Opinion

Council made right move, but at wrong time

As a practical matter, it’s hard to fault the Port Orchard City Council’s desire to strip the mayor’s office of the power to make council committee appointments.

As a political matter, however, the council’s timing was probably unfortunate and will undoubtedly result in hard feelings — both on the part of the mayor and the voters — with which the council will needlessly have to contend.

Several on the council last week enunciated a plan by which committee assignments would be handed down according to a vote of the council’s three most senior members, rather than investing that responsibility in the mayor, to hand out in the form of patronage.

Outgoing Mayor Jay Weatherill, a 20-year incumbent, had long enjoyed such power and the council justifiably — though unsuccessfully — tried to take it from him a year ago. What makes the current situation different is that the council is taking its action during the brief window of opportunity while Weatherill is a lame duck and before incoming Mayor Kim Abel takes office in January.

“This stinks,” said incoming Councilmember Rita DiIenno. “This smells bad. They are doing an end run around (Abel).”

Indeed, if it weren’t for last year’s efforts by the council to win back control over its own committee membership, the current movement would feel entirely like a slap at Abel.

For her part, the mayor-to-be has adopted a wait-and-see approach to the plan, although she, too, is puzzled by its timing.

“It just seems to make sense that if you’re going to make the change, you should have the people voting on it who are going to be affected by it,” Abel said.

It’s a fair point. Councilman John Clauson countered by suggested the matter is only coming to a head now because it’s sponsor, outgoing Counncilman Don Morrison, is determined to see the change enacted before he leaves office at the end of this month.

Could be, but clearly the council recognizes a power vacuum when it sees one. With the new mayor not yet in place and the old mayor unenthusiastic about preserving for his successor the same privilege he willingly wielded himself, the time was apparently right to strike.

Ultimately, we think it makes perfect sense that the City Council members themselves should decide who sits on what committee, rather than allowing the mayor to stack the deck with whomever he — or she — wishes to reward for other favors.

It just seems like if you’re going to kick sand in the face of the big kid on the beach, the gesture would mean a lot more if he didn’t have his back turned at the time.

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