Committee picks draw fire

When the newly formed Port Orchard City Council committee appointment committee met Monday morning to overhaul the council’s committee assignments, they seemed largely satisfied to leave last year’s appointments intact.

At least one proposed change, however, didn’t sit well with everyone who managed to attend the 7:30 a.m. get-together at J.A. Michaels.

Council committee slots are generally handed out in accordance with personal taste — council members tend to sit on committees that played to there strengths and dealt with issues that interested them. Councilman Todd Cramer, who ran on a public safety platform in 2001, chairs the public safety committee. Councilwoman Carolyn Powers, who has a sincere interest in the city’s parks, chairs public property.

However, spots on one committee — the finance committee — have always been considered plum assignments. Back when the mayor was responsible for making committee assignments, many council members reportedly lobbied the mayor heavily for a seat on finance. It was even rumored that the controversy over committees in 2001 — the first time the council tried to take committee appointment power away from the mayor — was sparked by a scuffle over finance seats.

On Monday, with reportedly minimal discussion, the appointment committee took all three seats on finance for itself. Councilmen John Clauson and Bob Geiger held onto their current seats and offered the third —vacated by ex-Councilman Don Morrison — to Councilwoman Carolyn Powers, the last appointment committee member. Geiger also retained his position as chair.

This decision was made despite numerous requests from other council members for a finance spot. Freshman Councilwoman Rita DiIenno said she even sent an extensive autobiography of her background in finance issues along with her request.

The appointment committee last week emailed out a survey to the four other council members, asking for their top three choices of committee appointments and reasons why they thought they should be given their assignments.

“Finance was my top choice and that was the most requested choice for everybody,” said DiIenno, who attended Monday’s meeting as an observer.

The council’s decision to give committee-appointment power to this committee, made up of the three most senior council members, was met with significant opposition from many Port Orchard residents. Many expressed concerns the committee would monopolize the other committees and even stack the deck in favor of privately held agendas or ambitions. Several were extremely bothered by the lack of oversight from the full council — according to the ordinance that enacted the change in power, the committee’s decisions are final and cannot be overturned.

DiIenno said even if the committee had good reasons to give its members the finance seats, it still didn’t look good — especially since the meeting was held with little advance notice and was not widely publicized. In fact, only two people other than DiIenno made it to the meeting, and one was new Mayor Kim Abel.

“It goes back to appearance of fairness,” DiIenno said. “I think you should advertise and keep it public since the committee is invested with decision-making power.”

Resident Fred Chang, who attended Monday’s meeting, said he was disappointed by the committee’s lack of organization. He said he wasn’t surprised by the decision to make the finance appointments as proposed and pointed out Geiger and Clauson actually gave up few few to none of their existing seats. In fact, the only appointment that changed within the senior three was Clauson’s move from the public property committee.

Other changes affecting those three involved committee creation and dissolution — Powers lost her seat on the now-defunct fire committee and Clauson took a seat on the newly-created county/city liaison committee. The Chimes and Lights committee is also slated for overhaul or removal and the telecommunications committee is expected to be rolled into finance.

“It’s not as bad as it could have been,” Chang said. “But I’m glad there were three witnesses there.”

Abel said there are still bugs to be worked out of the system, but said she was pleased with the committee’s deliberations overall. Although the committee does not yet have an elected chair and doesn’t technically have to make regular committee reports to the full council, Abel said she is sure its members will be enthusiastic about sharing the results of their meeting with the rest of the council members.

Thus far, she said, the committee has been honoring its duty to take input from council members and mayor alike.

“I think everybody worked hard to give everybody some input,” Abel said. “(However,) I hope the council will always feel comfortable asking questions if they don’t understand why a decision was made.”

Neither Powers, Geiger nor Clauson could be immediately reached for comment.

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