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Council member questions process

NORTH BEND - In just the second City Council meeting of the year, a seemingly innocuous appointment to a new liaison position had at least one member raising concerns that a closed-door decision was circumventing policy and leaving residents out of a process that is supposed to be public.

Supporters of the appointment claimed that proper process had been followed, and chastised newly elected Counciman David Cook for his allegations of wrong doing.

At the heart of the issue was the proposed appointment of resident Ayesha Tidwell to human services community liaison, a new volunteer position created by the council last December. The role will carry no political weight, but the liaisons, two more are to be added, will be charged with creating a new Human Services Committee, an entity that was disbanded last year.

The issue was placed on the consent agenda - a spot normally reserved for items not needing further discussion, fast-tracking them for approval - at the Jan. 20 council meeting, but was asked to be pulled for discussion by Cook at the outset.

During the discussion regarding the appointment, Cook said that although he respected Tidwell, who played a prominent role in the creation and operation of the Safe Kids Task Force, a resident group that fought a proposed state sex-offender halfway house near Grouse Ridge, he could not support the appointment because the proper process had not been followed.

"I believe it sets a bad precedent for the council to confirm these 'closed-door' appointments in this way this evening," Cook said. "It is my hope that we will take a step back, do this right and allow a fair and open process for appointment."

Cook said if a proper public process had been followed, he would have voted in favor of Tidwell's appointment.

When the City Council members approved the creation of the liaison position in December, the ordinance differed from those of the past in that the recommendation and approval would be at the discretion of the council. In the past, the process has included an interview with all or some of the council members, and the involvement of the mayor and usually commission members. Commission appointments of the past have been advertised to the public in the city's paper of record. The liaison position was not.

Councilman Chris Garcia, who was appointed last June and elected in November, said he was never given a copy of Tidwell's application. Garcia added it wasn't until he arrived at the meeting to see the item on the consent agenda that he was aware of the proposed appointment. Based on the process, and not the qualifications of the candidate, whom he respects, Garcia said he could not support the appointment. The final vote was 3-2 in favor of the appointment.

Mayor Ken Hearing, who votes on issues only in the event of a tie, said he, too, did not receive an application.

"The process is deviant from the normal process," Hearing said.

Councilman Mark Sollitto said he was "stunned and amazed" about the closed-door comments, and backed the process.

Mayor Pro Tem Bill Wittress agreed.

"Anyone who thinks this is a 'back-door' appointment needs to make sure of their facts," said Wittress. "It is not an issue."

Wittress said Tidwell's appointment was brought up at a North Bend Public Health and Safety meeting attended by at least one other council member, which was held during the day at City Hall and was open to the public.

Earlier in the meeting, Cook was passed over as chair of any of the city's commissions, which were made by Wittress.

Cook claimed the move was mean-spirited, as it is customary for a council member to receive at least one chair responsibility, but said after the meeting that it did not play a role in his accusations regarding the Tidwell appointment. In fact, Cook said, he sent an e-mail to council members prior to the meeting expressing his concerns about the process. Cook said his biggest concern is that the process did not give interested residents the proper opportunity to apply for the position.

"It sets a very dark tone to start the new year, and I am confident that this is the type of behavior and decision the citizens of North Bend do not wish to see from the council," Cook said during the meeting.

Wittress said his appointments were made in the best interest of the city, and that it was not meant as a slight to Cook. He added that he stands by the process in which Tidwell was selected and is hopeful the council can move forward in a positive direction.

"The bottom line is that David did what he thought was right," said Wittress. "My decisions are based on what is best for the city. This isn't about personal issues, this is about serving the people."

Although Cook hopes the council can jell in the future, his main concern will be representing his constituents.

"I'm going to do the job to the best of by ability," said Cook.

Travis Peterson can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at travis.peterson@valleyrecord.com.

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