Yakima City Council

FILE — From left, Yakima City Council members Jason White, Kay Funk and Holly Cousens at a March 2018 council meeting.

The Yakima City Council decided to get rid of its four council committees at its Tuesday meeting, saying the committees are unproductive and a waste of staff time and resources.

Councilman Brad Hill moved to abolish the Public Safety Committee, the Economic Development Committee, the Healthy Communities and Neighborhood Building Committee and the Partnerships Committee, each of which consists of three appointed council members. He suggested, as an alternative, that the council have study sessions where the entire council could weigh in on issues.

The motion passed with a 4-3 vote, with Councilmembers Dulce Gutierrez, Kay Funk and Carmen Mendez voting against. Hill, Holly Cousens, Jason White and Mayor Kathy Coffey voted in favor. The change takes effect immediately.

In a history of the city’s committee structure attached to the agenda item, city spokesman Randy Beehler noted that committees were used sparingly by City Councils 15 years ago, who favored full-council study sessions. Committee use increased around 2005, and study session use decreased.

The council’s current council committee structure was enacted in 2018. In addition to the council committees, council members also participate in 39 external committees. Beehler noted that while state statute, the city’s municipal code or other rules and regulations dictate council member participation in some committees, most of the council’s representation on the 39 outside committees is at the council’s discretion.

The change will not affect any of the City’s Council’s advisory boards, which include community members, including the Community Integration Committee, Planning Commission, the Historic Preservation Commission, the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee and the Parks and Recreation Commission.

When introducing the motion, Hill said the four council-only committees duplicated council member and staff efforts. He added that committee meeting times — such as 10 a.m. on a Tuesday — created conflict for council members, who also have full-time jobs, and also limited access to the public, who likely would have to take a day off from work to make the meetings.

Cousens noted the meeting times sometimes conflict with her full-time position as an instructor at Yakima Valley College. White said moving the meeting times to the early evening would likely work better for the public as well as the council.

Mayor Kathy Coffey cited her experience participating in varied council committee structures over her years on the council and said that the council has more external committees — 39 — than it has ever had before.

“These are the most committees I think we have ever had, and I think it has diluted the effectiveness more than I’ve seen before,” she said. “I do think in the last year to two years a lot of staff time and resources, transferring to dollars, have been wasted.”

Funk said that the poor usage of the committee system was at fault for that ineffectiveness — not the committee structure itself.

Gutierrez said committees give time for council members to check in with staff, entertain suggestions from community members, and “deep-dive” into issues, citing changes the city made to its dangerous dog ordinance in 2018 that had roots in committee work.

Gutierrez also noted that council members only had two ways of adding items to council agendas — at a council meeting or through a committee — and that removing one of those options would likely afford more power to the council chair or city manager in determining what would be discussed.

“You are closing one of the pathways forward to introducing something to an agenda,” she said. “It’s going to be something you will find will be limiting moving forward.”

Those who voted against changing the committee structure also expressed concerns that doing so would not, ultimately, save council members time or lead to more informed, efficient discussions.

Funk referenced her time chairing the Healthy Neighborhoods committee as an example. The committee had been looking at affordable housing options 15 months ago, in June, she said, but the topic had been removed from the committee for a full-council study session. The study session, which was scheduled for six months later, didn’t actually take place until March — a nine-month gap that resulted in little progress, Funk said.

Mendez said she had noted that committee work was “different” since the new council came in. She said there had been productive committees in the past and that the incoming council members could decide if they wanted to reinstate the committees.

Coffey said the new council members would be in the best position to decide whether they want the City Council committees to exist.

The council didn’t discuss Funk’s six-month removal from committee assignments as part of a council sanction. Funk is scheduled to return to committee work in mid-October. Funk chaired the council’s Healthy Communities committee, was a member of the Public Safety Committee, and served as a council representative on the Yakima County Emergency Management Services Board, the Yakima-Kittitas Counties Dispute Resolution Center’s Community Response Team, the Yakima Parks Commission, the county Board of Health and the Solid Waste Advisory Board.

Reach Lex Talamo at ltalamo@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @LexTalamo.