Saturday, January 9, 2010

January 12, 2010 - Issue of the Week

This will be the first County Council meeting of 2010, and the first meeting for new Council members Ken Mann, Kathy Kerschner and Bill Knutzen. Our packet is relatively light this week with only 292 pages of material to review (not including items for introduction). There are a number of interesting items in the packet this week, but there are two items that seem to be of the most long term interest. One is the reorganization of the Council itself, where we choose new officers and make committee assignments. The other is the appointment of new members to the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission appointments is the issue I will choose for this week "Issue of the Week."

The Planning Commission (PC) is one of the most important advisory committees that the Council has. The PC is made up of nine members - three from each council district. These people volunteer at least two evenings a month, plus all the time required for background reading, to review a wide range of land use proposals.

The purpose of the Whatcom County Planning Commission is to provide citizen review and recommendations on planning related matters to the County Council, as provided for in Whatcom County Code Chapter 2.31. The Commission assists the Planning Division in carrying out its duties, including assisting in the preparation and execution of the Comprehensive Plan and recommendations to the Department for the adoption of official controls and/or amendments.

We thought we would be appointing 4 commissioners at this meeting, but with the recent death of Sean Wilson we may be appointing 5 (this is not clear to me at this point). We have received an unprecedented 31 applications for these positions. To check out the applications for yourself you can download them by clicking here.

There are a number of problems with our appointment process, especially when we receive so many applicants. The main problem I have is that the application forms that people are asked to fill out does not provide enough information to really make a good selection. As a person who has been in a position to do a lot of hiring I can say that I wouldn't hire a person for the most basic position with this pitiful level of information, let alone someone who will be helping craft land use regulations for the entire county. Luckily some people provide additional information, but most do not.

There is no interview process and I don't have time to contact this many people to find out more about them. I will try to get the application requirements changed this coming year, but for now I am stuck with the information I posted the link for above. To help focus who I should be concentrating my investigations on I normally put together a quick rating sheet to try to compare each candidate on what I believe to be pertinent knowledge and skils for the position. I have done that for these 31 applicants and you can check out my first crack at this rating by downloading the rating sheet by clicking here. Of course this may not be a fair representation of their actual abilities, but it is the best I can do with the limited information they provided.

This is as far as I have gotten in the selection process so far. I hope to contact some of the top people on my list next and possibly some of their references. We also are receiving letters and emails regarding some of these people so I am also reading that material. If you have any thoughts on this process or any of the candidates feel free to send me a post.

Thanks for all the comments and recommendations people have passed along. It appears that at least one applicant - Bob Weisen - has been removed for not being eligible because of a new legal opinion from the Prosecutor's Office. Here is the email from the Council Clerk explaining this.

"Dear Councilmembers:

I have just become aware of a legal opinion issued by Randy Watts that states, in summary, that once a person has served two consecutive full terms on a board, committee, or commission, there is a lifetime ban from them ever going back onto that board, committee, or commission. The crucial word here is consecutive. Someone could serve one term, take a term off, come back for a term, and on and on for a lifetime. However, once they have served two consecutive terms, they're out forever!!!"

I think that this lifetime ban after two consecutive terms makes no sense. Many of our committees need experienced people and often go wanting for people to fill the positions. While I agree that new blood is always good, many times no one new comes forward. Unfortunately, Mr Watts opinion apears to be correct to me, and it will take a charter amendment to fix this.

Here is the language from the Charter Section 2.23:
Terms of members of boards and commissions shall be limited to two (2) consecutive full terms.

****UPDATE**** 1/12

Just received two new late applying candidate applications for the Planning Commission
. You can check them out by downloading them by clicking here and here.

****UPDATE**** 1/12 10:15 PM

The Council meeting is over and here are the new Planning Commission members.

District 1:
Jeff Rainey.

District 2:
Gary Honcoop.

District 3 (2 vacancies):
Rod Erickson
Michelle Luke

I voted for the folks that rated highest based on planning qualifications on my rating scale - Dykes, Harris, Friedlob, Lee. You can argue that my scale is not perfect, but at least there were some criteria to justify a choice. Not sure what the other Council members based their votes on since there is no discussion or sharing of their criteria. You be the judge.

