Political affiliation charter may be revisited

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By Jennifer Garcia

Tuesday night’s county council meeting was chock-full of discussion and little action. Designated as a work session, the meeting was held in the town hall in White Rock.

One of the topics discussed at the meeting dealt with concepts, plans and practices for integrated maintenance of county assets. Capital Projects and Facilities Director Anne Laurent gave councilors a brief presentation outlining the plan.

According to county documents, on May 14, the county administrator created a Maintenance Planning Working Group comprised of Janet Bettinger, Stephani Johnson, Anne Laurent, Steven Lynne and Kyle Zimmerman to work on a plan to improve county maintenance planning and processes.

The group has met twice to discuss what an integrated maintenance plan requires.

The document further states that integrated maintenance affects all county departments in charge of maintaining assets.

Four departments are currently responsible for the majority of the maintenance work: Capital Projects and Facilities, Community Services, Public Works and Utilities. Community Services, Information Technology and Public Works were also identified as maintaining assets and will be added to the discussion.

The group started by identifying how maintenance is currently planned and priorities within Facilities, Parks, Pavement and Traffic.

Following Laurent’s presentation, Council Chair Michael Wheeler said the county has had a history of deferring maintenance.

“The idea was to use the assessment tools and come up with a schedule and budget that council could adopt to maintain facilities,” he said. “We still have a long way to go.”

Councilor Ralph Phelps said he felt that it’s effective to move toward integrated maintenance efforts.

“It’s a good way to make sure you have a firm basis of where you want to go,” he commented.

“This is an excellent start. Most complaints have come from people who feel maintenance is lacking,” Councilor Nona Bowman said.

Councilor Robert Gibson concurred with the other councilors.

“Preventative maintenance has been a frustration for a long time. We need to keep it updated once we have a new baseline established,” he said.

No action was taken on the topic.

Another discussion during the meeting focused on the charter requirement of political party affiliation for members of boards and commissions.

Council Vice Chair Mike Wismer began the discussion by saying he thinks the charter should be revisited. He pointed out an instance in which a person had applied for a seat on the Utilities Board but had to be turned away because of party affiliation.

Wismer did say that he would like to hear from the boards and commissions before council did something about the charter.

Wismer then moved, seconded by Phelps, to direct staff to solicit input from the community and Board and Commission members on the question of possibly amending the charter provisions related to political party affiliation for members of Boards and Commissions and return to council with that input by Sept. 30 for any further direction.

Though Wismer wanted to have the charter possibly changed, most of the councilors did not agree with such a move.

Phelps seemed to think that the “Decline to State” portion of an application is sufficient and if people choose not to reveal their political party affiliation, all they have to do is DTS.

“We have DTS, if someone claims DTS, who cares what party they’re affiliated with?” Phelps stated.

County Attorney Mary McInerny informed Phelps that this is not how it works. She explained that even though a person may choose DTS, the county clerk still checks the person’s party affiliation through voter records.

Following Phelps’ comments, Councilor Vincent Chiravalle offered a substitute motion that council direct staff to prepare the necessary ordinances and resolutions to amend the charter to remove the requirements related to political party affiliation for members of Boards and Commissions.

Timing of the public hearing for this ordinance should be scheduled to occur before Jan. 1, 2010.

This amendment would be decided by the residents as part of the next general election in November 2010. The motion failed, due to lack of a second.

Gibson did not think that the charter needed to be changed.

“This requirement serves to maintain some political balance. I’ve seen processes of partisan politics enter into it which is not beneficial to the community,” he said. “This stands as a prohibition for abuse. I’ve thought about this for the past 15 years. It doesn’t hurt us all that much and it stands against abuse and serves to balance.”

Councilor Sharon Stover said that she’d like to get staff information on the Boards and Commissions.

“I’d like to see if this is a huge issue,” she said.

Wheeler said Gibson hit the nail on the head with his statements.

“There are risks in giving up political affiliation. It identifies fundamentals that different people migrate toward. Not having a balance in Boards and Commissions would be a mistake. They have a large impact on council decisions. It’s important to maintain that distinction,” Wheeler said.

He went on to say that he believes this subject warrants some investigation and planned on supporting the motion.

Stover and Gibson added friendly amendments to Wismer’s motion.

The final product read: “I move that council direct staff to solicit input from the community and Boards and Commissions including the political party citizen review panel and staff on the question of possibly amending the Charter provisions related to political party affiliation for members Boards and Commissions and to return to council with that input by Sept. 30 for any further direction.

The motion passed 6-0, as Councilor Nona Bowman, who had been participating via phone, signed off before the discussion began.