Accusations fly as Council drops committees

By Scott Hamilton

Accusations flew between the two factions of the Sammamish City Council as it considered whether to drop committees in favor of a council Committee of the Whole or some hybrid system.

Motives were questioned, personal attacks flew and “blind ambition” was alleged as interfering with the work of the committees.

Two members claimed the body is a “do-nothing” council.

The meeting again illustrated the dysfunction and political rivalries between the majority and minority factions.

The majority is generally comprised of Mayor Christie Malchow, Deputy Mayor Karen Moran, Chris Ross and Tom Hornish. The minority is generally comprised of members Pam Stuart, Jason Ritchie and Ramiro Valderrama.

Stuart personalizes the debate

Stuart, clearly frustrated that the topic of dissolving the committees was even brought up, was visibly angry when Malchow moved to merge the legislative and finance committees into a council Committee of the Whole (COW).

  • The video can be seen here.

Malchow moved to make the legislative and finance committees a Council Committee of the Whole, while retaining the remaining committee structure for governance, communications, the YMCA and other committees.

Pam Stuart

She argued that all council members are keenly interested in legislative and finance matters and “the community as a whole” would benefit from televising these two committees, or the opportunity to attend these evening meetings. Committee meetings are usually held during the day and audio but not video recorded.

Council Member Pam Stuart launched into a personal attack on Hornish, who in a surprise action, moved at the July 2 meeting to dissolve all committees into a COW.

 “I just want to ask, why are we jumping to ‘let’s eliminate council committees?’ Why aren’t we asking, how can we make the council more effective, and would adjusting how the committees function for that goal? Are we making a decision based on what’s best for the community and for the staff?” she asked.

At the July 2 meeting, Hornish initially said eliminating committees would ease staff demands, but a staff memo for this meeting indicated, “if I read it correctly,” that committees don’t require more staff time, Stuart said.

“Are we catering to a council member?”

“Are we really doing it for that, or are we catering to a council member who hasn’t made this work a priority because he isn’t available or won’t make himself available for committees?” she asked, clearly referring to Hornish, who divides his time between San Diego, where his employer’s company’s principal office is located, and his home in Sammamish.

“I find it interesting that we’re targeting the finance and legislative committees. I think the legislative committee is by far the most productive committee,” she said. “It has produced some really great results.” She said more candid, productive working sessions are a benefit from committees.

Stuart is on the legislative committee, as are her allies, Jason Ritchie and Ramiro Valderrama. Valderrama is the chair. Stuart chairs the finance committee, which includes Ritchie and Chris Ross.

Claims no accomplishments in 18 months

“I think we need to ask the fundamental question this council needs to be asking is how is it in 18 months we’ve really not gotten anything accomplished? It’s not because we have committees or don’t have committees…. If you want to try and blame the committees for something, that’s fine, use it as a scapegoat,” she said.

“I don’t know where this is coming from. It is beyond the pale that this council member [Hornish] who has abdicated all of his responsibilities from the committees is the one who proposes that we eliminate the committees,” she said.

“I think if you look at the committees and who is on the committees, it’s pretty obvious what this motion is about,” she said.

There were three standing committees. In addition to finance and legislative, there is the public safety committee, comprised of Malchow, Deputy Mayor Karen Moran and Valderrama. There were three ad hoc committees: Communications, Governance and Utility District. Stuart was on two of these three,  Ross is on two, Hornish on one (plus a special committee looking into YMCA financial results), and Malchow, Moran and Valderrama on the utilities committee.

Ritchie calls to process improvements, not dissolution
Jason Ritchie

Jason Ritchie

Ritchie opposed Malchow’s motion to carve out finance and legislative committees. Ritchie focused on the work process and results of the legislative committee in arguing for its retention. He called for the opportunity to improve the committee’s process.

The finance committee has budget and transportation issues coming up.

“Everything we touch has some sort of finance behind it,” he said.

He worried that Committee of the Whole meetings will extend well into the night.

“We should continue as we’re going and make the committees more effective,” he said.

Moran has been critical of the committee structure for a year, ratcheting up since April. She reiterated her call to dissolve the committees and create a COW.

“Everybody wants a say in [the finance and legislative committees,” Moran said. “Everyone of us ought to be involved in looking at the finances.”

Refuting Stuart’s charges

Hornish was up next.

Tom Hornish

“I want to first address the innuendoes that I’m the one who brought this up but I’m not on any committees,” he said. Hornish said he’s on the governance and YMCA committees. “The accusation that I’m not on any committees is just outright false. I’m attending all of my committee meetings. I’m attending all of the council meetings.” (Hornish often calls into these meetings, as has on occasion Valderrama.)

“With this new scenario, I expect to be even more as a Committee of the Whole to participate in those as a council member,” he said.

Hornish disputed Stuart’s interpretation of the memo about staff time demands, suggesting that significant time is added to their workload.

“I think we will work better together as a body,” he said.

Wait till the new council

Ramiro Valderrama

Valderrama opposed the motion and dissolving the committees. He argued waiting until the new council is seated in January. The summer recess and holiday schedules reduce the number of meetings between now and then.

“The last city manager said we do a paltry amount at this council,” Valderrama said. “He called it a do-nothing council.” Adding committee work for the council as a whole won’t be productive, Valderrama said.

“We’ve got to look at how to be more effective, not to block progress going forward,” he said.

“This is absurd. It’s not saving time,” Valderrama said. “Why not leave it” to the next council to deal with, he said.

Council accomplishments

Christie Malchow

Malchow responded to the assertions that the council hasn’t accomplished anything in 18 months by pointing to “a far better concurrency system, we passed some far better development regulations and we’ve worked on stormwater, just to name a few.”

Ross supported the motion. “I think the full council needs to be engaged in both. Finance needs to ramp up on a regular basis.

“I feel like the committees have lost their purpose,” he said. The committees were supposed to respond to council-directed tasks but have instead evolved into self-directed work, he said. 

Blind ambition

Chris Ross

“That’s creating chaos and confusion,” he said. “It’s not representative across the council. Blind ambition of certain members seems to be getting in the way of productivity,” an allusion to recurring assertions within the council the Stuart, Ritchie and Valderrama each have ambitions for higher office. (Ritchie previously ran for US Congress and the State House and Valderrama ran for the State House. Each lost their races.)

Stuart called it “ridiculous” to say there is “blind ambition” and “hypocritical” that only the legislative and finance committees, dominated by her, Ritchie and Valderrama, are being targeted while other committees escape the motion.

Ritchie moved to merge all standing and ad hoc committees into the Committee of the Whole.

Ritchie’s motion was approved on a 7-0 vote.

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