Heated words follow council chair selection
June 9, 2008 · Updated 5:26 PM
A cabal of pro-development colleagues earns rebuke by Vann.
Selection of a new council chair and committee appointments this week drew the ire of one councilor who hopes to expose a pro-development, anti-environment bloc taking hold of city government.
I feel sad and angry and disappointed, Councilwoman Deborah Vann said, in an emotional speech at the end of Wednesdays council meeting. The newly elected council people ran on the promise that they would bring the council together and have a team approach.
Thats not happening.
Vann challenged the selection process by which Debbie Vancil was named chair, while Vann herself was stripped of her leadership position on the Land Use Committee.
Vann accused Vancil and the three most recently elected councilors Nezam Tooloee, Jim Llewellyn and Bob Scales of forming a closed coalition to install Vancil as chair, and make committee assignments without the approval of colleagues.
On Wednesday, Llewellyn was named chair of the Land Use Committee; Tooloee will take the helm of Finance and Personnel from Vancil; and Christine Rolfes will take over the Community Relations Committee from Scales.
Bill Knobloch will retain his chairmanship of the councils Public Works Committee. Vancil will keep a leadership role in Operations, which deals with council procedural matters, and will hand the Capital Facilities chair to Scales.
Vann said Llewellyns and Tooloees appointment to the Land Use Committee, and her removal, is of particular concern.
The thing thats most sad is that Nezam Tooloee is taking my place next year on Land Use and that Jim Llewellyn is chair, Vann said in her speech. She said the two councilors will be a polarizing and anti-environmental force on the committee.
Vann said her leadership on the committee last year reversed a divisive tendency that often pitted developers against environmentalists. She expects Tooloee and Llewellyn to push a pro-development agenda.
After the meeting, Llewellyn and Tooloee rejected her characterizations.
She used that characterization when we ran against each other in 2001, Llewellyn said. I thought we spent enough time on the council together for her to know thats a mischaracterization. Ive never been aggressively pro-development.
I appreciate what we have here on Bainbridge as much as anybody. I want to keep and preserve our natural resources and the beauty we have here.
Tooloee said voters know his character.
We had an election last year and a fair number of people, including Debbie Vanns friends, tried to portray me as a candidate for the developers and used rather unkind language, he said. But by a huge margin, voters rejected that characterization.
I dont think I need to add anything to the statement voters already made.
Llewellyn said he hopes Vanns pique has subsided, making way for a productive and stable council in 2005.
She was obviously in an emotional and heated state, he said. I certainly forgive her.
Llewelyn pledged to run the Land Use Committee in an open and inclusive way.
I suspect there wont be much difference, he said. Ill be receptive to public input.
Llewellyn did, though, predict a difference in the committees recommendations on land use policies, toward more balance and fewer preconceptions.
Tooloee said his work on the committee will reflect Bainbridges highly environmentally aware community.
He said his involvement will be based on inclusion, rather than a heavy-handed, exclusively regulatory approach.
In her comments, Vann also accused Vancil and the three new councilors of reneging on what she described as an earlier commitment to elect Knobloch to the council chair position.
Basically, (Vancil) said she had four votes and was going to be chair, Vann said in an interview Thursday. Its never been done that way. We usually try to have a consensus.
She strongly opposed Vancils election to the position.
Ive never been impressed with her ability to lead, Vann said. She tends to take things over. She can be rude and impolite in public.
Vann predicted that Vancils personal style may cause clashes with Mayor Darlene Kordonowy.
Ive never heard her say a good thing about Darlene, Vann said. Last year, it was our priority to get along with the mayor. Vancil has the least ability to get along with Darlene.
In contrast, Vann said Knobloch, her nominee for chair, would have been a better choice.
Im very upset Bills not the chair, she said. Bills good at running meetings and is congenial. Most people like Bill.
Knobloch rejected Vanns nomination, citing personal commitments for not pursuing the chair.
The council chair is a very nice compliment, he said. But whats more important is the council doing its job.
Im for whatever works. Its not a major issue.
Knobloch did agree with Vanns characterization of the councils behavior outside the public eye.
Like it or not, everything Vann said was true, he said. The political season is already upon us.
The coalition of Vancil, Llewellyn, Scales and Nezam have control of the council. They will have to answer to the public.
Tooloee said Vanns accusations about the selection process should not be dignified by a comment, while Vancil called Vanns accusations nonsense and said her feelings are not shared with the other members of the council.
Vancil pointed to the 6-1 vote, with Vann dissenting, that elected her to the chair as proof of the councils confidence in her ability to lead.
I cant elect myself, she said. You cant be elected council chair without the ability to work with others.
The committee selection process happened largely through phone and email, Vancil said. While the process followed usual customs, she said, not all council people were as involved as in the past.
Vancil said she repeatedly offered Vann a position to the Land Use Committee, but her offers were ignored.
Vann said her possible inclusion into the committee was framed as a switch with Rolfes and not as an appointment.
Rolfes has consented to the switch, and Vann is considering the offer.
Vann said she has seen a growing disinterest in the new members of council and Vancil to communicate and compromise.
She said this does not bode well for the council in 2005.
Rigid coalitions are not a good thing period, she said. Were seeing a lot of three to four votes. Things did not used to be so clanny.
Vann said she feels the four-member voting bloc often have their minds made up before votes, making discussion useless.
If I have a difference of opinion, I might as well not even talk, she said. I feel sort of hopeless.
But Vancil and some other councilors look forward to an effective and efficient city government next year.
This in no way affects the council, Vancil said. This was a decision Vann inflicted on the council.
After Vanns speech, Vancil pledged to work for each councilor equally.
I know we have seven strong and independent council people who differ because we represent our community, she said. I pledge a collegial process.
Rolfes said Vanns speech may have ticked a lot of us off and embarrassed us. But, she added, the councils committee selection process often leaves some unhappy.
Every year theres bruised feelings but we keep going, Rolfes said. Its just that not all of this is made public.