Move 'terribly premature?'

In a surprise move, Port Orchard Mayor Jay Weatherill this week appointed two new members to the city’s planning commission.

What was surprising is that, currently, there is only one vacancy on the board.

Kitsap County deputy prosecutor Tim Drury and Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce president Rob Putaansuu were confirmed as planning commissioners Aug. 11. Drury will replace John Heather, who resigned from the commission several months ago.

Putaansuu’s position, however, will remain in limbo as sitting Commissioner Rita DiIenno makes a run for Port Orchard City Council in November.

“The question is, is Rita going to step down early,” said city engineer Larry Curles, who is involved in the planning commissioner selection process.

There seems to be little question of DiIenno winning a city council seat — she is unopposed and has a strong record of community involvement. And, as Curles pointed out, planning commissioners are effectively prohibited from sitting on the council as well.

Although there is some question whether the state law actually prohibits such a commissioner/councilmember from holding office, there are conflict-of-interest laws that would prohibit a councilmember from voting on a land use action she or he had previously voted on at an earlier stage of the process.

From Putaansuu’s perspective, the timing makes sense as well. Putaansuu is scheduled to finish up his term as chamber president this winter, about the same time DiIenno would be taking office.

Nevertheless, according to city officials, the mayor has never before filled a position on the commission before it was empty. Usually, the complete opposite is true — planning commission vacancies typically stay empty for months at a time before suitable replacements are found.

Last winter, two planning commission spots remained open for months — one for nearly half a year — before they were filled.

As a result, many on the planning commission are bothered by Weatherill’s move.

“(DiIenno) hasn’t resigned yet, so that’s terribly premature,” said Commissioner Fred Chang.

In addition, DiIenno said she has absolutely no intention of giving up her commission spot until Dec. 31, assuming she wins her seat on the city council.

DiIenno said she was very disturbed by the way Weatherill handled her announcement to run for council. Only a few days following filing week, she said, Weatherill called her and asked her to submit a letter of resignation. She said he claimed it would be inappropriate for her to sit on the planning commission in the months before taking a city council seat — conflict-of-interest laws would make it difficult for her to perform her council duties once elected.

DiIenno said that claim was more or less hogwash.

She said, according to state law, the only conflict of interest would occur if she sat in a quasi-judicial capacity on the planning commission and later had to hear an appeal on the matter as a city councilwoman. In that case, DiIenno pointed out, she would simply recuse herself from the appeal.

In addition, she said she didn’t like the implication that her council seat was guaranteed, even though she is the only official candidate for the spot. The seat is currently held by Councilman Don Morrison, who has opted not to seek re-election.

“I suggested to the mayor that (his request) was premature and discounted the process of elections,” DiIenno said.

Weatherill admitted his decision to make an appointment for a future vacancy was unprecedented, but said it was simply what made sense at the time. He called the appointment a win-win for both parties — the planning commission would continue at full strength without a break while the council wouldn’t have to worry about confirming last-minute appointees.

“(I acted) just to put the council at ease that the position was ready to be filled,” Weatherill said.

Weatherill has not yet made a decision whether or not to reappoint planning commission chair Gil Michael, even though his term expired last December.

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