City Council OKs committee power move

Over objections from numerous community members, the Port Orchard City Council on Monday overwhelmingly approved an ordinance that strips the mayor of his — or her — committee-appointment powers.

The outcry against the proposed change began long before the meeting even got off the ground. Three residents got up during the general public comment period at the very start of the evening to protest both the ordinance and the council’s timing in bringing it to a vote.

Resident Melode Sapp even asked — twice — that the council members who would stand to gain the most from the ordinance recuse themselves from voting on the issue.

“I perceive a conflict of interest for each council member who would be elevated in power should this pass,” she said.

The ordinance, which somewhat resembles one that was proposed and failed in 2002, removed the mayor’s power to create council committees and gave it to the three most senior member members of the council. Those three would have the authority to create and dissolve committees and select and appoint chairs and members for those committees.

Under the ordinance, the council has no power to either reject or alter the senior three’s decisions, although it does stipulate the three should act “with input from the mayor and the other council members.”

This last provision concerned many who spoke. Several expressed reservations about putting the power of committee appointment in the hands of three who could not be questioned or overturned.

“I think it takes away from the power of legislature,” said Councilwoman-elect Rita DiIenno. “It places the action decision with a minority body. I think this goes against the principles of democracy.”

Although a number of council members reminded the speakers that the mayor’s committee power had also been absolute, residents said they were concerned that the senior three could essentially write their own tickets — giving themselves plum assignments while leaving the rest to the junior members.

There were also concerns that the three could stack the deck by creating committees likely to vote along their own ideological guidelines, or even staff all the committees themselves.

“This ordinance has no provision to ensure all council members would serve in any capacity on the committees,” some guy said.

Most of the council members, however, were unmoved by the testimony. Councilman John Clauson, the second-most senior member, said this ordinance, like all others, could be changed if it didn’t work. In addition, he said there was no reason to fear he would vote himself chair of all the committees — he already sits on too many as it is.

Clauson currently holds the greatest bulk of committee responsibilities on the council — he chairs three council committees and serves on two others.

Councilwoman Carolyn Powers, the third-most senior member, reminded the audience that no one ever complained about the mayor making assignments, even though he was only one man, and the proposed committee would include three decision-makers.

She also said if anyone objected to the makeup of the committee-appointment group, that could be addressed one council member at a time.

“If someone doesn’t want me to serve on it, OK, I won’t serve on it,” Powers said.

Councilman Rick Wyatt, fourth in line in terms of seniority, said he had no problems taking a back seat and allowing the senior three to proceed as proposed.

“I promise you there always has been and always will be input from the mayor and the whole council,” he said. “There needs to be some trust here.”

In the end, the only council member who opposed the ordinance was Todd Cramer, who said many of the issues introduced by concerned residents were valid — particularly the concerns over the timing of the vote.

Several citizens said voting on such a major policy change less than a month before both a new mayor and a new council member take office looks underhanded.

Cramer said another good reason to wait was Councilman Ron Rider’s absence. Cramer said Rider had wanted to participate in the discussion on the ordinance and wanted it held over until he returned to town.

Despite Cramer’s objection, the council went on the approve the measure 5-1.

Mayor-elect Kim Abel, who will inherit this policy change when she takes office next month, chose not to comment on the issue.

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