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Council makes an early night of it

The Port Orchard City Council threw a wrench into the progress of several major projects on Monday by casting a surprise, 4-3 vote, to end its meeting at 9:30 p.m. and hold any unaddressed agenda items over to its next regular meeting, scheduled for June 14.

Several city officials appeared flabbergasted at the council’s decision — this is the first time the council has ever halted a regular meeting mid-agenda without scheduling a time and place to deliberate on the remaining items.

The 9:30 rule, which states the council must take a vote at 9:30 p.m. to decide whether it wants to continue the meeting to its conclusion, was established earlier this year when the council meeting start times were moved from 7:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

At the time, many council members complained of the council’s habit of holding meetings that went until 11 p.m. or later. By requiring the council to vote on an extension at 9:30, the council theorized it could make late meetings a conscious choice rather than an inevitable necessity.

Since the new rules were put in place in March, the council has opted on several occasions to adjourn the meeting at 9:30 and continue it to another time and date — usually the following evening.

In this case, however, the council abandoned the six remaining business items — including approval for a loan to finance the Karcher Creek Sewage Treatment Plan expansion, the consultant contract for joint city/county urban growth area planning and Mayor Kim Abel’s request to replace the current city planner with a new planning director position.

And because Port Orchard is a second-class city under state law, it cannot convene a special meeting to address the remaining topics. Special meetings are reserved for resolutions and other non-binding decisions.

“There’s no loophole,” Abel said.

Luckily, Abel continued, no serious consequences are going to result from the council’s decision. The sewage plant loan applies to the second phase of the project, which is not yet underway, and the contract with the county was supposed to come back to the council on June 14 anyway; the reason for placing it on the May 24 agenda was to give the council one last chance to offer input on the necessary interlocal agreement before it came up for a formal vote.

The delay on the planning director question, she added, may simply result in a short period of time when the city has no city planner, at which point the associate planner will likely have to shoulder the extra burden.

Current city planner Rob Wenman, Abel said, is rumored to be currently looking for another job and may leave before his replacement can be found.

“There’s a way to spread the workload,” she said.

Despite the potential hassles surrounding the 9:30 rule, Abel said she still has confidence in its usefulness during council meetings. Monday’s meeting, she admitted, was extremely long and, if anything, this experience has taught her not to pack the agenda so tightly.

“What really pushed our agenda is we had three public hearings,” Abel said. “We should never have three hearings in one meeting.”

Although the agenda for June 14 has not yet been set, she said she was confident she can include the six leftover items without overburdening the council.

“Three hours for a meeting is probably plenty of time,” Abel said.

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