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Committee assignments hashed out

Six months of resentment simmered to the surface Monday night as the Port Orchard City Council finally sat down as a group to hammer out its committee assignments for the next two years.

The issue of council committees has been a contentious one since, during the last council meeting of 2003, an outgoing council member presented an ordinance that proposed taking committee-appointment power away from the mayor and giving it to a committee of the three most senior council members.

This “committee committee” measure was passed over the objections of three sitting council members and incoming council member Rita DiIenno, who wanted the vote to wait until the council membership turned over in January.

Tensions got higher in January as the committee committee delayed approving new committee assignments into February, instead allowing the old committee assignments to stand on a temporary basis.

Fed up, the other four council members pressured the senior three into dissolving the committee committee and letting existing committee appointments stand until the council could meet as a whole in June and lay out new assignments. Those assignments would be valid for ta year and a half, until the next council election.

Since then, most council votes have been split 4-3, with the formerly powerful senior members finding themselves in the minority.

All those past frustrations boiled over at Monday’s meeting, with several council members getting into heated near-arguments over proposed assignments.

Councilwoman Carolyn Powers was especially bitter about the proposed changes and the 4-3 split that has been the controlling factor in every council meeting since January.

“There was so much grief caused by the process,” she said. “I was trying to figure out why you all were so unhappy with what we’d done.”

Powers, along with a few other council members, supported keeping the committee assignments roughly the way they have been. Councilman Todd Cramer, however, came to the meeting with a homemade “matrix” of proposed assignments — assignments he said better reflected the requests council members had made during the committee committee’s deliberations.

Cramer’s matrix called for a major shakeup of current assignments with only nine of the 49 major committee assignments remaining as is.

He said the proposal made the best use of council members’ individual skills and Councilman Ron Rider said, even without taking skills into consideration, the committees needed some fresh blood.

“I think a good idea is mixing things up once in a while so you get to learn what else is going on in the city,” he said.

Powers, however, expressed extreme displeasure over Cramer’s suggestion to overhaul the finance committee, removing two long-standing members and replacing them with freshman council member DiIenno and veteran Councilman Rick Wyatt.

The finance committee is considered a plum council assignment and changes to the committee have, in the past, been highly controversial. Cramer said he put DiIenno and Wyatt on the committee because of their extensive backgrounds in business and finance issues and gave Powers the chairship of the committee because of her experience with workplace finances.

Powers, however, said the meeting was an excuse to unseat Councilman Bob Geiger, who has been on the finance committee for more than 40 years, and install two non-senior members.

“Experience has got to count for something,” she said. “Don’t go removing the seniors and putting in someone far down the line.”

To emphasize her displeasure, Powers said she would refuse the finance chairship and wouldn’t take any other committee assignments unless Geiger was restored to the finance committee. In the end, the other council members reworked the schedule around her, changing Cramer’s matrix slightly to accommodate Powers’ refusal.

The final agreed-upon assignments seemed to make nearly everyone happy. Several council members got rid of unwanted appointments — the growth management committee appeared to be almost universally disliked — and most got seats on committees they had never participated in before.

Powers finally agreed to keep her old chairship in the public property committee and take a seat on two new committees — safety and utilities.

Councilman John Clauson took her vacated seat on finance, and the chairship.

Despite the more than two hours it took for the council to come up with these assignments, Cramer scheduled another special meeting for today to give the council one last change to discuss last-minute changes to the lineup before the assignments are formally voted on at Monday’s night’s regular City Council meeting.

The meeting is tentatively scheduled for 7:30 a.m. and will be held in the back room of council chambers on the third floor of City Hall.

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