Linville taking cautious approach at start of term as Bellingham mayor

Bellingham Mayor-elect Kelli Linville, center, lunches with Barry Buchanan, right, and Stan Snapp at Bayside Cafe on Wednesday Nov. 16, 2011 in Bellingham.
Bellingham Mayor-elect Kelli Linville, center, lunches with Barry Buchanan, right, and Stan Snapp at Bayside Cafe on Wednesday Nov. 16, 2011 in Bellingham. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

BELLINGHAM - Mayor Kelli Linville plans to spend much of her first 60 days in office meeting with department heads to take stock of city government services before she launches any major initiatives.

Linville, whose four-year term in office began with the new year, said she wants to get a better handle on the city's financial outlook, so she can set realistic goals.

"You won't see me making pronouncements about what I'm going to do in the first 100 days, until I know what the city can do in the first 100 days," Linville said.

Linville wants to reorganize the mayor's office. She doesn't expect to replace Chief Administrative Officer David Webster when he departs at the end of January. She prefers to have executive assistants, rather than a second-in-command who made a salary of about $123,000 per year, or about $3,000 less than the mayor.

"I'm not going to be having a quasi-city manager," Linville said. "We're not going to pay two people to be the mayor."

She does expect to appoint a community liaison specialist to improve communications between City Hall and citizens.

Linville also expects to reverse the locked-door policy instituted by her predecessor, Dan Pike, for the mayor's office and other City Hall departments.

"We want it to be a customer-friendly place," she said.

As Linville sees it, there are some troubling unknowns in the city's financial picture. She is especially worried about the city-owned six-acre waterfront parcel, generally known as the Haley property, that was the site of a plant that manufactured treated wood beams for utility pole crossbars. Toxic preservative chemicals contaminate much of the site.

In 2009, the City Council approved Pike's proposal to acquire both the site and the responsibility for its cleanup, with the expectation that private development of a portion of that site would cover cleanup costs. Linville is not convinced.

She criticized the purchase during the mayoral campaign, and now she wants firm estimates of both the cleanup costs and the potential development revenue from the property, some of which probably would be set aside as park land.

Linville also wants to get the city refocused on the Bellingham Public Library. Plans for a new main library have been stalled for several years, and Linville plans to devote some energy to the project.

But she's not yet committed to push for a new building. She prefers to focus on how the city meets the need for library services, and the best way of providing those services. Among other things, that means taking a hard look at the cost of a new library.

"We have to look at our operating costs as well as construction costs," Linville said. "I'm focused on services rather than facilities right now."

She also wants to focus on ways to improve the city's revenue picture by encouraging economic development. She said that is preferable to balancing the budget via service cuts or tax increases. Like administrations before her, she is pledging to look for ways to make the city's regulatory process smoother and more predictable for business owners.

Asked about the city's move to evict Occupy Bellingham protesters from Maritime Heritage Park during the final days of the Pike administration, Linville said she didn't want to second-guess the decision to use helmeted, armored police officers to complete the shutdown of the protest camp, if police brass thought those measures were necessary to ensure officer safety.

But she noted that the show of force seemed disproportional, given the peaceful nature of relations between police and protesters up to that point.

"It didn't fit with how the relationship had been going before," she said.

Linville also observed that the city put itself in an awkward position by allowing the protesters to set up camp in violation of city ordinances. She said she would have offered the protesters a temporary camping permit, with clear expectations about what would happen when the permit expired.

She expressed a willingness to discuss the situation with Occupy protesters.

"I want to make purposeful decisions and not just hope things work out OK," Linville said.

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