She aims to keep city on a steady course

The digital temperature at the Kitsap Bank across from City Hall reads 55 degrees as Port Orchard City Councilwoman Rita DiIenno steps out of the stately, blue-plated building into the rain and wind on her way to the marina.

Tuesdays are busy for DiIenno. After completing her sunrise Kitsap Transit bus route from the Bremerton ferry terminal and back, she met with the council’s Street Committee, of which she is chair.

Now, DiIenno heads for the Port Orchard Marina to check on her 40-foot boat, Quest, and begin a spring cleaning of the vessel before the second half of her split shift driving the bus.

DiIenno and her husband lived and traveled on the boat for years before buying a house in Port Orchard. She got her first snapshots of the community during weekend visits from Seattle, where DiIenno lived and worked for almost three decades.

The couple made their move official in 1990 and set up their portable home. They married in 1997 after being together for 20 years.

“I’m an advocate for setting a course,” DiIenno said. “I will always work for my community.”

These days, DiIenno’s course involves navigating the narrow streets of East Bremerton, busing blue-collar workers to the ferry terminal in the morning and back to their neighborhoods when the workday is over.

She likens the route to a pair of lungs, taking in an influx of riders in the morning and returning them at dusk.

This “pulse” system is different from the rapid transit “grid” systems in most major metropolitan areas. DiIenno said she knows 90 percent of the people who ride her buses. She calls them her “regulars.” She’s been driving these regulars for more than two years.

DiIenno was raised in the Seattle area and joined the Army shortly after high school, due in part, she said, to Boeing’s depressed economy. She spent a majority of her time in the service as an accountant at Fort Eustice, Va.

After 25 years working in social service first as a social worker, then as a political advocate and finally a program administrator, DiIenno retired from state service in 2000 to contribute to her community on this side of the Sound.

“There were quite a few members of the community who suggested I run for City Council,” DiIenno said.

DiIenno, elected in 2003, is the most junior member of the Port Orchard City Council. Her term ends Dec. 31, 2007.

“It’s so very interesting,” DiIenno said. “It’s easy to criticize what goes on in the community, but much harder to fix things.”

DiIenno has taken heat from city staff and residents who feel her need-to-know style is slowing the city’s practiced process. DiIenno makes no excuses, noting she believes that in order to make the correct decision, in order to steer the course of policy decisions, she and every councilmember need to know as much as possible.

“There’s a lot of give and take on the council,” DiIenno said. “There is a line of ideology there between what has been and what could be.”

DiIenno said it is information that creates the checks and balances governmental entities rely on to make sure seven independent citizens are making the crucial decisions.

“It’s not always easy,” DiIenno said. “It’s not always kind.”

For her, the most important thing is not the outcome of any given vote put before the council. It’s the integrity of the system.

“My No. 1 goal in City Hall is to be citizen-focused,” she said, “not city-process focused.”

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