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Nasser Rolfes takes council reins

In committee, away from the cameras and a sometimes incredulous public eye, things didn’t go that badly for the city council and mayor last year, Christine Nasser Rolfes says.

Sometimes, after a tough issue was tackled and resolved, members would sit back and say, “Too bad the public didn’t see that.”

“Yes, there were squabbles, posturing, and inappropriate public remarks,” Nasser Rolfes said. “It was unpleasant for people to watch and it was personally draining to be a part of. It was a tough year of transition. But I hope to put that behind us in 2003.

“There are a lot of difficult issues for us to tackle together and we need to mend fences, move forward, focus on the policies and the vision, and get away from the personalities.”

With her ascension to council chair, Nasser Rolfes will be intrinsic to any mending or moving. She cites as a primary goal maintaining “professional decorum and an atmosphere of respect and trust” in the council’s deliberations.

“That will raise our own morale,” she said, “and with that, I think it will raise everybody’s.”

Council colleagues Norm Wooldridge and Bill Knobloch say she’s up to the task.

“What I admire in her is that she’s a very intelligent, thoughtful and compassionate person who will be a great asset to the council (as chair),” Wooldridge said. “She’s thoughtful of other people, and thoughtful of the work that’s at hand.

“While I don’t always agree with her, I very much respect the way she goes about her work...”

Knobloch said she has already marshalled the council for the first meeting of the year, and a potentially challenging workshop on city management issues.

“She seems like she has a sense of this council, how activist we are, and I think basically she’s going to respond accordingly,” he said.

A former international development director turned stay-at-home mom, Nasser Rolfes joined the council in 2000 after campaigning on her “passion for public policy” and goal of making Bainbridge “the community that took the Growth Management Act and prospered under it.”

She has focused her energies largely on growth issues, and will continue to serve on the land use committee in 2003.

Entering the fourth year of her first term representing what is now the “southwest” ward, Nasser Rolfes succeeds Michael Pollock in leading the council. She has credited her predecessor with redefining the position, from a pro forma role of leading meetings in the mayor’s absence, to pulling the council together into something resembling a unified body.

To that end, she wants to see adoption of a “council manual” early in the year, guidelines that will formalize agenda-setting and establish rules for the orderly introduction of legislation.

She will also lead the council’s operations committee – including Wooldridge and Councilwoman Deborah Vann – working with the mayor to keep the workload “manageable” and the proceedings efficient, and ensure that neither legislature nor executive are surprised by the other’s initiatives.

“And we all need to be up to speed on Robert’s Rules of Order,” she said, alluding to the occasional entanglement of council proceedings in thickets of competing motions and amendments.

“Since I’ve been on the council, meetings have always been long,” she said, adding half-jokingly, “but not because of me.”

In conversation, Nasser Rolfes is guarded in her appraisal of 2002, marred by behind-the-scenes conflicts and often seemingly driven more by personalities than issues.

She is credited with coining the term “the Alpha girls,” referring to the five elected women who sometimes found themselves at odds on and off the council chambers dais.

But it was also a year of accomplishment, Nasser Rolfes maintains. She cited the council’s successful adoption of the Non-Motorized Transportation Plan, after copious public input and revisions; city acquisition of two waterfront parcels with open space dollars; and progress toward public acquisition of the Wyckoff property and preservation of the Serenity House care center.

For 2003, she expects the council’s attention to shift to “huge” environmental issues facing the community.

The council will undertake revisions to the city’s “flex lot” ordinance for subdivisions, its provisions thrown into question by a Washington Supreme Court ruling that struck down some requirements for retention of private open space in developments. Also up for revision is the critical areas ordinance on wetlands.

And before January is over, a divided Bainbridge Planning Commission is expected to punt controversial shoreline regulations to the council for consideration.

Nasser Rolfes described her colleagues as “talented and smart people,” successful professionals who have given a lot to the community and will contribute more still.

“Maybe some of us will never like each other, but we can still work together and show respect,” she said.

“I’m very optimistic and confident we can have a better year.”

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