Council takes aim at mayor's powers of committee

The Port Orchard City Council is taking another shot at giving itself the power to appoint council committees.

Around this time last year, the council voted to approve an ordinance that took committee-appointment power away from Mayor Jay Weatherill and authorized the council to make appointments in his place.

The ordinance failed on reconsideration and was never re-introduced.

The new ordinance, which comes before the council at its regular meeting Monday night, also takes council committee-appointment power away from the mayor.

However, this version bestows the power on a triumvirate made up of the three most senior council members.

The ordinance says the rest of the council and the mayor can offer input, but the final decision is up to that group of three.

The mayor’s authority to appoint to other committees and the Planning Commission is not affected by this proposal.

Councilman John Clauson, who is the second-most tenured member of the council, said the council in general feels the issues that existed a year ago are still a matter for concern.

“It’s still an issue that hasn’t been resolved to anyone’s satisfaction,” he said. “The council meetings are just that — the council’s meetings.”

Some are crying foul, though, over the council’s timing on this measure.

Starting Jan. 1, a new mayor and new city council member will be coming on board. Incoming Councilwoman Rita DiIenno, in particular, feels outraged that the council would choose a moment when the council is in a state of flux to make such a major policy change.

The fact that the council is planning to strip a major power from the Mayor just before Abel takes office doesn’t sit well with her, either. DiIenno said she doesn’t believe the council has a good reason for introducing this measure at the 11th hour instead of simply waiting for the new electeds to be sworn in.

“This stinks,” she said. “This smells bad. They are doing an end run around (Abel).”

DiIenno agrees the power to create committees is best left up to the council. However, she believes the privilege should be given to the council as a whole or, at least, to three members drawn at random.

DiIenno said seniority should have little official weight on a board of equals.

Both the decision to move forward on this now, she said, and the council’s insistence on making seniority the deciding factor, contribute to an appearance of fairness problem she believes the city has been plagued by for a long time.

“I’ve always believed that the city has too much of a mix between the branches of government,” DiIenno said. “It’s healthy for a city to have creative tension between the three branches.”

Clauson disagrees with DiIenno’s assessment of the situation. He said the need for urgency only depends on the sponsor — Don Morrison — and his desire to get the measure taken care of before he leaves office at the end of the month.

In addition, Clauson said because committee appointments are such an essential part of council business it makes no sense to give the job to a randomly selected group that turns over completely every election cycle.

With the proposed system, he said, “you don’t have a wholesale change so you keep that continuity. In worst case, two members of that committee could be replaced at once.”

Abel said she was reserving judgement on the ordinance until she sees how the council presents it on Monday.

However, she said she also wonders why the council couldn’t have simply tackled the issue next month — perhaps even avoiding a little angst in the process.

“It just seems to make sense that if you’re going to make the change, you should have the people voting on it who are going to be affected by it,” Abel said.

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