Committee ordinance dies with a whimper

In an anti-climactic finish to the much-debated ordinance stripping the mayor of his council-appointment power, the Port Orchard City Council on Jan. 14 let the mayor’s veto stand without bringing the matter to a vote.

A motion to override the veto was made at one point, but it seemed largely a means of stimulating discussion on the topic. Councilwoman Carolyn Powers had attempted the comment on the matter and was informed by city attorney Loren Combs she was not allowed to remark unless the matter was placed on the table.

Following Powers’ comments, the motion to override was withdrawn.

Councilman Don Morrison, who had sponsored the ordinance, said it seemed inappropriate to bring the matter to a vote. He said the absence of Councilman Bob Geiger, a long-time fixture on the council who was recently hospitalized for health problems, was a primary reason behind his hesitation.

Morrison attempted to table the motion, but Combs told him a veto has to be challenged at the next scheduled council meeting — it cannot be delayed.

Morrison said he is willing to wait and see if the problems which spawned the ordinance work themselves out.

“We’ll see how things go,” he said. “If we feel there’s a lack of consideration being given to the council members, we’ll take (the ordinance) back to the council.”

The ordinance was first introduced last month at the last council session of the year and served as an amendment to a previous document which outlined the responsibilities and duties of the mayor. It essentially took away the mayor’s power to form committees and appoint committee chairs, although it did not establish the guidelines by which the council would take over that function.

Most of the council members said the ordinance was a direct result of the mayor’s committee assignments for 2002, which were handed out at the Dec. 10 council meeting. They said they felt the mayor had not allowed the council members any input and had subsequently made assignments many were unhappy with.

Although the measure passed unanimously, Weatherill vetoed it almost immediately afterward. The council would have need a supermajority, or five ‘yea’ votes, to override him.

Councilman Ron Rider, who had previously expressed a sense of anxiety about the ordinance, said he was glad the matter was dead, at least for now.

“I think it’s better for all of us concerned to go back to the table and talk things over,” he said.

For the moment, the committee and chair assignments have reverted to those used in 2001, with the two newly elected council members filling in for their predecessors.

Mayor Jay Weatherill wouldn’t say whether or not those assignments would change before the end of the year. He did, however, say that although he hasn’t actually sat down and worked out possible changes, the decision to re-use the 2001 assignments is not permanent by any means.

“I have considered (changing assignments), but I have no definitive list,” Weatherill said. “There isn’t being anything done just yet.”

Powers, who talked extensively at the meeting about systems of appointment used in other cities, said the issue is not change, but rather a free flow of communication.

“If I were looking for anything, it would be a more open process,” she said. “We’ve got some people who say: ‘This is the way we’ve always done it and this is the way we should do it.’ We should not be afraid of change.”

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