PO quietly becomes a code city
By KAITLIN STROHSCHEIN
Port Orchard Independent Reporter
May 31, 2011 · Updated 12:36 PM
Port Orchard’s city councilmen changed the city’s classification, from second class city, to code city, after several sparsely-attended public hearings about the issue.
“Nothing about how we do business is going to change,” said Lary Coppola, Port Orchard’s mayor. “Nothing in the way of transparency is going to change. The only thing that’s going to change is how we deal with the state.”
But Pat Mason, a legal consultant for the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington, sees it as more than a “housekeeping measure,” as Coppola has called it.
“I’m not sure if I would put it in that category of housekeeping,” he said. “Housekeeping implies that there’s not really substantive, change, just a little terminology here and there.”
There will be some differences that, “take (the city’s reclassification) beyond mere housekeeping,” he said.
Generally, the city council will have more authority under the new system.
Second class cities only have authority to do what the state legislature has specifically allowed them to do, but code cities have every authority that’s not prohibited by the state.
There are numerous other small differences between the two classifications.
Code cities, for example, can adopt initiative and referenda, while second class cities cannot. And city councilmen can pass ordinances at work study sessions in code cities, but can only pass them at business meetings in second class cities.
“It has legal significance,” said Greg Jacoby, the city’s attorney.
Gil Michael, who belongs to the city’s planning commission, urged the city council to put the issue on the ballot, rather than making the decision themselves.
“If I was in favor of it, I’d probably put it on the ballot,” he said, “and if I was against it, I’d probably put it on the ballot.”
Changing the city’s classification should be a decision made by the citizens, he said.
The city council gave the public the chance to speak, at several public hearings about reclassifying the city.
Coppola said that was an important part of the process.
“I believe that there’s a general mistrust of government on the part of the citizens,” he said, “and we need to give the citizens every opportunity to voice their opinions about this.”
But Michael was the only member of the public to speak about the issue at the city's final public hearing about it.
Citizens could, however, still organize and sign a petition to put it on the ballot for the next election within 90 days of May 27.
Several city councilmen said that they favored making the change themselves because, rather than sending it directly to the citizens, because it’s good for the city, and the public hasn’t yet opposed it.
They were elected, they say, to make that type of decision, to benefit the city.
“I think we’re overanalyzing something that’s not all that hard to figure out,” said Councilman Jerry Childs. “Even the facilitator who came to speak to us about this could not come up with a single thing that’s negative about changing the class, and if I remember right we weren’t even required to have a public hearing, but, in due diligence, we decided to have the public hearing.”