Protect citizen input on Mercer Island Planning Commission | Letters

Letter to the editor

As the current and former chairpersons of the Mercer Island Planning Commission, we stand united against the proposed Ordinance No. 24C-06, which threatens to strip away citizen input on crucial planning decisions. This ordinance, currently under consideration by the City Council, would drastically reshape the Commission, reducing its membership and prioritizing paid professionals over resident voices.

At its core, the Planning Commission serves as a vital avenue for residents to review and provide input on proposals that directly impact our community’s future. However, the proposed ordinance undermines this fundamental purpose by diminishing the diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints within the Commission.

Reducing the Commission’s membership from seven to five members, with three being paid land-use professionals, fundamentally alters its composition. Such a move not only sidelines resident voices but also introduces a concerning power dynamic where paid professionals could potentially dominate decision-making.

Moreover, the requirement that two Commissioners must be non-residents of Mercer Island is puzzling and counterproductive. Residents, deeply rooted in our community’s values and priorities, should comprise the entirety of the Commission. This ensures that decisions reflect the best interests of Mercer Island residents.

Furthermore, the notion of compensating Commissioners contradicts the voluntary nature of their role. Commissioners serve out of a commitment to their community, not for financial gain. Paying for professional expertise duplicates the role of city staff and sets a troubling precedent that runs contrary to the principles of citizen engagement in government.

The purported rationale behind this ordinance, namely to alleviate the planning staff’s workload, lacks substantiation. There has been no evidence presented to indicate excessive time spent working with the Commission. Instead of curtailing citizen input, the focus should be on adequately staffing the planning department to handle increased workloads.

In light of these concerns, we urge the City Council to reject Ordinance No. 24C-06 and preserve the integrity of the Planning Commission as a forum for robust citizen engagement. Residents play a crucial role in shaping the future of Mercer Island, and their voices must not be silenced or marginalized.

We encourage fellow residents to join us in opposing this ordinance by signing the petition or by submitting comments to the Council ahead of their May 7, 2024 meeting. Let us uphold the principles of democracy and ensure that Mercer Island remains a beacon of citizen participation in local governance.

Signed by: Michael Murphy, Chairman; and former Chairpersons Dan Hubbell, Tiffin Goodman, Suzanne Skone, Rich Weinman, Don Cohen, Steve Bryan, Jon Friedman, Peter Orser and Bill Chapman