Monday, February 6, 2023
Feb. 6, 2023

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Vancouver City Council pauses policy discussion

Broad definition of ‘action’ complicates meetings-law issue

By , Columbian politics reporter

The Vancouver City Council was unable to wade through proposed changes to its governing policy in the allotted two hours Monday evening so the council will take up the discussion again Sept. 10.

Topping the list of addressed policy was council attendance at meetings held by other agencies and filling a council vacancy.

As it stands now, if four or more councilors attend the same meeting or event where city business is considered, they break public meeting laws by having a quorum without proper notice.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much the council can do to the policy to fix the problem, City Attorney Bronson Potter said. The issue lies with the broad definition of “action,” which includes consideration of an issue. An extended definition of special meetings and what constitutes a meeting is one of the proposed changes to the meetings policy.

The problem most commonly arises at neighborhood association meetings and fundraisers.

“There’s got to be a way in law that your city council can go and show support for those organizations that are doing so much good for our community,” Councilor Alishia Topper said.

Other city councils issue special meeting notices, Potter said, which the council is trying to avoid relying on as a solution.

The changes that will likely be made with the meetings policy include removing the five-member requirement to vote on the city’s budget, and allowing the mayor or city manager to extend workshops beyond the 4 to 6 p.m. time frame.

Council appointments

Given the chances that Topper will win her bid for Clark County treasurer — she received nearly 70 percent of the vote in the primary — City Manager Eric Holmes stressed the need to complete a review of the policy addressing a council vacancy, at bare minimum.

Specific guidelines

The proposed policy changes would provide specific guidelines to navigating the appointment process. The changes emulate the process the council opted for when filling a vacancy in February that resulted in the appointment of Councilor Laurie Lebowsky.

To start, the proposed policy outlines what happens if a council member resigns, and allows the council to begin the replacement process before the effective date of the resignation. This would allow the council to complete an appointment faster.

Applicants only need to be a qualified elector in the new policy. However, the two-year residency requirement is still necessary for any candidate who plans to seek election. Appointed councilors are required to seek public election to fill the remainder of the term. Lebowsky, for example, is currently running to keep her seat.

The proposed policy also addresses required application materials and the distribution of applications once the deadline passes.

Candidates would need to submit a financial disclosure form known as an F-1, which the council debated about last week. There were no concerns brought up this week on the matter.

Marking a change from the most recent process, the policy would now stipulate that all applications be posted on the city’s website for review with redactions of personal contact information.

Perhaps the largest change, however, addresses how the council evaluates candidates.

The proposed policy details that the council will conduct an initial review of all applications within three days, although the council indicated a week is preferable given that 56 applications were received this year. If more than 10 applications are received, the council would provide an unranked list of preferred candidates to consider in executive session before announcing the list of finalists.

The policy also spells out action taken by the council in February — sequestration of the candidates. During the interview process, finalists will be sequestered without electronic devices.

The council touched on a policy to opt out of city-provided health insurance, the Sunshine Fund, citizen board appointments, and a combined email and social media policy, but it still needs to finish discussing proposed changes. The discussion will continue at the next scheduled workshop with tentative approvals planned for Sept. 24.

Columbian politics reporter