Here is a brief summary of the issues I found interesting from the last council meeting on Jan. 7th. This is not intended to fully cover everything that was discussed. The council meets again Tuesday (tomorrow) at 7 pm at the school building. Please attend and listen to the issues for yourself. ~ Karen
The meeting opened with a long discussion of the agenda approval and adding the contract for the prosecuting attorney, which was eventually added to the agenda as the first item of business. Mayor Transue opened discussion on the issue by making his recommendation. Council Member Albertson asked why this candidate had been chosen. There had been 6 proposals, only 2 of which were within budget. Transue, the town attorney and police chief interviewed those two, who scored evenly on the interview. Transue stated that based on reference checking and costs, he recommended Michael Bejarano.
Albertson said he had done his own reference checking on the other candidate and had negotiated a lower rate with her. Albertson wanted Christa Swain appointed as the prosecuting attorney. Council Member Hedrick felt that Albertson had inappropriately taken on duties given to the executive branch and was acting outside the legislative authority of the council. The town attorney said the names proposed on the contract were the preview of the mayor, the terms of the contract were for the council.
Transue noted that he had asked the council to appoint a member to work with him in this selection process after his last candidate was rejected. When there was no response, he moved ahead. Transue said he would take it under advisement if the council moved ahead with the contract for a new prosecuting attorney with a different person than he had proposed. An hour into the meeting, the motion to approve the contract with Ms. Swain’s name inserted and Mr. Bejarano’s deleted was approved 4 to 1 (Hedrick voted no).
Transue noted there were several items on the horizon that would require a budget increase:
1) Since the council had refused to compromise on the proposed lease of the Commencement’s sale center space, there was now legal action that would require an additional $12,000 to $15,000. He noted the length of the overall lease of the school was not an issue at trial.
2) Tacoma will be raising rates; 4% for sewer base rate plus a 7% increase in the consumption rate and 7% increase for garbage.
3) He was unsure what level of service he could provide for the rest of the year, given the council’s cut on overtime for town employees, especially police.
Albertson stated that they can serve the public best if they try to come up with a level of cooperation, such as the mayor giving his reasons for his actions and the council doing the same – that information should go both ways. He felt that information flow had been lacking from the mayor.
Transue asked Albertson for an update on their meeting with Tacoma Fire (to negotiate a new contract for emergency services). Albertson felt any discussion should wait until the study session on Jan. 14th.
When public comment was opened, I asked Albertson and Council Member Stebner to provide a copy of the contract with Tacoma Fire now so the public could review it before the next meeting. They gave no response. They eventually acknowledged there had been a meeting with Tacoma Fire, but would not talk about it until the study session.
Fire Chief Torbet then asked for details of the contract with Tacoma Fire. If there were numbers available from Tacoma, the council owed it to at least the fire committee to review them and not keep them so hidden. He asked Albertson and Stebner if there was a reason they were hiding these numbers? He found it very objectionable that the council was not being forthright with this information.
Last August, Ruston was awarded a grant from the state’s Community and Economic Development agency (CTED) for $75,000 to update the Master Development Plan (MPD) for the Point Ruston property to make it consistent with all the town’s land use codes. There have been inconsistencies discovered both within the MPD and with Ruston’s zoning codes and comprehensive plan. The grant requires a $31,400 match from Ruston that the council had removed from the budget.
A CTED representative at the meeting announced that they were not sure they could fund the grant under these conditions. Among other things, the time line was critical and the contract (as presented) had to be signed this week. Council Member Huson expressed ongoing concerned about the cost of the town planners (who are outside consultants) and his determination to hire an in-house house planner. The town’s consultants would do most of the work on this grant. The council eventually approved signing the contract while acknowledging that a budget amendment would be needed to fulfill the obligations of that contract.
I’ve already given a summary of what happened at the study session the following Monday on the fire department. Prior to the study session, Tacoma had released a letter stating they had withdrawn from contract negotiations on Jan. 3rd at the meeting with Stebner and Alberston. The timing is interesting; Stebner and Albertson apparently knew on Jan. 3rd that Tacoma had withdrawn from negotiations, yet at this meeting on Jan. 7th they refused to talk about details of the meeting with Tacoma until the study session on Jan. 14th. These council members began that meeting on the 14th by questioning Chief Torbet about what criteria they should use to judge between Tacoma and Ruston emergency services without acknowledging the letter from Tacoma or the fact there was not contract on the table.