- The city council meeting may be viewed here. The discussion begins at 8:30 and continues o 46:30 minutes. It resumes at the 2:11 hour mark for committee assignments.
The Sammamish city council should give Tom Hornish up to 90-120 days to assimilate into his new job and determine how much time he can devote to the council, the city attorney said Tuesday.
But three council members pressed instead to hold Hornish’s feet to the fire and require him to maintain his committee memberships.
Members Ramiro Valderrama, Jason Ritchie and Pam Stuart were unwilling to give Hornish a pass until they lost on his announcement Tuesday that a new job requires he relinquish his position as deputy mayor and membership to the council finance committee and regional groups, Eastside Fire & Rescue and ARCH, the affordable housing group.
Hornish gave a heads up to the council last week that he would step down Tuesday after accepting a new job with a San Diego law firm.
Although Hornish won’t be moving to San Diego, and will maintain his residence and continue to live in Sammamish, he said his expected travel schedule means he won’t have the time to be deputy mayor or serve on committees other than the council’s governance committee.
The move drew questions, and opposition, from the three council members.
Mayor Christie Malchow, Chris Ross and Karen Moran supported Hornish.
City attorney Mike Kenyon, in response to questions, said the council had no legal standing to force Hornish off the council, absent malfeasance, misfeasance, or three unexcused consecutive absences.
Hornish could resign or he could be subject to recall, Kenyon said.
But he urged the council to give Hornish up to four months to get his feet on the ground with his new employer and to understand his travel requirements following this month’s initial integration period.
Valderrama, Ritchie and Stuart refused Kenyon’s advice. They argued in favor of keeping Hornish on his committees to see if he could serve.
Hornish objected, saying he expects to travel three days a week after this month, hoping but not guaranteeing he will be available for the Monday-Tuesday council study sessions and regular meetings.
But, he said, other than the governance committee, he would not be available to serve on other committees.
“I’ve been presented with a professional opportunity that I can’t pass up and it’s going to preclude me from devoting as much time to the council as I have in the recent past,” he announced Tuesday via a remote telephone hook-up. He was out of state on spring break with his family.
“Is there precedent for council members staying on the council but not being able to fulfill all their duties such as committee membership meeting attendance, that kind of thing, in-person meeting attendance?” asked Ritchie.
“I appreciate deputy mayor Hornish’s involvement on the council,” he said. “I think he’s been invaluable. I talked to him about it last night. I certainly appreciate the amount of information I’ve been able to glean from him the past few months.
“I’m concerned about the schedule we have in front of us. The budget. The master plans we have to work with, the committee assignments we have to have and how that’s all going to roll down to the rest of the council members. Liking Tom aside, I think we should all have a frank conversation about what that means as far as future membership of council members and what the expectations are.”
Ross took the opposite approach.
“Congratulations,” he said to Hornish. “We should give members like Tom the ability to serve the community. He is one the hardest working council members I have seen. I don’t call it a ‘reduced duties’ per se. I think he exceeds expectations on his core involvement.
“I, for one, want to keep someone of his capability and experience that’s sorely needed on this council and give him all the support needed to continue his tenacious work for this city. I will and I hope others with join me in taking over some of that committee work.”
Stuart didn’t agree.
“Being remote is challenging, so if that’s going to be a recurring thing, if deputy mayor Hornish is going to stay on, how will we solve for that, if being remote is hard to hear? If streaming is delayed? And sometimes seeing the presentations is not possible?” she said.
“We should talk about how this can work,” Valderrama said. “We have precedent on both of these situations.”
He cited the example of council member Troy Romero, who split his time between Sammamish and San Diego, where his law firm opened an office and the Romero family had moved into an owned-home.
“In 2003, Troy Romero spent the majority of his time in the city. He did not miss any meetings,” Valderrama said.
“From what I heard, the city felt he was still a legal resident here. But the city felt he wasn’t able to fulfill his legal responsibilities if he spent those other days in California, despite that he was still here for the council meetings.”
This was false. Romero didn’t disclose his bi-city arrangement to the public, that he and his family had moved to San Diego and that he was staying at rotating locations when he was back in the Seattle area. Information at the time circulated that he was staying at least some of the time at a brother-in-law’s home in Sammamish and another location in Bellevue.
It was only after Romero appeared in a photo on the front page of The Seattle Times viewing his San Diego home that had burned to the ground in one of the periodic California wildfires that he was outed.
It was only then that Romero resigned.
“The comparison to Troy’s case is very, very different because there is no comparison,” said Moran, a decades-long friend of Romero. “I’m offended by that comparison. Troy didn’t live here. He had a house and lived in California. He lived there. He spent his time there. He came up here a couple of days of week for business. That is not what is happening here. To make that comparison is not reasonable.”
“Your friend Troy Romero believes there is an appropriate comparison,” Valderrama claimed.
In fact, Romero told Sammamish Comment he made no comparison or judgment about Hornish.
