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Some residents still complaining months after resolution passes
Almost three months after the Port Orchard City Council passed a resolution for adoption of a resolution that would place a ballot measure to change the city’s classification and form of government, some citizens had harsh words for council members.
With the resolution, which the council passed July 9, there will be a single ballot measure for the Nov. 5 general election to change the city’s status from a second-class to non-charter code city and also to adopt the council-manager form of government. Public hearings on the resolution were held at the June 11 and June 25 council meetings.
Three people addressed the council concerning the Nov. 5 ballot measure during the allocated time for residents comments at the Sept. 24 meeting. During that time, residents are asked to limit comments to three minutes and not speak on the same matter twice.
Resident Wayne Patterson said after he looked at information about code cities and city managers, he wanted to know if both items would be placed together on the ballot.
“They should be separate,” Patterson said. “It’s two separate issues. They don’t go hand in hand.”
Patterson, who lives on Advantage Avenue, asked councilmembers why both issues were on the same ballot and tried to engage the council into dialogue.
Mayor Tim Matthes said there was some discussion about separating the two issues.
Patterson urged an answer from the council.
Councilman Fred Chang told Patterson that councilmembers each have their own reasons for placing both measures on a single ballot.
“I’m trying to make sense of what’s going on right now,” Patterson said.
Chang said he was the minority opinion when the council voted to place the measures on a single ballot.
“I believe the majority felt assured there would be not problem legally if the two issues were on the same ballot,” Chang said. “The majority felt comfortable about having one item.”
“I’m confused again,” said Patterson, who noted he served in the military for 26 years. “If 15 people stand up here in this hall and say, ‘Please don’t do this,’ then why would we do it.’ ”
Again, Patterson engaged the council to answer his question.
City Attorney Greg Jacoby interrupted Patterson and reminded him he was speaking during residents comments.
“You won’t not get an answer partially because this is a citizens comments period,” Jacoby said. “It is not citizen-council discussion.”
Jacoby told Patterson that the council can respond to questions after the meeting either through an email or some type of communication.
“There is not usually a dialogue between citizens and council at this second,” Jacoby said.
“It used to be,” Patterson replied.
“Not as long as I’ve been here,” Jacoby said.
Patterson said he thought the council was acting in the city’s best interest.
“I think they (council) is disconnected,” he said. “They don’t represent the people they are supposed to be representing.”
Resident Gil Michael, who spoke previously during citizens comments, responded to an earlier statement by Jacoby about dialogue between residents and council.
Jacoby noted that he’s been coming to the meetings as city attorney for six years, but has been attending meetings the past eight years.
Michael said nine months ago, he made a statement during a council meeting and a council member engaged with him.
“The city attorney is wrong in his statement that as long as he been here that the council has not engaged a member of the public who has come up to speak,” he remarked.
Michael said he thought it was inappropriate for the council not to answer a citizen’s question.
Michael said during the public hearings that 13 of the 15 people who spoke asked the council to separate the measures onto two ballots.
According to the council minutes of the June 11 and 25 public hearings, 18 individuals spoke with seven people against the change, six people in favor and five were undecided.
Resident Vance Vaught said he had a bad experience working with a city manager in a New London, Conn.
“He was not a leader,” Vaught said. “We need a leader, especially when we are here in a military area with the threats going on in our world today.”
Vaught said he was ashamed of the city council to have put the manager-council measure on the ballot with the code city measure.
“Why did you do it?” he said. “I want that question answered.”
Vaught asked Councilman Rob Putaansuu why he’s concerned about the budgetary issue with the jail contract and not the budgetary questions that come with a city manager.
He accused some councilmembers of producing a flier promoting the city changing the form of government to a council-manager. The flier was produced and distributed by Citizens for Professional Government, which Fred Olin, a former city councilman, is a member.
“We’ve been seeing a bunch of people pushing an agenda,” Vaught said. “This is not leadership. Leadership is when you go before the people and say why there is a good reason for it.”
KT Arthur gave a brief summary of her family’s military history during citizens comment.
Arthur said a majority of her family has spent a lot of time making sure people can vote.
“How dare you think about taking away our right to vote,” said Arthur, who slammed her left hand on the podium.
She turned and then calmly returned to her seat.
The tirade left some city councilmembers uneasy.
Councilwoman Cindy Lucarelli said some council members express safety concerns when comments “turned to rants with emotions soaring.”
“When citizens accuse the council of taking away their right to vote, after the council has asked the same citizenry to voice their opinion by putting a measure on a ballot to allow them to decide their form of governance, where is the sense?” Lucarelli said. “As order in the council chambers broke down, comments turned to emotionally charged accusations. Councilmembers were scratching their heads wondering what that was all about?”
Councilman Jerry Childs said he feels “things were out of hand” during citizens comments.
“There was hostility from some of the regulars who attend council meetings,” Childs said. “They were pretty rude and had worked themselves up on the issue of adding the code city matter to the ballot. Seemed simple enough, adding an issue that has no opposition.”
Childs likes the idea of having a police officer at the meetings.
“It’s not good to let people wind themselves up in this way, best to manage the unruliness rather than be sorry later,” Childs said.
But Councilman Fred Chang said he didn’t feel that citizens comments “got out of hand.”
“I don't believe council can expect people to attend all meetings and understand the reasons for decisions,” Chang said. “I think we need the patience to communicate and explain our decisions to people.”
According to the Mayor’s Handbook, published in 2009 by the Association of Washington Cities and the Municipal Research and Services Center, it advises mayors not to allow verbal exchanges to drag on between citizens and councilmembers, especially if they concern administrative problems that can be solved by the staff during regular city hall hours.
The handbook also states, if speakers take too much time or engage in personal attacks on councilmembers, it may be necessary for the mayor to cut them short. Councilmembers are expected to be polite to citizens appearing before them, but there is no requirement that they subject themselves to intimidation by rude speakers.
“While it remains to be seen what the city will do about the dissension and unruly conduct at council meetings,” said Childs, “it seems safe to say there will be changes.”