The Bainbridge Island City Council recently favored some revisions to its governance manual pertaining to enhancing involvement from all councilmembers for agenda-setting meetings.
Mayor Rasham Nassar brought the proposal to the council. It had planned to vote on the changes at last week’s meeting, but it was removed from the agenda.
Starting in June of 2020, only the mayor, deputy mayor, and city manager have attended the weekly agenda-setting meetings, with exceptions for a third council member to be present for a specific issue or to add consultation.
If approved, such meetings would allow for a third councilmember “with an emphasis on providing an opportunity for those who have not yet served as deputy mayor or mayor an opportunity to learn about and participate in agenda-setting, and also to achieve accountability and follow-through on items of particular importance to (e.g., sponsored by) individual council members,” according to the proposal.
The majority hope the proposed change would give councilmembers more experience and shave some time off of meetings.
“The thinking there is that if we allow a third council member to attend the agenda-setting meetings on Thursday, we will reduce the amount of time that we spend on the future agendas portion, which is reserved at the front of all of our meetings,” Nassar said. “If we were to allow councilmembers in that room with us on a rotating basis, there’ll be more council members to hold accountable the agenda team to making sure that items that were added and discussed work their way appropriately through the agenda timeline.”
Brenda Fantroy-Johnson, who was recently appointed to the council, favors the change because she believes involvement and transparency from all councilmembers should be at the forefront of such meetings.
“I think it’s important that we don’t forget there’s an equity issue in here (council),” she said. “The whole idea of two people being responsible; that’s not equitable. I think we need to start relaxing it, and let everyone participate because I’d like to participate.
“It’s fine if you don’t want to go, nobody’s making you go. But why exclude the people who want to go? What do you think happens in there that other people shouldn’t hear?”
Another councilmember in favor of the change is Michael Pollock, who said: “I think this makes sense. I support experimenting until we get it right. I hear the concerns but I don’t see those as major concerns.”
Councilmember Christy Carr also favors a change.
Councilmember Leslie Schneider, who previously served as mayor, is against the proposed change and said: “I just don’t understand at this time the efficiency advantage of adding a third member to the agenda-setting meetings. That still leaves four members to have their own opinions at the agenda-setting section of our agenda. I’m not sure that it’s going to really shorten up the time.”
Also against the change is Councilmember Joe Deets, who said: “I want the mayor and deputy mayor to do this, not just me sitting there. I think it would be more democratic to stay the way we currently are… If you guys (mayor, deputy mayor) can’t agree, please come to the rest of us, and then we’ll talk about it.”
The third councilmember opposed to the proposed change in section 2.4.6. of the manual was Deputy Mayor Kirsten Hytopoulos, who stated this would be a fundamental policy change to the city, citing that most municipalities have the city manager conduct the bulk of the agenda preparation.
“I can’t support this at all,” she said. “It is a further departure of what we’ve been taught over the years. We can always not accept an agenda. We can always change an agenda.”
“If we don’t trust our city manager, we replace our city manager. We don’t do the city manager’s job, and we don’t assert ourselves in the situation. We don’t change the governance manual every time we have a new mayor. We change the governance manual because we all decide that we want to change our policy.”
Nassar has also proposed other changes to the manual focused on improving council efficiency and time, which will be considered for approval at a future meeting. They include, “the city manager shall maintain a running list of time-sensitive agenda items requiring council action, and identifying which proposed agenda items have a time-sensitive legal requirement (public hearing), which are administrative time-sensitivity and which can be deferred to a later date.”
“Items not requiring council action – such as presentations, updates and items of general interest to the public – shall be held at administrative debriefing meetings that council members have the option of attending and asking questions,” another proposal reads. “These meetings will be communicated to the public through live streaming and video recordings that are posted to the city’s website so they can be viewed in a timely manner by councilmembers and members of the public unable to attend in real-time.
“Agenda items for study sessions shall generally be reserved for subjects that have been determined by the agenda-setting team to require extended council deliberation and input. The agenda-setting team shall work to limit expected meeting lengths to no more than two hours, with a maximum of three hours for exceptional circumstances.”