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Port Orchard mayor to city planners: Get back to work

The Port Orchard Planning Commission recently received a get-down-to-work message from Mayor Lary Coppola, demanding that all members attend meetings or face dismissal.

“It has been brought to my attention that there has not been a quorum for the past two Planning Commission meetings — including the Open House to introduce the city’s new Comprehensive Plan on Sept. 15. This is simply unacceptable,” Coppola wrote in the Sept. 24 letter. “Therefore, from this point forward, any member not upholding their sworn duties as a planning commissioner, which means attending the meetings and participating in the process, will be immediately replaced upon their second unexcused absence.”

This may seem a bit harsh, the seven members of the Planning Commission are all volunteers who are shoe-horning meeting attendance into their already-busy lives.

But with the looming approval of the city’s Comprehensive Plan as well as other planning-related issues, Coppola has called for a commitment.

The Planning Commission meets monthly, or as needed, to discuss planning issues and make non-binding recommendations to the mayor and city council.

Commissioners each serve a six-year term but often resign before it ends. “Working on the commission is time-consuming,” said Planning Commission Chair Gil Michael, who is serving his second term. “Many people can’t handle the workload.”

Commissioners must pore through fat volumes of land-use and planning information, which isn’t always clear at first reading.

Coppola himself is familiar with a Planning Commission’s inner workings, since he served nearly eight years on the Kitsap County Planning Commission. He was able to handle the workload until his election as Port Orchard mayor, and stepped down from the Planning Commission earlier this year.

As a member of the county board, Coppola often said its recommendations were ignored by the commissioners. This is not true in Port Orchard.

“The Planning Commission has been very helpful,” he said. “They’re moving forward with the downtown overlay district and the Tremont Corridor plan. Their recommendations carry a lot of weight.”

Michael said the Planning Commission’s work on the Comprehensive Plan is essential, especially since the city can’t grow until the plan is approved.

“The previous mayor didn’t think that staying current with out comp plan was important,” Michael said of former Mayor Kim Abel. “Because we were not compliant, we lost out on a lot of grants. When we become compliant, we will be able to apply for those funds.”

One planning commissioner who has been impacted by Coppola’s call to responsibility is Tim Matthes, who is in the home stretch in a race for South Kitsap Commissioner.

Matthes attempted to set aside his board activities, but decided he could not resign from the Planning Commission for campaign purposes.

“I was between a rock and a hard place,” Matthes said. “We need to approve the Comp Plan by the first of the year, and we can’t get anything done without a quorum.”

The lack of a quorum at several meetings prompted Coppola’s letter in the first place.

Additionally, the commission is already down one member, and is now taking applications to replace Noel Larsen, who joined the board in 2007.

Applications will be submitted to the city, with Coppola making the final selection.

“We are looking for people who are passionate advocates for Port Orchard,” Coppola said. “We want them to participate, and not just serve.”

Anyone interested in serving on the Port Orchard Planning Commission should submit a letter of interest and a resume no later than Oct. 10 to: City Clerk, City of Port Orchard, 216 Prospect Street, Port Orchard, WA 98366 or email to pkirkpatrick@cityofportorchard.us.

For more information, call the City Clerk’s Office at (360) 876-4407.

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