What is the ‘Mercer Island Community Council?’
By MARY L. GRADY
Mercer Island Reporter Editor
April 21, 2009 · Updated 12:17 PM
Island resident Ira Appelman is the sole signer, officer and apparent only member of the Mercer Island Community Council, founded in 2001.
Appelman is a longtime civic activist who focuses on the workings of the Mercer Island City Council. He often points out that he has attended all but a handful of the Mercer Island City Council meetings over the past 12 years. He sits in the same spot on the left-hand side of the front row at each City Council meeting, and until the Council began televising its meetings last summer, recorded each meeting on a tape recorder held high.
Appelman has criticized or opposed several actions of the Council on a variety of topics over the years. Examples include his opposition to the tree ordinance initially proposed in 2001, gathering nearly 4,000 signatures to overturn the City Council’s initial ordinance. He was against the parks operation levy for Luther Burbank Park in 2003, which did pass, and later opposed the two parks measures that were on the November 2008 ballot, saying that the city was imposing too many taxes on Islanders. In a Forum printed in the Reporter on Oct. 8, 2008, Appelman, along with Islanders Marty and Thornton Gale, accused the city of creating a “slush fund to be used as the City Council dictates.”
Appelman has said that he is “for open and honest government, something we [citizens] do not have.”
In his letters sent to Islanders recently, Appelman goes beyond the issue of Londi Lindell’s lawsuit against the city to include a litany of complaints against the city, primarily accusing the City Council of secrecy. He lists city actions regarding the higher density housing briefly proposed for First Hill, the “invitation” to Tent City 4, changes to Island Crest Way at Merrimount and city involvement in the Boys & Girls Club PEAK project as other examples of “secrecy and manipulation.” He accuses the city of violating the Open Public Meetings Act, which Lindell also does in her lawsuit against the city.
Appelman states that his goal is “open and honest government” and ensuring that citizens do not pay for more than what they need. In his argument against the 2008 parks funding measures, he makes the case that the operations levy for Luther Burbank in 2003 was promised by the city to be a “one-time deal.” Yet the city was again looking for funds five years later.
Appelman is no ordinary citizen activist. He does his homework and is well prepared. He often requests records from the city regarding Council actions and city business. According to data kept by the city regarding public data requests made by citizens, one quarter of the total amount of staff time required to process these requests, or 28 hours for the first three months of 2009, was taken up processing two requests by Appelman for information regarding the city’s e-mails and documents on the Merrimount-ICW intersection alone. Those hours do not include times and charges for outside attorneys to review the documents for attorney-client privileged communications before they are released.
According to City Attorney Katie Knight, about $10,000 is budgeted each year for such review. Knight said she has already asked for more money to pay for outside legal review in the next city budget cycle.
Enclosed in Appelman’s mailing to Islanders is a pink envelope asking for contributions to defray the cost of the mailing and other expenses.
Records from the state Public Disclosure Commission show that the Mercer Island Community Council spent $1,600 on postage in the first three months of the this year.
Assuming that the money was spent on the recent mailing and the postage on each envelope was 59 cents, the equivalent of 2,700 households have received his mailing. The letter also included a pink envelope to defray expenses. The PDC shows the names and addresses of a dozen Islanders who have contributed a total of about $1,200 so far.
For more information about the Mercer Island Community Council, go to www.pdc.wa.gov.Contact Mercer Island Reporter Editor Mary L. Grady at firstname.lastname@example.org or (206) 232-1215 ext. 1050.