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New Yelm Councilors challenge Mayor Harding on process

Yelm Mayor Ron Harding, new Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby of Olympia
Harding set “not-so-friendly” tone to female elected officials
Photo credit: Steve Bloom, The Olympian

Last night’s Yelm City Council meeting had intelligent questions raised by the three new Councilors, all elected on platforms of transparency and openness.
While there was an effort to squelch this discussion to the non-videoed Council Study Sessions in which the public must attend in-person to witness, the Councilors maintained their vigilance at getting to the truth in their questioning the process, on which their votes matter.

1. The Mayor’s State of the City Address was presented to the Yelm Chamber of Commerce
(Harding has never presented at a public Town Hall, why?),

which highlighted the status of city projects at the Forum luncheon, followed by the Yelm City Council conducting a 19 minute evening meeting with no city business on the Agenda, except for the Yelm Rotary Student-of-the-Month acknowledgement.
Again, nothing on the City Council Agenda?
This is twice within the last month that no business has been on the Council’s Agenda.
With so much current city business on the plate, one has to ask if this is a result of Mayor Harding being overwhelmed in also conducting the unfilled City Administrator position, or is there some other reason he wants nothing on the Council’s agenda?

2. The Yelm City Council Agenda process was challenged by the 3 new Councilors as follows:
A. Councilor Stilwell questioned a Consent Agenda item (legal fees for the Community Center).
He asked if the city was in litigation; Mayor Harding said there is no litigation for the Community Center at present, that there are “several significant” punch items and we “need our legal counsel to help us wade through that.”

B. Councilor DePinto asked if legal counsel is on a retainer.
Mayor Harding responded that the city employs the city attorney and special counsel Foster Pepper on city issues.
Harding said there is no current litigation with the Community Center.

C. Councilor Carmody asked about checks to the city attorney that councilors were to approve.
There was a discussion as to what the city attorney bills the city for his services to be present at every Council session in 2016. The attorney said his firm bills the city at a reduced rate below 180 hours at $205 per hour, plus $120 an hour travel time.
Once 180 billed hours has been reached, then the regular rate is billed, which is much higher.
She also asked about the reason for the city attorney’s involvement at every 2016 Council meeting for the amount of his fees. Harding said this was not an appropriate discussion for the public Council meeting. Carmody responded this was VERY necessary since she was being asked to vote to approve an agenda item, the vouchers, which included check payments to the city attorney. Then, Councilor Wood made a subsidiary motion to table this issue to a Study Session. However, Carmody rightly pointed Wood’s motion then took precedent over the approval of the vouchers motion. Councilor Wood then withdrew his motion, for the meeting could not continue without the vouchers (check payments) being properly handled. Harding then called for a vote on the vouchers, which Carmody opposed and all of the other councilors approved, however Councilor DePinto duly noted in the discussion period there was no call for those who voted to abstain, so Harding provided him the opportunity to do so for the record. Councilor Carmody asked the city attorney if and how recently he had read Robert’s Rules of Order, as she has had to challenge him and Mr. Harding previously on proper process for conducting these meetings, rules of which the Yelm City Council adheres.

D. Councilor Wood announced he attended County Commissioner candidate Gary Edwards’ kick-off.
Wood was rebuffed by this in his Councilor’s report by the city attorney, being told by Mayor Harding that was a political event not suited for this supposedly non-partisan Council session.

E. Councilor DePinto also questioned Harding on the city attorney being present for their meetings.
DePinto asked what was the change that occurred requiring Mayor Harding to hire the city attorney to be present in 2016, yet was not done so for every council session in the previous 11 years. Mayor Harding described that the new councilors (Stilwell, Carmody, DePinto) were not “on the same page” as the others and do not understand the procedures of a small working board like this. Harding noted he felt unnecessary to have a city attorney at every meeting in his previous 11 years until these three new councilors were elected, however he finds necessary to have him there now.
Click here for the Yelm City Council video recording.

Bottom line:
This was a huge display how the process of Yelm City Council meetings have been conducted for over a decade, where items are suppressed from the public and the process is not followed.
This was excellent for the public to witness, on-the-record.
Clearly, Mr. Harding now has three well-educated councilors willing to stand-up for their Oath of Office to properly administer their duties and not be subverted/intimidated by Mayor Harding, either implied or overt.
On positive thing about having the city attorney present was to insure Mayor Harding followed proper meeting protocols.

Posted by Steve on March 9, 2016 at 8:08 am | Permalink

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