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County seeks to ‘save’ by holding morning meetings

Kitsap Board County Commissioners seek to move their public 7 p.m. meetings to 10 a.m. Citing a lack of public attendance, the BOCC said the move could save the cash strapped government money.

Under the BOCC proposal, regular business meetings would move from 7 p.m. Monday to 10 a.m. beginning in March. Or, the evening time could be pushed to start a few hours earlier for the twice-monthly meeting held in the commissioners chambers at the county administration building in Port Orchard.

“Very seldom do I oppose the commissioners, but on this one I do,” said Jim Sommerhauser, a Central Kitsap resident.

The retiree, who often attends county meetings, said that it was a shame that a crowd of 15 people at Monday’s evening meeting was a “turn out” but that moving the meetings to the mornings would make it even more difficult for people to attend.

“I’m retired, I can come day or night but there’s a lot of people that cannot do that,” he said. “I think this is a step back.”

County commissioners say there has been a lack of attendance during the evenings in the past year and costs for staffing could save the county some money. County staff say no money would be saved because those at BOCC meetings are salaried.

There is no “right answer,” according to commissioners who held a public hearing Monday to listen to community members respond to moving evening meetings to 10 a.m.

All of those that testified — six people — were not in favor of having the regular business meeting be in the mornings.

However, the start time for the meetings could remain unchanged — or even be split between one of the month’s meetings being in the morning and the second in the evening.

Meetings were moved from a morning to a 7 p.m. start in 2007 in effort to encourage more community participation. Commissioners say that other than public hearings, there has been little change in participation.

Commissioner Josh Brown said discussions to push the meeting start time to the morning began a few months ago, especially after the meeting where commissioners approved of the county budget at the end of 2011 to an empty room.

“There was literally nobody here in the chamber,” said Brown after Monday’s public hearing. “There was not one citizen in the room.”

Brown said it is difficult to come to a solution that will please everyone because there will always be someone who will say any time of the day will be a poor choice.

Commissioners suggested moving just consent agenda items to a morning meeting because those items are usually not controversial and the general public rarely comments on the consent agenda. Commissioner Rob Gelder said if a person had a comment about an item on the consent agenda, the individual could fill out an online form addressing the item and leave contact information for the commissioners.

By moving the general business to a morning meeting, commissioners would also have the flexibility to hold public hearings at other times — likely evenings — and closer to the constituents’ area, rather than have people drive down to Port Orchard all the time. For instance, if an issue strictly had to do with North Kitsap, commissioners could hold the meeting up north to make it easier for those community members. Some people commented that if this were to happen, the meetings or hearings that would occur away from Port Orchard would still need to be broadcast live and be available later for rebroadcasting.

Although some community members said having an online form available to comment on the consent agenda is a positive idea, it cannot replace normal human interaction.

“I really think we need to keep the face-to-face human interaction,” said Mark Miller, of Olalla.

Kristina Nelson, who testified as a South Kitsap resident, but is also a senior program manager with Kitsap County Public Works, commented that moving the meeting to the morning would cost the county the same amount of money since county staff that would be at the meetings are salaried, so it would not matter if they were working during the day or evening. She added that the county needs community members to be involved and that having 10 a.m. Monday meetings would not be conducive to that.

Commissioners said they would leave written public comment open until Thursday and then they would discuss the matter Feb. 22 and make a decision on future business meeting times at the Feb. 27 commissioners meeting. The Feb. 27 meeting will remain scheduled for 7 p.m. at the commissioners chambers.

Brown said that many other counties in the state have their business meetings during the day rather than evenings. Mason County commissioners meet at 9 a.m. and the Pierce County Council at 3 p.m. He added that many of the people that testified Monday saying that they oppose the morning meeting, would be able to attend a morning time because they are retired.

“When I hear from them that it needs to be in the evening, it’s not an honest assessment from them,” Brown said.

Those individuals were not just looking out for themselves, but for all community members, said Ginger Sommerhauser, Jim Sommerhauser’s wife. Just like many others, she stressed the importance of face time.

“If they’re working, they can’t come [in the morning.] There’s no way to get to you,” said Ginger Sommerhauser. “It doesn’t give them an opportunity to stand here and look you in the face.”

 

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