Bainbridge council can’t agree on first get-together

The schedule for the new city council’s first retreat is in limbo after Bainbridge Island councilmembers failed to find agreement at their first meeting of the year on whether the informal get-together should be held on a Friday or a Saturday.

The topic became the subject of extended discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, the first council gathering of 2020 and also the first for newly installed councilmembers Michael Pollock and Kirsten Hytopoulos.

City staff had hoped to nail down a date for the retreat on a Friday in March. Officials were looking to bring in a facilitator for the daylong session, namely, Ron Holifield of Strategic Government Resources, a consultant who has helmed previous council retreats for Bainbridge.

But setting a date for a Friday, to make it easier for city department heads and staff to attend, quickly proved problematic.

New Councilman Michael Pollock said he wanted the retreat held on a Saturday, so it would not interfere with his work schedule. Pollock is a policy analyst for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in Seattle.

Councilman Kol Medina and Councilman Matthew Tirman, though, said they preferred to keep the retreat on a Friday, as suggested by City Manager Morgan Smith.

“Well, I guess you would be having it without me then,” Pollock said.

Taking a day off from work, Pollock added, was “not really going to be an option for me.”

When that answer prompted an incredulous “Really?” from one of his council colleagues, Pollock added, “Yeah, it’s going to be tough.”

That prompted a prolonged debate of a Friday versus Saturday retreat.

Councilwoman Rasham Nassar sided with Pollock, and said a Saturday meeting would fit better with her husband’s work schedule and child-care arrangements, but it also couldn’t be held on Saturday, March 28.

While Councilman Joe Deets said he was flexible on the day, new Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos said she hoped the retreat would be on a Friday to better fit with the schedules of city staff.

When Pollock then suggested the retreat could be held on the last Saturday in February, Medina noted he would be out of town.

Asked again if he could consider agreeing to a Friday retreat, Pollock demurred.

“It’s going to be tough,” Pollock said.

Pollock reminded his council counterparts about the discussion earlier in the meeting about committee assignments and his inability to take part on any advisory groups that meet during weekdays. (Councilmembers serve as liaisons to multiple committees, and some of them, such as the Design Review Board, Historic Preservation Committee, and Environmental Technical Advisory Committee, hold meetings on weekday afternoons.)

Tuesday’s meeting was the first for Bainbridge’s revised council, with Pollock and Hytopoulos joining the seven-member body after winning seats in the November election.

Questions about Pollock’s ability to be a full participant in council business, however, dogged him during the campaign. Pollock ran for a council seat after two years on the board of commissioners for the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park & Recreation District, where he drew press attention after missing half of the board meetings in his first year as a commissioner.

For the new council on Tuesday, it was not a harmonious first meeting, but marked instead by multiple “this is the way we do it” reminders from veteran councilmembers.

There had been a few tense moments earlier in the meeting, including during a discussion about forming a public farmland ad hoc committee, where Tirman snapped back at Pollock for putting words in his mouth about a suggestion Tirman had made earlier about the committee’s makeup.

Talk about committee assignments also turned into a tug-of-war and fell short of a full resolution.

Setting the date for the upcoming retreat also proved elusive.

After the continued back-and-forth, Mayor Leslie Schneider ultimately suggested ending the conversation, as a compromise wasn’t looking likely.

“This issue is starting to feel a little hot. We need to bail,” Schneider said. “People are digging in a little bit.”

Hytopoulos said the conversation was needed at some point, because it touched a bigger issue — whether the council would be able to have any workday meetings with full participation.

“That’s a conversation we need to have,” Hytopoulos said.

When Pollock was asked once more if he could just take a day off work, he was again noncommittal and suggested the council defer the conversation until a later date.

In the meantime, the city manager said she would check with their retreat facilitator to find out his availability in March, on both Fridays and Saturdays.

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