Petition raises ruckus at meeting
April 30, 2009 · Updated 10:28 AM
By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald
A petition to consider changing the city’s form of government sparked a firestorm between Councilman Dan Decker, the city and some of his fellow council members.
The battle lines took shape at the Aug. 12 City Council meeting.
Early in the meeting during announcements, Decker raised the issue concerning his petition to change the city’s form of government from a code city to a charter-code city. Decker said the petition would not make the November general election ballot unless it was considered and passed that night.
“Today is the 11th hour for the petition to be read and submitted to the county, as far as I have been told by the county,” Decker said. “This means if it does show up it will be on a special election and cost more money.”
Decker collect signatures for the petition to change from a code to a charter-code government and it was submitted to the city March 17. The county verified the petition had the sufficient number of signatures and returned the petition to the city.
Since the city received the petition back from the auditor, it has appeared on the council’s agenda.
Decker blamed the city officials and some council members for the petition not being moved forward.
“Anytime I try to do something I get the backs of the council,” Decker said.
The council member also said he believed the administration was at fault.
“This is a wrong act,” Decker said. “And this was done with maliciousness.”
Mayor Neil Johnson pointed out to Decker he could have placed the issue before the council at any time by calling Deputy Mayor Dan Swatman, who writes the agenda for the meeting.
Swatman said he had received no request to have the issue placed on the agenda.
Councilman Mark Hamilton bluntly expressed his displeasure to the staff about the petition.
“I guess, frankly, I thought this issue would be on the (November) ballot,” Hamilton said. “I’m a bit disappointed. You have a new council member who doesn’t know a lot. Why are you sitting on this thing? It’s like we are playing shenanigans.”
City Attorney Jim Dionne said the council had 180 days to consider the petition, but he offered to write a resolution the members could consider passing at the meeting.
Decker wanted the petition voted on and passed at the meeting.
“This has been sitting in the closet for many, many months,” Decker said. “It needs to be dealt with posthaste.”
The charter-code issue was placed as the last item on the night’s agenda. Councilman Dave King said he would be willing to sponsor the measure, but he wanted it moved to a workshop for further discussion.
King made a motion to table the discussion to Tuesday’s workshop. After some wrangling, the motion passed 4-3 with Councilman Dave Bowen along with Decker and Hamilton dissenting.
Decker made a motion to reconsider and from that point the meeting dissolved into a rancorous verbal wrestling match.
Johnson defended the staff stating, “The bottom line is to accuse me or my administration of putting (the petition) in a cubby hole is wrong.”
The mayor said Decker did not follow through on sponsoring the petition and moving it before the council.
Hamilton moved to close debate and Councilman Jim Rackley added a second.
Decker shouted that he was told a “damn lie” about the petition being in the hands of the city attorney.
King protested the “council member’s language.”
The vote to close debated passed 5-2 while Decker shouted his protests. Decker and Bowen voted no.
The motion to reconsider failed 5-2, with Decker and Bowen voting yes.
The petition to change the form of government was on the Tuesday workshop agenda.
Cities with a population greater than 10,000 can become a charter-code city. Larger cities like Seattle and Tacoma are charter cities, which allows for broader governing powers.
Kelso is the only city in the state that has adopted a charter-code form of government.
The difference between a code city and a charter-code is how laws are written. In a code city the council passes codes or laws. The laws must follow the U.S. Constitution and the state Constitution.
In a charter-code city, a group of 15 freeholders writes a city constitution or charter. The constitution is presented to the citizens of the city and if passed, laws are written within the confines of the charter and the federal and state constitutions.