City Council Retreat Recap

On Friday February 24th, 2012, all seven council members, City Manager Ralph Dannenberg and City Attorney Kevin Yamamoto gathered at Hampton Inn and Suites to discuss each persons top most concerns and vision for the coming years.

Prior to the retreat a tentative agenda was agreed upon:

-City Council Rules of Procedure
-Selection of Mayor
-Use of the City Hall space
-Clark’s Creek
-Completion of River Walk Trail
-South Sound 911
-City Attorney Report and Information

The following is a brief recap of each topic.

-City Council Rules of Procedure

They began with a discussion about Robert’s Rules of Order and though the general feeling was that the looser use of the rules was a notable improvement, Mayor Rick Hansen indicated that he would be enforcing the comment/rebuttal system which limits the number of times a council member may speak to two.  Also discussed was the definition of what constituted a conflict of interest, which would force a council member to abstain from voting.  Councilman John Palmer pointed out that anyone with a valid reason to abstain should also refrain from discussing the issue as well as abstaining from the vote. Councilman Tom Swanson was quick to urge caution when abstaining, noting that numerically every district is potentially represented by 33% of the vote (two reps per district plus the one at-large) and anyone who abstains is effectively cutting that districts representation in half. Though it was meant to be a part of his topic at the end of the retreat, City Attorney Yamamoto clarified that a conflict of interest is only legitimate when there is personal financial gain from approval/disapproval of the item. He went on to say that these are only likely to happen at a City Council level when the vote is semi-judicial.  Reasons other than personal financial gain aren’t valid because it’s expected that council members would know many people in the community and can be connected to many projects.  In fact, council members are chosen from our community because these are desirable traits in a representative leader.  

They also re-evaluated the first and second reading structure Puyallup uses though it was revealed to be a fairly unique system among local cities. Questions were raised as to if they should be done away with partially because of the impending Initiative and Referendum provisions. The concern was that adding 30 days before action could be taken (because of I&R) might make the cities reaction time too long when preceded by a first and second reading.  In the end, there was no definitive decision put forward to make an alteration.

-Selection of Mayor

There was a good deal of discussion about the pros and cons of changing to a Strong Mayor selection process, or perhaps making the Mayor default to the At Large seat. Various options along this theme were discussed and debated, but in the end there was no consensus on a necessary change from consecutive seniority.  The exception to this was they all agreed to move forward on removing the rule allowing they mayor to be selected twice when the senior councilman passed on accepting the office.

-Use of City Hall Space

Each councilman came to the table with a slightly different vision of what to do about a potential move of the court and police station. The options of moving the courthouse or the police department to city hall were discussed as well as moving the police department to the city facility on the hill but this was met with strong opposition. Other ideas discussed included the possibility of leasing a floor to the school district or planning for an all new safety building. With some time and some urging it was unanimously agreed that the “hole in the boat” was the $150,000/year rent for the courthouse that needs to be dealt with. In the end it was decided an in-house study would be conducted to determine the most probable options for the relocation of the court house regardless of what the best solution may turn out to be.

-Clark’s Creek

Everyone agreed that Clark’s Creek is an issue that needs a solution.  Councilman Steve Vermilion is in favor of a bold approach, and to move forward with creative and decisive action.  Deputy Mayor John Knutson agreed suggesting that we move forward with plans and permits in order to find out who is the ultimate authority in the way of solving this problem. The primary favored action seemed to be some form of sediment removal and potential flooding due to the recently downed trees was also discussed.  In what is sure to become a famous quote Councilman Knutson questioned the wisdom that… “A standing tree is a tree. A falling tree is a tree. A fallen tree is habitat.”

-Completion of River Walk Trail

Councilman Palmer said that we already have the money to complete the trail and urged doing so as soon as possible.  Councilman John Hopkins pointed out that the extension isn’t the only incomplete portion, but that the crossing at 5th St NE needs to be addressed to complete the project.  All seemed to be in favor of using the funds we have to move toward completion.

-South Sound 911

At the beginning of the meeting, Mr Dannenberg asked for a direction on Pierce County’s offer of some radio equipment and after a short discussion the council agreed to pursue it.  Later during the meeting the conversation had shifted to our own facilities.  It was ultimately decided that they wanted to keep our facilities going for the foreseeable future and offer an option to the county wide emergency communication plan for other municipalities.

-City Attorney Report and Information

The “conflict of interest” portion of Mr. Yamamoto’s topic had been spontaneously moved up to the beginning of the meeting, so this latter section focused on openness.  Mr. Yamamoto clarified the nature of his responsibilities to the city (client) and to the council (client’s representatives) and how that impacts confidentiality and information flow. He admitted that under the previous council he was required to report on anything the council members confided in him and it made for a stressful and difficult environment. The council unanimously agreed that they prefer to have no secrets among them and asked him to move forward within that theme. Mr. Yamamoto further clarified that the council does not have the power to instruct any staff member to take action, but can get any information they need.  They need to act through the city manager in order for staff to perform tasks.


Every council member said that they found the retreat to be productive and informative.  Councilman Kent Boyle praised the meeting suggesting that they try to hold more of these meetings perhaps as often as once a quarter.  This idea was met favorably by all, though some are leery of the tax payers paying for lunch.  

As an observer of the entire event, I can tell you that the cost of a few lunches is worth the continued progress the meetings will generate.  The open nature of the meeting streamlined the flow of ideas a great deal and allowed the clarification and genesis of new ideas.

Chris McNutt



Filed under City Council 2012, Council Meetings

3 responses to “City Council Retreat Recap

  1. Steve Hastings

    Chris, First off Thank you for your effort on recap of the retreat. Unfortunately because the retreats are not filmed, there is no way for the average Joe to get feed back on these unless a caring citizen such as yourself takes the time and effort to attend and report on the details.
    Of those I have talked to that were in attendance, each has commented on the level of civility and respect demonstrated by the council and how productive this meeting was. Considering what the city has gone through over the last several years, with a council that thought disrespect and snarky comments were permissible behavior, this is welcomed progress.

  2. Robert Lord

    I too found the behavior and civility demonstrated by council members during the retreat a welcome improvement over performances of the previous council.

    I have a comment about the discussion concerning the policy of using 1st and 2nd readings during council deliberations. There are 3 newly elected members on this council that have no sense of history. History is important in that background information is important in order to understand the reasons for some policies practiced by our council.

    Removal of 2nd reading to streamline council proceedings was suggested by a new council member. I feel that removal of 2nd readings would be a mistake. Remembering historical issues, if the council had not had 2nd readings as its policy, George Dill would have been removed from his district 1 seat through the political manipulations of Turner, Malloy, Deal and Brouilette. Without 2nd readings, all of our council members now would be at-large representations, removing the district form of representation favored by a vast majority of our citizens.

    The at-large issue was attempted 3 separate times and was an attempt to subvert the preferences of the citizens for purely selfish reasons. 2nd reading gives citizens time to organize and rally other citizens to voice their opposition to contrived attempts by dysfunctional council members to hyjack the democractic process and wishes of the citizenry. 2nd reading is an effective tool for ther citizens to use to overcome ill concieved actions of our city council.

  3. Dick Sage

    Thanks, Chris, for the detailed recap of the retreat. I don’t know if there were minutes taken. If so, they were not available on the city’s website, so I appreciate the time and effort you made to keep us up to speed.

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