Bainbridge council forwards UAC policy changes for approval

The Bainbridge Island City Council has given the first nod to several major policy changes for the city's Utility Advisory Committee.

The changes to how the UAC operates were OK'd this week to add to next week's business meeting agenda for approval.

Under the new changes, the committee must stick to matters of policy and operate under the state Open Public Meetings Act.

City officials said clarity was needed in how the UAC operates.

"Having served in that committee from the very beginning and now as the council liaison of the committee, having some things come to the committee and some things not, was always quite frustrating," said Councilman Dave Ward.

"So this at least clarifies it and indicates that not everything comes to the committee, but the major policy that has do with important change," he said.

A subcommittee of the council made up of Ward, Mayor Anne Blair and Councilman Steve Bonkowski brought recommended policy changes to the dais earlier this month to help get the committee back on its feet in time for the Capitol Improvement Plan update.

One of the most significant changes to the committee's scope of work is the renewed focus on city-utility related policies.

Day-to-day operational issues will be beyond the purview of the committee.

"That is the challenge for all of us, and certainly we've received public comment in writing about this, that we're going to need to focus and be sure we're clear on what (the) policy issues (are)," Blair said.

Accordingly, the UAC will be required to provide recommendations to the council on the city-utility policy issues before the council takes action on such items.

The second most significant change requires the committee to operate under the Open Public Meetings Act. This will be done by issuing advance public notice of upcoming meetings, keeping consistent minutes of each session, accepting public comment and utilizing city-issued email accounts.

The UAC has been criticized in the past for not keeping minutes or records of its meetings, attempting to stifle public comment, and for extensive private email communications between committee members and some on the council. The last chairwoman of the advisory group, Arlene Buetow, resigned earlier this year in part due to requests for emails she sent on UAC business to other officials and what she said was a lack of support from city hall.

Along with overall increased staff support under the policy changes, the committee members will receive training on using their new city-provided email accounts and on the privacy expectations for using personal computers on city business.

The revised makeup of the UAC will also be limited to seven voting members, a reduction from the earlier maximum of nine voting members.

At Monday's meeting, the council forwarded the changes for a final reading on Monday, March 24.

Once the policy changes are approved, the council will reopen the member application and appointment process for the committee, which has been in limbo since Buetow's resignation. The UAC now has just two members on board.

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