Everett City Council plotted before moving meetings

  • Tue Feb 9th, 2010 9:25pm
  • News

By Debra Smith, Herald Writer

EVERETT — A controversial resolution to move City Council meetings to mornings may have been a surprise to the public and half the council, but it wasn’t to key city staff.

Councilmen Ron Gipson and Arlan Hatloe asked the city attorney to draft the resolution at least three weeks in advance, according to documents obtained through a public records request.

“It obviously had been prepared ahead of time,” said Councilman Paul Roberts, who opposes morning meetings. “It wasn’t written on a napkin.”

A Dec. 14 e-mail from city attorney Jim Iles to Gipson and Hatloe includes a copy of the resolution and says, “Ron, Arlan, Attached, please find a draft of the resolution we discussed. Please contact me if you have questions.”

Gipson brought forward the resolution at a Jan. 6 meeting.

Hatloe and Gipson didn’t return phone calls Tuesday from The Herald.

However, both Hatloe and Gipson last month said the idea had been planned in advance.

Iles declined to say when the councilmen approached him about the resolution, saying that line of questioning falls under attorney-client privilege and therefore he did not have to disclose that information to the public.

The meeting time matter might finally get put to rest tonight. The council plans to vote on an ordinance suggested by Councilman Shannon Affholter. It calls for three Wednesday night meetings a month and one 12:30 p.m. meeting.

At the Jan. 6 meeting Gipson introduced a resolution to change meeting times. The resolution wasn’t on the council’s official agenda.

It surprised the three councilmembers who opposed it. The council voted 4-3 to hold most of its meetings in the morning — keeping just one at night each month, the minimum required by the city charter.

After the meeting, Hatloe said the move was coordinated in advance partly as retribution for a surprise resolution by Councilman Drew Nielsen the previous year to move meetings from mornings to evenings.

The most recent surprise move angered people in the city, who chastised the council for trying to shut them out and settling political scores at the public’s expense. A group sprang up to collect signatures for a special spring election so voters could decide for themselves what time regular council meetings would be held.

It’s legal for a council member to bring forward a resolution that’s not on the agenda, but it’s not the best practice, said Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government.

“As an elected official, you have a duty to give the public a fair opportunity to be aware of business so they can be there or contact councilmembers to comment,” he said.

The City Council could prevent surprise items from showing up on the agenda in the future by passing a resolution that requires no final action be taken on new business without first placing it on the agenda, he said.

The resolution could include an exception for emergencies.

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, dsmith@heraldnet.com.

Decision tonight

The Everett City Council plans to decide tonight on whether it should hold three night meetings and one lunchtime meeting a month. The special meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the City Hall chambers, 3002 Wetmore Ave.