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Council skips critical step in appointing Planning Commission members

The Bainbridge Island City Council approved the appointment of two members to its Planning Commission last week based on a faulty selection process.

At the beginning of the meeting, the council made two additions to the agenda: the appointments and also a discussion on its selection process.

Since it was a day-of addition, there was no public notice of the appointments nor was there information distributed on the candidates. Moreover, the process used to select the new members of the commission contained several flaws that, once acknowledged, were bypassed by the council.

“Rather than reconstruct what we screwed up, we just had to acknowledge we did it,” Councilwoman Anne Blair said.

Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopolous disagreed with how it was done and abstained from voting on either candidate.

“To me, we’ve created a process that’s less inclusive of the full council’s voice,” said Hytopolous. “So, the process that has played out is not consistent of what I understood we were doing.”

Two months ago, council voted to change the appointment process for Planning Commission members since the duties it enlists are critical and sometimes “quasi-judicial,” where members decide land-use matters.

At the July 24 council meeting, it was proposed to have a screening committee composed of the mayor, the Planning Commission chairman and department director. The committee would review applications and qualifications of each candidate then forward the application materials alongside written recommendations for the city council to consider.

In a following executive session, the council would conduct interviews and develop a prioritized list of candidates for appointment which would later be voted on in a public session council meeting.

Over the dais at the July 24 meeting, the council decided to add one more leg to the proposed task.

After the full council prioritizes the list of candidates, a randomly selected two-person subcommittee of council members would then make nominations before bringing it to the public session.

At last week’s council meeting, however, it was discovered the extra leg of the process had been skipped over and the screening committee had performed more than their share of the duties.

Instead of having the council members conduct interviews in the executive session, the mayor, commission chair and department director took over the role.

Mayor Steve Bonkowski explained at last week’s council session that when he requested information on how to proceed with the candidates he received the drafted selection process that did not yet include the two-person subcommittee.

City Manager Doug Schulze told the council if the majority of the group felt the decision was urgent enough, a vote could be made to appoint commission members that night.

Since the Planning Commission had several public hearings scheduled this week, the council decided to move forward with the appointments with the understanding that the procedure be cleaned up at a following meeting.

The agenda should not be amended lightly, Hytopolous later explained. With the Planning Commission, she said, it is imperative that a well-thought out process happens because there are controversial projects that they will be looking at this year.

Hytopolous abstained from both votes.

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