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Subcommittees dominate council discussion

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By Jennifer Garcia

County councilors wanted to know how they could improve their relationships with boards and commissions and boards and commissions subcommittees Tuesday night in White Rock.

Discussion, however, went from how relations could be improved to the issue of how appointments to subcommittees are made and whether they should be appointed by county council.

Chair of the Fuller Lodge Historic District Advisory Board, Ron Wilkins, was one of the board members that addressed council with his thoughts on the topic. He said that board liaison Nancy Cerutti and Councilor Nona Bowman have been extremely useful and encourage all board liaisons to attend board meetings.

“Liaisons sit there quietly unless we ask them something,” Wilkins said.

He also said that there has been outcry from the public because they feel that the terms of the subcommittees need to be shortened because they are too controlling. Wilkins said that his board has five subcommittees to leverage the work of the board. In addition, he pointed out that it is often hard to get something on the county council agenda with short notice.

In response to Wilkins’ comment about the terms being shortened, Councilor Ken Milder wanted to know how the appointments to subcommittees are made.

 “There is a perception that there are cliques, and they are always the same people,” Milder said.

Wilkins said that subcommittees are comprised of board members.

Council Vice-Chair Robert Gibson showed concern over the subcommittee issue, as well. “We anticipate that subcommittees will be on limited terms, but there are some that are far from limited terms,” he said.

Councilor Nona Bowman was concerned with the work that subcommittees may be doing.

“Subcommittees making policies is a no-no,” she said. “They can make recommendations, but the board doesn’t have to take their recommendations. Boards do change every two years and if subcommittees are members of the public, that may be a problem.”

Bowman also said that some of the subcommittees need more than a year’s term, but also pointed out that each year the board should go back and reevaluate what each subcommittee should do.

Libby Carlsten, management analyst for the Community Services Department, spoke to council about how the boards, commissions and subcommittees function. “(Ex-county Attorney) Peter Dwyer suggested that we use council rules as a template,” Carlsten said.

Environmental Sustainability Board Chair Larry Warner was also in council chambers on Tuesday to address this topic. He said that they really needed to look at ad hoc vs. standing subcommittees. “There are problems associated with subcommittees,” he said. “The ESB is expected to appoint permanent board liaisons and subject monitors. I recommend that council revisit the standing committees,” he said. Gibson then asked Warner if members of the board comprise ESB subcommittees. Warner said, “No. We quickly appointed three liaisons. All five people are board members,” he said.

Council Chair Jim Hall made clear that council supports the boards and commissions. He also made clear that councilors can facilitate boards and commissions work “if they know their place and stick to it.”

He continued by saying that if a councilor gets out of that role, then council needs to fix it.

“I’m inclined to let boards and commissions do what they want within specific rules,” Hall said.

He also expressed concern over non-board members being appointed to subcommittees.

“We go through interviews and a lot of work to get the right people in,” he said. Maybe we need to follow the rules. Maybe subcommittee members need to come to council every year (for appointments).”

Councilor Michael Wheeler concurred with Hall.

“Our rules are flexible and they manage the boards well,” Wheeler said. “There is no need for revision at this time.”

Bowman said that she didn’t see any way to get around the cliques. “It’s another step in bureaucracy,” she said.

Hall brought the discussion to a close when he said, “I don’t think the rules need to be modified. The rules are adequate.” However, he suggested that subcommittees be formally identified in the work plan.