“It wasn’t until the very end of the conversation, when I asked [Valderrama] why he was asking about my experience, that he told me that Tom had taken a job down in San Diego,” Romero wrote The Comment in an email. “So I didn’t answer any questions about Tom. I was just answering questions as they related to my experience and situation. I don’t have any specific comment about Tom or his situation since I don’t know it except what I’ve now heard in the past 24 hours or so.”
Valderrama also cited former council member John Curley, who served one term (2009-2015) who refused to serve on committees, creating friction with other council members.
After Curley left the council, he remarked one day on his KIRO radio program that he “hated” serving on the city council and the time it demanded.
“I also applaud Tom Hornish and he is the one I’m closest aligned to day-to-day,” Valderrama said. “But I don’t know how you can do it if you’re not going to do the committees and if you’re going to be regularly missing meetings, given those precedents. That’s something we need to talk through, discuss and understand because we do have two standing practices from the city’s perspective…as much as we like him and want to keep him on.”
“[Hornish] is unquestionably a legal resident of the city of Sammamish,” Kenyon said. “He is not by any means required to give up his office due to this new opportunity. I think Ramiro raises an appropriate issue for discussion and that’s the division of labor. Troy Romero was before my time and I know when John Curley stepped off the committees, there was some friction because of the workload there.
“I think it’s fair to say that no one, including Tom, at this point knows how it’s going to work because he hasn’t started yet. Some trial period may well make some sense for all.”
“I made a proposal to defer breaking the committees for a month and see how he’s doing before dispersing the committees to all the others,” Valderrama said.
“I have a full-time job and we may have had to go one or two rounds to schedule a meeting,” Stuart said. “I just want to make clear to the public that people with full time jobs have not been able to schedule meetings.”
“I do believe committee membership and participation is a critical role of being on the council,” said Ritchie. “I also think it’s reasonable to try and work with people’s schedules. I’m very happy for Tom. I would like to see him stay on the council. I support giving this an effort. I support talking about the process and the weight that puts on the fellow council members.”
Ritchie advocated keeping Hornish on committees, despite Hornish’s clear statements this isn’t possible.
“My concern is if we are going to give it a go, let him stay on those committees and let’s revisit this rather than start dividing those committees up,” Valderrama said. “Once you start leaving those committees, you start giving up a substantial portion of your work in your role as a council member.”
Hornish noted that committees are intended to offload work from the council.
“There is no requirement to serve on a committee. You serve at the pleasure of the council. We could do away with all the committees if we want. There was nothing when we ran that said you’re going to be on such-and-such committee,” Hornish said.
In fact, there have been periods in which the council did not have committees.
“Committees are all things we called additional duties, as we called it in the military,” said Hornish, a former US Air Force fighter pilot. “I don’t know how this is going to work out yet
“I’d give everybody 90 or 120 days to try and work this out,” said Kenyon.
“April will be a tougher month on my travel as I get feet on the ground in this new position,” Hornish said. “After April, I expect to pull it back to where it’s four days in Sammamish and three days traveling. That doesn’t mean I’ll be here every Tuesday and Monday, either. Three days of travel may have to move back and forth, I just don’t know yet. It’s a little bit in flux.”
“I’d rather give this a go and see how it goes,” said Malchow. “[Hornish’s] role on this council has been invaluable. I’m willing to step up and take on additional roles if needed to try and make it work and if it doesn’t work and the balance feels too out of whack and we’re finding he’s not physically present for meetings, then I think we come back and have another discussion.”
Ritchie said nobody he heard was calling for Hornish to quit the council.
Conceding the point
After failing to get support to require Hornish to stay on committees, Valderrama, Ritchie and Stuart conceded.
“I think we need to try and figure out creative ways to make that happen, if possible,” Valderrama said. “If 30, 60, 90 days down the road it’s not possible, then we’ll have a meeting of the minds. Maybe it will all come together and maybe it won’t. Maybe we’ll have a meeting of minds and maybe we won’t.”
Ritchie called for trying to move meeting schedules to meet Tom’s schedule rather than creating a precedent, ‘I can’t make the committee, I’m not going to serve on the committee,’ Ritchie said, paraphrasing Hornish. “That’s a very dangerous precedent going forward, no matter what the reason is.”
“I fully agree,” Valderrama said.
“I would agree,” Stuart said. “Whatever precedents have been set in the past, I would like to set a different precedent, which is if you’re going to be on council, you’re kind of all in. I would agree, let’s see how we can work with Tom to make that happen.
“I do think being on council requires a certain level of commitment to those committees.”
Ironically, during Stuart’s endorsement interview with The Comment for her election campaign last year, she was asked how she would balance committee meetings holding a full-time job, compared with her retired opponent, John Robinson, who was free of daytime commitments.
Stuart said she planned to cut back her hours at Microsoft to part-time.
She did not respond to an email asking her to clarify her claim of full-time employment with her pledge to cut back to part-time.