenting vote was Councilman Sonny Putter.

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Sworn in

February 4, 2010

From left, Councilmen Rich Crispo, Bill Erxleben and John Dulcich are sworn into office Jan. 5. Dulcich was later appointed as mayor, and Councilman Steve Buri was appointed as deputy mayor. Dulcich and Buri will serve in their respective positions for two years. By Tim Pfarr

Newcastle City Council budget cuts top $1 million

February 4, 2010

The City Council cut $1.02 million from the 2010 budget during meetings last month. Of that amount, about $820,000 was cut from the 2010 capital budget, and about $206,000 was cut from the operating budget.

Before altering the budget, the city was facing a $363,000 budget shortfall. Councilman Bill Erxleben said the City Council is not yet finished working on the budget. Read more

Talks began in December regarding new city manager

February 4, 2010

Talks regarding firing City Manager John Starbard and appointing former Community Development Director Rob Wyman as interim city manager began privately in December.

While councilmen-elect John Dulcich, Bill Erxleben and Rich Crispo said they had been in favor of making changes to the city’s management, Erxleben specifically sought out Wyman in December as a candidate for interim city manager. Read more

Judge sworn in

February 4, 2010

Newcastle Municipal Court Judge Wayne Stewart was ceremonially sworn into office by the chief justice of the Washington Supreme Court at the Temple of Justice in Olympia recently. Stewart (middle) is joined by Chief Justice Gerry Alexander (left) and incoming Chief Justice Barbara Madsen (right). Contibuted

Public Works director, parks commissioner resign

February 4, 2010

Public Works Director Maiya Andrews submitted her resignation to then-City Manager John Starbard Jan. 11 in the form of a letter, and her resignation will take effect Feb. 10.

In an e-mail, Parks Commissioner Curtis Gray submitted his resignation to city officials Jan. 14, and his resignation took effect immediately. Read more

PSE offers heating aid to low-income customers

February 4, 2010

Puget Sound Energy and the federal government will provide almost $29 million to help needy PSE customers pay heating bills. Read more

Newcastle mayor creates two new committees

February 4, 2010

Mayor John Dulcich created two new committees for the city – the Library Development Committee and the Community, Communications and Outreach Committee.

The library committee, to be temporary and similar to the YMCA Committee, was created to facilitate and ensure groundbreaking of Newcastle library. Read more

Newcastle passes 2009 audit despite citizen concern

February 4, 2010

Newcastle passed its annual audit in 2009 without trouble, although individual citizens expressed concern to the state auditor regarding the city’s finances.

Last year, Giles Velte — a Newcastle Trails Board member and former member of the Planning Commission — and Garry Kampen — president of Newcastle Trails — sent a 15-page letter to the State Auditor’s Office expressing concerns about the city’s long-term financial stability.

“Newcastle’s government is lacking in responsiveness, transparency and accountability,” the men wrote in the letter. “Resources have been wasted and the city’s financial viability is at risk.”

In the letter, the men expressed various concerns about the Coal Creek Parkway Project, operations at City Hall and the sports park project slated to take place at Southeast 95th Way. The men also expressed concerns about the city’s work with consultants, and the city’s parks, trails, transit center, incoming library and new signage.

“Our finances long term are troublesome,” Velte said in an interview. “The trend — because of neglect — is bad.”

In its 2009 final budget, the city forecasted that its year-end general fund balance would steadily decrease until reaching negative $203,693 by 2014. However, Velte expressed concern about a prior version of the 2009 budget, which forecasted the city’s year-end general fund balance to decrease until reaching about negative $3.7 million by 2014. He said this previous version of the budget was more reflective of the city’s financial state.

Last month, Audit Manager James Griggs sent a response to the men on behalf of the State Auditor’s Office.

“The city appears to be adjusting actual expenditure levels to actual revenue,” Griggs wrote in his letter, noting that the city has not used any funds from its Cumulative Reserve Fund, which the City Council must unanimously vote to use. This fund has about $1.5 million in it.

Griggs could not be reached for additional comment.

Velte said he plans to submit a follow-up letter to the State Auditor’s Office addressing his concerns. He also said the City Council’s latest action in cutting more than $1 million from the 2010 budget is being done as emergency action.

Assistant Audit Manager Evans Anglin said it cost the State Auditor’s Office $3,200 in staff time to review the letter. The city was required to pay for this expense, as the cities are required to pay for their own annual audits.

The 2009 audit examined Newcastle’s finances and records from 2008, as well as meeting minutes from 2009. Although the audit did not yield any findings or management letters — which are reflective of more serious problems — it did report three exceptions, which are reflective of less serious problems or discrepancies.

Two of the exceptions were very minor and regarded an insurance contract and travel expenses, but one exception regarded the Open Public Meetings Act, which was more serious.

Specifically, the state auditor was unable to find meeting minutes for the Aug. 5, 2009, meeting and the Sept. 2, 2009, meeting. However, City Clerk Bob Baker said this exception was the result of a small mix-up that has since been settled. The minutes for both meetings can be found on the city’s Web site.

It was also unable to determine whether the city notified its official newspaper— The Seattle Times — of a public hearing that took place Feb. 13, 2008. Finally, it found that meetings on May 5 and Aug. 18, 2009 convened to executive session without giving an estimated duration, which is required.

Councilman and Finance Committee member Sonny Putter said he was pleased that the audit did not yield findings or management letters.

“Those are very positive results,” he said. “It shows that the city’s financial statements accurately portrayed the financial state of the city.”

Director of Finance Christine Olson also said the audit went well.

In the city’s 2008 audit, workers from the State Auditor’s Office filed a management letter because the city prepared its schedule of expenditures of federal awards incorrectly. That issue, as well as issues that resulted in three exceptions in the 2008 audit, were corrected in 2009.

Letter to the editor

February 4, 2010

City should return its sign code to original 2005 standards

The Newcastle sign standards pushed through by former City Manager John Starbard should be replaced by our original standards, adopted in 2005 after an extensive public process. The new signs lose by all measures: safety, information, readability, cost and appearance. Treat them like convicted felons: three strikes and they’re out.

Strike one: Park signs. The January Newcastle News said the city had removed six signs from near Windtree Park and Highlands Park because of size, “traffic visibility problems” and multiple complaints. Residents said the signs didn’t blend in, looked out of place, and were dangerous, with thin metal edges and corners “placed right at toddler eye level.”

Newcastle’s original standard is safer and more informative. It uses Bellevue’s design, with signplates held in an attractive rounded frame — no sharp edges. Moreover, small icons indicate park facilities: You can see at a glance if a park has restrooms.

Strike two: Street signs. The street signs on south Coal Creek Parkway use the new color — somewhere between chartreuse and bile green. The light background makes white lettering less readable: An out-of-town friend wondered why the “faded” signs hadn’t been replaced. These signs may not meet federal and state DOT visibility standards. Let’s stick with forest green.

Strike three: Trail signs. The original standard allows signplates on all four sides of a signpost; walkers from any direction can see their options (destinations and distances) displayed on the side facing them. The new standard uses at most two opposing faces of the signpost. The old signplates cost less than $5; the new ones cost about $200.

The hurried adoption of new sign standards erased years of work by citizens who voted for the original city logo (designed by a local artist), helped install trail signs and worked on park sign standards in 2004-2005. It says to them “your work, your opinions and your votes don’t count.”

Our new council has halted the replacement of existing signage. Perhaps they can restore the original signplates and historic logo and ask NBBJ, the consultant on the inferior new standards, for a refund.

Garry Kampen

Newcastle

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