It turned out to be somewhat symbolic just how close City Council members sat together on the stage at their temporary Kent Commons meeting site.
Near the end of the Tuesday night meeting at the Crystal Mountain Room as crews renovate Council Chambers at City Hall, the shoulder-to-shoulder council voted unanimously to have more meetings with all seven members and eliminate the five committee meetings that have only three members.
“This works,” said Council President Bill Boyce, who proposed the idea. “It really brings us together to what the mayor always refers to as one team. It brings us together and brings the staff together. … I want us to be efficient and be on the same page as one Kent. I think this will make a stronger council and help us keep abreast about what’s going on (in all departments).”
Under the current format, the council has committees for Public Safety, Public Works, Economic and Community Development, Parks and Human Services and Operations. The council president assigns three council members to each committee. The committees, which meet either once or twice a month, hear ideas from city staff and approve proposals that then go to the full council for adoption.
Under the new format, the seven members will meet as what’s known in government terms as the Committee of the Whole at 4 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at Council Chambers. The regular council meetings will continue to be on the first and third Tuesday of each month. The committee of the whole will reach consensus on which items to send to the regular council meeting for approval.
The first committee of the whole meeting is Oct. 8.
Boyce said he talked to Renton Council President Ed Prince and observed one of that city’s committee of the whole meetings to see how the process works. Renton, however, still has smaller committee meetings as well. Auburn and Bellevue use study sessions. Neither city has smaller committee meetings.
“I think going to the committee of the whole will make the council more efficient,” Councilmember Toni Troutner said. “We are currently in a committee of three so when we vote on the consent calendar (at regular council meetings) we are voting on things that we are often not informed about unless we read the notes or watch the video from that meeting, so this will allow us as a council to be more informed on things that are happening and make us a stronger council.”
Councilmember Dennis Higgins also spoke in favor of the change.
“I know that are some of our friends in the region who serve on councils in other cities have gone in this direction and speak very highly of it,” said Higgins, who added it will be easier for residents to follow just one meeting rather than five committee meetings.
Kent Mayor Dana Ralph looks forward to the change.
“One of the things that we have been working on a lot over the last year and a half or so is this idea of one Kent,” said Ralph, who also will participate in the committee of the whole meetings. “That means we are all working together collectively as a city. It’s easy to happen to fall into silos, there’s a Public Works project, there’s a Parks project. … It’s challenging as a council member to keep up with all five of those committees.
“This will provide council members as well as city staff to have holistic discussion around issues. While it may be a topic for Public Works, there will be discussion about how does it impact parks or how does it play into our economic development strategy.”