Heated words follow council chair selection

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 Wednesday’s council meeting. “The newly elected council people ran on the promise that they would bring the council together and have a team approach.

“That’s 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 council’s 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 Llewellyn’s and Tooloee’s appointment to the Land Use Committee, and her removal, is of particular concern.

“The thing that’s 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 that’s a mischaracterization. I’ve 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 Vann’s 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 don’t think I need to add anything to the statement voters already made.”

Llewellyn said he hopes Vann’s 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 won’t be much difference,” he said. “I’ll be receptive to public input.”

Llewellyn did, though, predict a difference in the committee’s recommendations on land use policies, toward more “balance” and fewer “preconceptions.”

Tooloee said his work on the committee will reflect Bainbridge’s “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. “It’s never been done that way. We usually try to have a consensus.”

She strongly opposed Vancil’s election to the position.

“I’ve 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 Vancil’s personal style may cause clashes with Mayor Darlene Kordonowy.

“I’ve 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.

“I’m very upset Bill’s not the chair,” she said. “Bill’s good at running meetings and is congenial. Most people like Bill.”

Knobloch rejected Vann’s nomination, citing personal commitments for not pursuing the chair.

“The council chair is a very nice compliment,” he said. “But what’s more important is the council doing its job.

“I’m for whatever works. It’s not a major issue.”

Knobloch did agree with Vann’s characterization of the council’s 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 Vann’s accusations about the selection process should not be “dignified by a comment,” while Vancil called Vann’s 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 council’s confidence in her ability to lead.

“I can’t elect myself,” she said. “You can’t 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. “We’re 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 Vann’s 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 Vann’s speech “may have ticked a lot of us off and embarrassed us.” But, she added, the council’s committee selection process often leaves some unhappy.

“Every year there’s bruised feelings but we keep going,” Rolfes said. “It’s just that not all of this is made public.”

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