******UPDATE 1/17/10*******

Well, what I thought was a pretty easy topic for my first blog entry just never seems to end. Turns out that the Council screwed up the appointment process and we have to do it all again. The Whatcom County Code is clear that applicants have to be nominated at one Council meeting and then appointed at the next unless two thirds of the Council votes to suspend that rule. Either way no one was ever officially nominated, so we have to try again. On top of that the code says that the names of nominees have to appear on the Council's agenda, so it would appear that two of the late applicants (Scott Hulce and Michelle Luke) were not even eligible since their names were not included in our packet.

While the Council (including me) is ultimately responsible, these errors are nothing new. For years late applications have been accepted, nominations and appointments were made at the same meeting, and people were appointed whose names were never published in the agenda. Like I said way up at the top of this blog - the system for these appointments is a mess and needs a serious fix. Not only is the process not defined very well and even then not followed, it also is apparent that some on the Council don't take very seriously the importance of these advisory positions and people's qualifications to serve.

Below are the relevant portions of the County Code that were not followed. Hopefully we can get it right next time around.

Appointment of non-councilmembers to boards, commissions and committees.

For appointment by the council of non-councilmembers to those boards, commissions and committees performing either an administrative or a legislative function, councilmembers shall make nominations and provide information about their nominees, in writing, if possible, at a regularly scheduled council meeting. Nominations for appointment to any position having a residency requirement as to councilmanic district shall be made only by the councilmembers from the district or the councilmember at large. Voting on these nominations shall be at the next regularly scheduled council meeting unless the council, by a two-thirds vote, requests otherwise. Such appointments shall be made by majority roll call vote of the council.

2.03.075 Review of nominees and executive appointees.

C. The names of recommended appointees by the executive, and the names of nominees by council members, shall be published on the agenda for the council meeting at which action is to be taken in filling a position or confirming an appointment.


  1. thanks for doing this Carl. this is going to be very valuable going forward. i know many of us have new year's resolutions to pay more attention and attend more council meetings.
    i read thru the applicants and then went to see how you rated them and the ones who were on top were pretty much the same. the competition in district 1 looks tough. good luck on improving the application requirements. i'm sure you have some good ideas that will improve it but not make it daunting.
    again thanks for doing this!
    peggy borgens

  2. Thanks, Carl. I see some real problems with some of these applications. One I want to bring to the forefont is Bob Wiesen. He was a PC for several years and was a total embarrassment to the county. I remember one hearing, where he asked everyone that got up to speak how long they had lived in Whatcom County. The chairperson had to finally call him on it and tell him to quit! This person has an agenda that is very well known to anyone that has followed local politics. Please do not allow us to have a re-run of this sort....

  3. I think Carl is correct. If the law was to be a lifetime limit of two terms, then the language reflect that more clearly.

  4. Carl

    I think you point about simply an application with minimal information makes it tough to determine who would be best. It also makes it dificult for the public. A more detailed application might reveal that these positions are filled purely by politics versus qualifications.

    I will say that I think the two term limit ought to be done away with. While some might be glad not to have Bob Wiesen on the Planning Commission, I do think we loose some experienced people that have demonstrated excellent service to the community and they will be missed. Having served on a committee or two, I hate to see excellent people no longer being able to serve. I would even go so far as to say that a few years of committee work can soften one's position.


  5. I really think that you posting the spreadsheet of planning commission nominees was a great idea and I hope that you will continue to post more things like this.

    It showed you exercising duty of care as an elected official. And it demonstrates a fundamental expression of transparency of government.

    Your actions shout "I care about this. I'm taking my job seriously. I'm putting time and effort in trying to make a responsible decision. I want every citizen in Whatcom County to see how I set out making these decisions. Oh, and by the way, I read all the applications, too."

    Every elected official should be doing something like what you did with this post.

    Monday morning quarterbacks be damned.

    Please keep this up, Mr. Weimer.

  6. This is a wonderful blog! So glad to have a way to keep an eye on what our County Council is doing. Thank you so much for your efforts!