When it comes to governing, the Kent City Council has decided more committees are better than one.
After dropping five smaller panels in 2019 for one large group meeting, the council will return in September to the multiple work group format to consider resolutions and ordinances.
“I look forward to returning to individual topical committees because I believe they provide council members and staff a greater opportunity to engage and have a greater depth of conversation,” said Councilmember Marli Larimer in an email. “I also believe topical committees benefit the community because residents can tune into just the topics they are most passionate about.”
The committees hear ideas from city staff and approve proposals that then go to the full council for adoption.
Rather than the current seven-member Committee of the Whole that meets twice a month, the council will form committees of three members each for Public Works; Parks and Human Services; and Economic and Community Development. Public Works will meet twice a month and the other two committees once a month with time and dates to be determined.
A new Public Safety/Operations Committee will include all seven council members and meet, starting in September, at 4 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays prior to council workshops at 5 p.m. and the regular council meeting at 7 p.m.
“I was one of several members in favor of returning to topical committees,” Larimer said. “When we approved the ordinance change to Committee of Whole in fall of 2019, we did so only with the agreement to revisit the topic in six months.
“Due to COVID, this opportunity to analyze the success of Committee of the Whole never occurred. Several us brought up the topic during the (February council) retreat and it was decided 5 to 2, to return to committees.”
Council President Toni Troutner prefers one large committee.
“I oppose this change because I think it’s important for all council members to receive the same information at the same time,” Troutner said in an email. “We would be well rounded as well as educated when it comes to any topic that will come before the council. For example, while a council member may be passionate about Parks, the majority of our capital budget is spent in Public Works. It’s a shame they won’t receive the same detailed information that one of their colleagues would who serves on that committee.”
Troutner said a couple of council members convinced the majority it would be a good change.
“It will allow council members to focus on certain areas rather than having to become an expert in everything,” Troutner said. “They feel it will provide them more topical knowledge, deeper conversation and the ability to build stronger relationships with department staff.”
Larimer said she pushed for the switch.
“There is no need (for the public) to sit through a three-and-a-half-hour Committee of the Whole meeting to hear about a 10-minute update on a park improvement,” Larimer said. “It also makes agenda setting and general public inquiry more accessible to residents as they know exactly which committee chair to contact with questions.
“Committee of the Whole was helpful in that all seven of us got a broad overview of all issues across all departments and we will be maintaining the council workshop sessions before council meetings for that purpose.”
Troutner and Councilmembers Bill Boyce and Brenda Fincher met after the retreat to come up with the plan to return to the three-member committees, which the council approved at its Feb. 23 virtual Committee of the Whole meeting. Boyce proposed the change to one large committee in 2019 which the council approved unanimously.
As council president, Troutner will decide which members will serve on each committee and who will chair each committee.
City Attorney Pat Fitzpatrick will draft a resolution with the change to multiple committees for the council to officially approve later this year.
Councilmember Satwinder Kaur asked at the meeting why it will take six months or so before making the switch.
Troutner said waiting until fall will give time to form the committees, staff time to figure out who will work with the committees to take notes and do video and for staff to adjust schedules.
“We agreed September was a good time to start,” Troutner said.