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Mayor, city council seeing early rift

Reading the resume, it’s not readily apparent what might be controversial about Lafe Myers, M.D.

He has a medical degree from the University of Washington, became board-certified in psychiatry, and moved into medical management before retiring to Bainbridge Island.

To get more involved in the community, he applied for a seat on the Bainbridge Planning Commission, and Mayor Darlene Kordonowy nominated him for the post earlier this month.

“I have quite a bit of experience in general planning,” Myers said, “and I was on the homeowners’ association committee and on a committee dealing with water quality at Lake Chelan.

“I thought this was something important to do to make a contribution in this community.”

But far from straightforward, the nomination became mired in controversy, a manifestation of what some see as a power struggle between the mayor and the city council – particularly the new members – with each side claiming the other has overreached.

To the council, Myers’ nomination was mishandled. Members say Kordonowy should have withdrawn Myers’ name after newly elected council member Deborah Vann privately raised objections.

“This should have been resolved before the nomination was brought to the floor,” council chair Michael Pollock said. “We should have discussed things and come to a mutually agreeable nominee.”

When Kordonowy did nominate Myers and Environmental Protection Agency employee Mike Cox at the council’s last meeting, Pollock objected on procedural grounds, saying such nominations should originate with the council’s operations committee, and a heated exchange ensued.

The council voted to approve Cox, but voted 5-2 to send Myers’ nomination back to committee. Norm Wooldridge and Lois Curtis dissented, indicating they were ready to approve the nomination.

Kordonowy now says the procedural argument is a facade.

“The council is raising procedural questions, but in the end, they aren’t really procedural,” she said. “The questions are who makes decisions and when.”

Pollock supports his version of the appropriate process by pointing to a 1996 council resolution which states that the operations committee would “review and recommend” names of appointments for the mayor to submit to the council.

“Technically, the mayor makes the appointments,” Pollock said, “but if we reach agreement first, it avoids a floor fight.”

But Kordonowy points to city ordinances, which state that planning commissioners are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the city council.

“The code overrides the resolution,” Kordonowy said. “And I have suggested that it makes more sense for my office to do the up-front work to bring nominations forward. We need to get people on the commission.”

Kordonowy also said the council tends to invoke or waive procedural arguments as it sees fit.

“A couple of council people argue that we have got to follow the rules, but they don’t always follow them,” she said.

With the Myers appointment, some council members objected on substantive grounds, Pollock said.

Vann, who initially objected to Myers, repeatedly refused this week to disclose her reasons, saying she did not believe it would be appropriate to air them publicly.

“I don’t like the way you spin things,” she told the Review Monday.

Other sources this week said Vann’s objections involved actions she believed Myers took in his career in medical management. But Myers said he has never met Vann, and that she declined to attend a meeting with him, Wooldridge and Councilwoman Christine Nasser that Wooldridge set up to discuss the process.

Pollock said he had his own concerns about Myers.

“He is not known in the community, has no planning experience, and has only been on the island for a couple of years,” Pollock said. “I think if he wants to get involved, he should have first volunteered for a less important role on another committee.”

Cox, who the council approved, has also lived on the island for just two years, according to his resume.

But Pollock said his background was more clearly applicable to the work of the planning commission.

“He had a strong background in the environmental area, which seemed relevant to what the planning commission does,” he said.

The rift

The rift comes as the new mayor and council each try to find their footing.

Pollock and other members say they want to become more of an “independent” legislative body, and have asked for more space upstairs at city hall and dedicated staff support. Vann has also asked for the use of a city-purchased laptop computer.

Kordonowy said this week the administration is generally favorable on space and computer access issues, but does not favor adding staff for the council. And she was candid in her irritation over the nomination rift, saying the council has lost sight of goals and has resorted to “posturing.”

“When I took this job, I had no idea my relationship with this council, in this short of time, would be this hostile,” she said Monday.

The dispute also arises at a critical time for the planning commission because of the unprecedented number of vacancies. New member Cox and Bill Luria, appointed in mid-2001, are the only members whose terms carry over into next year.

Two seats are presently vacant, the one to which Myers was named and one created when interim appointee Yolanka Wulff resigned recently. The terms of Sean Parker, Charles Averill and Tom Dreiling expire at the end of February.

Kordonowy said she will re-appoint Parker and Averill, but two-term incumbent Dreiling has said he does not want a third term.

To Pollock, the vacancies are an opportunity to re-shape the commission.

“I would like to see us look at the vacancies as a whole to get a balance, not only a balance of viewpoints, but things like a gender balance,” he said.

Pollock said the council may not go along with the reappointments of Parker and Averill, expressing concern about the connections of Parker, an architect, to “the development community.”

He said he believes the commission should include a “neighborhood activist,” which he defines as being a leader of one of the island neighborhood associations.

After a retreat on organizational issues Saturday, Kordonowy said she was more confident the sides can stop battling over turf and begin acting substantively.

“The issue is not whether the council is more powerful or the mayor is more powerful,” she said. “I hope the council can put the posturing behind and move forward.”

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