By Scott Hamilton
The Sammamish City Council tomorrow will take up a motion to dissolve its
committees, where a lot of spade work is done on issues, and adopt a Committee of the Whole (COW) process instead.
This move should be rejected. It’s been tried before. The council ultimately returned to the committee system. This city council should not repeat the mistake of the past.
In a surprise move, Council Member Tom Hornish made the motion to dissolve the council committees at the July 2 meeting. He was supported by Member Chris Ross and Deputy Mayor Karen Moran. Moran suggested the move at the council’s April 9 meeting during a contentious debate over whether the support state legislation that would ban plastic bags.
Moran, and Hornish, objected to the Legislative Committee’s Jason Ritchie bringing forth a motion to support the ban when the committee split 2-1 in favor of the issue. Ritchie was supported by Pam Stuart. Committee chair Ramiro Valderrama opposed the recommendation.
Hornish questioned Ritchie’s ability to make the motion without full committee support. However, Hornish—who doesn’t serve on any council committee—made his motion without any committee support and without forewarning the council or the city manager.
Reasons for the attempt
Why did Hornish make the motion?
He said the “staff is dwindling,” a reference to the large number of resignations over the past year. Dissolving the committees and shifting to a COW would “relieve staff work,” he said.
But later, after objections were expressed by Stuart and Valderrama and support came from Moran and Ross, Hornish got to what appears to be the crux of the motion.
“Our committees are dysfunctional and being abused,” he said.
Stuart retorted, “You don’t participate in any committees so I don’t know how you could say that.” Hornish dropped off of all committees when he took a job in California, commuting from his Sammamish home. The work scope and commutes would preclude his participation on committees, he said at the time.
This is inside baseball to be sure, but what’s really at work here is a play to deny power to the minority members of the council, Ritchie, Stuart and Valderrama.
These three dominate the committees; Stuart chairs two of them, despite her objection to Ross at one point potentially becoming chair of two committees. Thus, Ross’s support of Hornish’s motion.
Objections were made by the minority to Mayor Christie Malchow chairing a committee because she is mayor.
Malchow took no firm position July 2 on the motion, preferring to take it up tomorrow night. She seemed to lean toward favoring the move, however. “I would be supportive of taking a deeper dive into this. I think it could work and not duplicate staff time.”
Ritchie noted that the safety, communications and finance committees meet “quarterly-ish,” and the legislative committee meets as often as required when the state Legislature is in session.
Valderrama said the council found in the past workload was too heavy for the council under the Committee of the Whole system. “The unintended consequence was that council would spend more hours” working than with the committee structure.
“I don’t think the committees work,” Moran said. “Things go to the committees, then go to council and back to committees, staff has to go through it twice.”
“I am concerned about the committees,” Ross said. “Everything we review at committee gets reviewed at council. I think there would be efficiencies to review once. I think it would be an opportunity for council to become more cohesive.”
City manager Rick Rudometkin said Hornish’s motion came as a surprise. “. I’ve never had a discussion in dissolving committees. No staff input. I don’t recommend having more study sessions at night. We try to make things more efficient at night.”
Pushing for immediate vote
Hornish tried to block any tabling, seeking a vote July 2. He made his motion after 10pm, a timing objected to by other council members.
The motion was tabled to July 9.
Hornish, Moran and Ross firmly support the motion. Stuart and Valderrama firmly oppose it. Ritchie was non-committal, but tends to vote with the Stuart and Valderrama. With his observation that committees tend to meet “quarterly-ish,” reading between the lines suggests he will ultimately oppose dissolution of the committees.
Malchow appears to be the deciding vote. Despite appearing to lean toward trying the COW approach, Malchow should oppose this motion. It’s a pure power play. It should be rejected.