Council wrestles with public comment issues
April 18, 2019
Members of the Cathlamet Town Council wrestled with public comment policies, the vacancy on the council, stipends, the town water system and a variety of other issues when they met Monday.
The council's policy has been to hear public comment at the beginning of meetings, allowing speakers three minutes to make their points. Although the intent has been to focus on transacting business during the rest of the meeting with comments limited to council and staff, they've listened to public comment on issues during other parts of their meeting.
Citizen Robert Stowe criticized the policy, saying the public can make comments and ask questions about issues, but the mayor and council simply thank speakers for their comments and move on without addressing the concerns.
Mayor Dale Jacobson said he followed the policy in order to keep meetings from turning into long debates.
"This is not a town hall meeting," he said.
"Robert's Rules of Order allow public comment," Stowe said. "When an item comes up on the agenda, we (the public) have a right to comment on it.
"When you don't allow that, it crushes the entire principle of democracy."
"Thank you," Jacobson said, and moved to the next speaker, Ursula Petralia, who addressed the council's plan to develop a park on a Butler Street lot that has been used for public parking. Citizens upset with the acquisition of the lot have filed a recall against the mayor and Council Members Ryan Smith, Jean Burnham and Sue Cameron. A Superior Court judge ruled the recall lacked sufficient merit; an appeal of that decision has gone to the state Supreme Court.
"I recommend you make no decision on the park till the appeal is decided," Petralia said.
"Thank you," Jacobson said and moved on to other business.
The council discussed how to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Tanya Waller but took no action.
Acting Clerk/Treasurer Sylvia Costich said that if the council hasn't filled the position in a certain time, the county board of commissioners assumes responsbility for filling the postion. She thinks the council has until May 28 to fill the position.
Costich has advertised a solicitation for applicants to fill the position; only two people have replied she said. The council could either choose someone Monday night or advertise again and take action at a subsequent meeting. After discussion, Costich agreed to continue advertising. [People interested in serving may contact the town hall office for further information. --editor]
The council took up discussion of paying legal expenses for the mayor and three councilors involved in the recall, an expense allowed in state law.
Town Attorney Fred Johnson said the council would have to follow a process used earlier in which the council members acted on four resolutions covering each individual separately. Each person recused themselves from voting while colleagues voted on their coverage.
At one point, Petralia asked how much had been spent on appeal legal fees, and Costich replied that wasn't appropriate, for it interrupted the council's conduct of their business.
"But they're in violation of Robert's Rules by not allowing . . . ," Stowe said, and Costich and Jacobson started responding simultaneously.
"No more discussion," Jacobson said.
"Of course not," Stowe said. "Business as usual. You guys ought to be ashamed of yourselves. I'm leaving. You don't need to use the gavel. You guys are despicable."
"That's about enough," Council Member Sue Cameron interjected.
"The reason they want me to keep quiet is that I'm the only one who applied in the legal time and they don't want me here," Stowe said.
At that point discussion broke down and voices became heated. Stowe left the meeting.
The council returned to discussing the vacancy and agreed to act at a subsequent meeting.
In other business, the council Public Works Director Duncan Cruickshank and River of Life church representative Richard Bigler iscussed issues related to relocating a water main onto church property.
Cruickshank said the main ruptured last winter and nearly drained the town water system. It is located below the bed of Birnie Creek, and it would be very difficult to get environmental permits to dig up the line there, he said. The town's best option is to relocate the main.
Bigler said the church is willing to have the main installed on church property, but they would like consideration for that. Johnson said that could be accomplished, and Bigler and Cruickshank are to meet again to develop a proposal.
The council will hold public workshops this Friday and April 26, 2-5 p.m., in the River Street Meeting Room to gather and develop ideas for the development of a park on the Butler Street lot. A facilitator will lead a process similar to that used to develop plans for a park on the town's old sewer lagoons.
A third meeting may be held May 4 to gather comment from people who were at work during the Friday meeting times.