Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Feb. 8, 2023

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Vancouver City Council to review its own policies

How it goes about filling vacancies is among the topics

By , Columbian politics reporter

Next week, the Vancouver City Council will allocate its workshop time to considering policy that governs the governing body. But the council got a sneak peek Monday at the policies that could benefit from an update.

The last policy update was completed in 2011.

“Some of those policies are ripe for refinement,” said City Manager Eric Holmes.

Prior to delving into the nitty gritty, City Attorney Bronson Potter posed a theoretical question.

“Why are we here? Not cosmically, but policy-wise,” Potter said. “It’s good practice to periodically review policies to see if they still address best practices.”

Recent events triggered the need for review, he added.

Perhaps the most notable example was the need to appoint a city councilor. The candidate elected to replace retiring Councilor Jack Burkman, Scott Campbell, died before the November election but won anyway.

In February, the council completed the appointment process and selected Councilor Laurie Lebowsky from a pool of 56 applicants. In order to complete the remainder of the four-year term, Lebowsky is required to seek election this year. She will defend her seat against Sarah Fox, who was also a finalist in the appointment process earlier this year.

Sorting through the vacancy process left some on the council uneasy. As the policy currently stands, the initial process is relatively vague. The council has to formally declare a vacancy, set an interview and appointment schedule, prepare an application form that directs candidates to submit specified documents, and conduct interviews lasting no more than 30 minutes. Once the council gets to the interview process, the policy is fairly explicit. The council can then discuss candidates in an executive session but must come back to a public meeting to vote.

The central question for the council is whether the policy should remain broad so a future council can tailor the process to its preferences, or be more detailed.

The council initially seemed to prefer a more detailed approach to increase transparency; ensuring transparency was an issue of concern during the most recent vacancy process.

This year, candidates were required to submit an F-1 Personal Financial Affairs Statement along with their applications. City staff said this was the piece that garnered the most confusion. But a financial disclosure form isn’t technically required from applicants until they have been appointed. A candidate then has two weeks to submit the form.

Lebowsky said she was glad to have completed the disclosure ahead of time.

“So much is happening at that time, it’s one less thing,” she said.

But not everyone agreed. Councilor Ty Stober said it’s a huge ask of those who didn’t need to submit the form. Councilor Alishia Topper — who may trigger an appointment herself if she wins the Clark County Treasurer seat and has said she would resign from her position in that case — suggested possibly requiring the disclosure of just the top 10 candidates.

Councilor Bart Hansen was a little less forgiving.

“If you’re not willing to fill it out then, when are you going to do it?” Hansen said. “You put a lot of yourself out there when you go for an appointment. When you get elected, it’s going to be the same deal.”

The specifics will be worked out on Monday. At the same workshop, the council will also consider appointment to citizen boards and committees, meeting scheduling, an opt-out for city health insurance, social media and email policies.

Staff asked the council to consider combining the social media and email policies while evaluating compliance rules, ethics and rules for text messages, which are now subject to public disclosure laws.

Some may remember The Columbian reported an issue with email usage in May. Councilor Bill Turlay routinely communicated with the city council using his personal email account.

The proposed changes to the policy will be outlined at the scheduled workshop.

Columbian politics reporter