Had Auburn’s Transportation Benefit District not met that June evening, or had the number present dropped below the four the law requires for the panel to take action, the controversial $20 car tab fee would have gone into effect automatically on June 22.
With four members absent, that was a real possibility, Bill Peloza being in Ohio, Claude DaCorsi in Vancouver, B.C., and Yolanda Trout- Manuel at a rescheduled doctor’s appointment.
Only Deputy Mayor Largo Wales, a vocal and consistent opponent of the car tab fee, was absent without explanation, her peers said.
And Claude DaCorsi’s willingness to participate in the meeting by phone kept the fee from imposition and reset the clock on its consideration for another 120 days.
What happened at the critical vote drew an unusually sharp rebuke from a constituent at Monday’s regular City Council meeting at City Hall, most of it directed at Wales, a candidate vying with Mayor Nancy Backus to be mayor.
“Largo, I don’t know where the heck you’re at … but I would expect you should have been here. Something this important, you had no excuses. And it’s not the first time it’s happened,” said Carl Johnson, referring to the February vote on the fee that saw Wales walk out of a meeting. “Stop the games. I think your behavior was despicable, unprofessional, unethical, and I think you violated the code of conduct as a city council person. You let us all down.
“You can’t deny it because it’s on TV, as I am right now,” Johnson continued, referring to the City’s taping of its council meetings and of the meetings of the TBD, which appear on Channel 21. “And I’m shaking because I get no pleasure out of this. I just want it to stop. A $20 tab almost got passed because we didn’t have a quorum.”
DaCorsi’s calling in, Johnson noted, added to the votes of the physically present Bob Baggett, John Holman, Rich Wagner, enabled tabling of the fee.
“Largo, you didn’t have the presence of mind to vote on this the first time. You walked out. I don’t know what that’s all about. And I’ve known you for 20 years, and this hurts me to say this, but knock it off, guys,” Johnson said, adding that he would continue to watch what he labeled “shenanigans.”
In a phone call Wednesday afternoon, Wales said “the information out there,” was incorrect, and that she felt bad that Johnson, whom she called “a great man,” and with whom she has worked at the Auburn Food Bank for 20 years, was upset.
“The first meeting that I missed I had approval from (Backus) because I had a meeting with King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, and she said the Transportation Benefit District would take less than an hour, and I told her I had to leave at 3 p.m. because I had a 3:30 p.m. meeting with von Reichbauer, which, understanding the situation, she didn’t share,” Wales said.
The next meeting was in lieu of another meeting that had been scheduled, Wales said, and she had a doctor’s appointment.
“But, as soon as I got notification of this new meeting, I responded to the invitation that goes directly to the mayor and (Council Secretary Antoinette Manthey) that I couldn’t go. That was two weeks before the meeting, and I know that she got it because she had enough wherewithal to have scheduled the phone conference with DaCorsi. I did not square it with John Holman; always when I miss a meeting, I square it with the mayor. Needless to say, the mayor and I are on kind of a different page, and that information was not shared. Bill Peloza knew where I was, Yolanda knew where I was, but no one else,” Wales said.
Wales added that she is the only council member, when present, who at all of the meetings on the topic has always been against the $20 tab.
The problem confronting City leaders is that streets and roads still need maintenance and repair, and there’s not enough money in the street and road fund at the moment to make it happen.
In 2005, when lawmakers in Olympia made transportation benefit districts possible in Washington state, they authorized them to impose license tab fees for street and road improvements within their jurisdictions without a public vote.
So on Dec. 13, 2016, when the TBD voted 6 to 1 to establish a tab fee on car owners within the city of Auburn, it was acting under that authority.
Soon, however, Auburn residents began sending email and other messages to members of the TBD, expressing their displeasure and their hot resentment at the state law that allows a TBD to impose a car tab fee without a public vote.
Responding to the heat, the TBD on Feb. 22, 2017 first tabled action on the car tab fee, that is, delayed sending it to Olympia to make it official.