PO Council: Some Jostling for Finance Committee Slots

At Tuesday’s work study meeting, Port Orchard City Council members parceled out committee assignments. Most of the time, this is a process of seeing who steps forward to volunteer for a committee, but in the case of the finance committee, there were more applicants (five) than slots (three).

The reason, Mayor Lary Coppola said after the meeting, boils down to: money is power. “It’s the decision-making committee,” Coppola said. “So many decisions that happen on the council are driven by money.”

Councilman Fred Chang, one of the five contenders, put it this way, “For those of us not on it, we feel there’s a lot of information discussed there, and by the time it gets to the council, there’s already three of the four votes we need (out of seven council members to make a majority). … It’s not so much that they make decisions against what the rest of the council would agree with, it’s just that we’re not privy to information we need.”

Council members do receive minutes of committee meetings, not quite the same as being in on the discussion, I would guess.

Council members who have served on the finance committee for the past two years include John Clauson (chairman), Rob Putaansuu and Carolyn Powers. Besides the three incumbents and Chang, Councilman Jerry Childs threw his hat into the ring for the upcoming term.

Council members each wrote their three top recommendations for the committee on slips of paper. City Clerk Patti Kirkpatrick tallied the winners: John Clauson (who also was chosen by the council to remain chair), Rob Putaansuu and Jerry Childs.

The process seemed to me a little old school and had shades of a fourth grade popularity contest. But, according to City Attorney Greg Jacoby, it was all above board. I had the misconception that no action could be taken at a work study meeting. That’s not true, Jacoby said. State statutes allow final action to be taken on items at properly publicized work study meetings, as long as the item is on the agenda and as long as it doesn’t involve approval of contracts or bills for payment. Jacoby said it is customary for Port Orchard (and most other local jurisdictions) to use study sessions for in-depth discussions and briefing on issues that will come before them at regular council meetings.

Furthermore, said Jacoby, the paper slip voting did not constitute final action. The council will entertain a resolution at its regular meeting Jan. 26 regarding committee membership. Terms run two years. Writing the names on paper was a way to come to consensus on the council’s recommendations for the finance committee.

Information on committees and boards can be found on the city’s Web site. Upcoming committee meetings, which are open to the public, are listed on the regular council meeting agenda, which is available on the city’s Web site and by request by calling City Hall, (360) 876-4407.

5 thoughts on “PO Council: Some Jostling for Finance Committee Slots

  1. Some Brief Clarifications…

    The Finance Committee meetings are open to the public — as well as the rest of the Council. The agenda is available to Council members in advance if they want a copy. The meetings are properly noticed, with required publication in the legal notices, as well as being posted on the public bulletin board, located on the main floor of City Hall next to the elevator.

    Regular attendees are the Finance Committee members, the Mayor, the City Clerk, the Treasurer, and depending on the agenda, usually the Police Chief, City Engineer/Public Work Director, and City Development Director, along with any other department heads with an item on the agenda impacting their department.

    However, Mr. Chang has never bothered to attend any of the meetings, which are held at Myhre’s Restaurant — almost within sight of his home — but is more than welcome to. If he were to choose to do so, he would certainly become “…privy to information we need.”

  2. Money is power that is correct, which is why citizens should be attending these meetings. While I follow and participate in Finance Committees as a Bremerton resident, the impact and ability for the average citizen to really learn and see the financial operational side of any public entity transcends any one particular jurisdiction. Money is power and if citizens want better management of that power then they should step up their participation in the process and their knowledge as a whole.

  3. This sounds a little strange to me. Did each council member attach their own name to the voting paper?

    No disrespect to my council friends, but I would not be comfortable taking an anonymous straw poll in a meeting of elected officials. Doesn’t seem consistent with the spirit of the law, which declares that votes cannot be in private.

    Somewhat different, but somewhat similar… the state legislature meets in “caucus” privately and makes decisions. That bothers me a lot, too.

  4. Kathryn – I heard back from City Clerk Patti Kirkpatrick. The answer is that council members did not identify themselves on the pieces of paper. Again, the process did not constitute formal action. Presumably, if it had not been a matter of nominating three people out of five, with multiple possible combinations, a simple show of hands would have been adequate, and where each person stood would have been evident.

  5. Thanks, Chris.

    I spoke to Patti a little bit ago. Expressed that while it may be legal in the letter of the law, it seems too close to the line to be following the spirit of the law. She was very polite in listening to my comments.

    My agitation with this is that we should be able to expect the deliberations of our elected officials to be as open and transparent as possible. How else can we hold them accountable and know who to vote for at election time? Straw polls done with secret ballots is not open and transparent. Even if it isn’t final action it is part of the deliberations towards final action.

    My opinion is that while it may have moved the process along faster, it sacrificed accountability for speed. I prefer accountability to speed.

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