The Longview City Council took a further beating Thursday from a packed audience that voiced concerns about the process of appointing volunteers to boards and commissions.
At its Dec. 7 meeting, the council appointed 19 people to volunteer boards and commissions. At the time, outgoing Councilwoman Mary Jane Melink expressed concern that eight of the appointees had filed applications after the Nov. 1 deadline, while 29 people who applied on time were denied positions. In addition, three individuals were appointed to multiple positions.
“It feels like if you have a policy in place, you need to follow it,” Melink said Friday. “It smacks of cronyism. If you’ve got a long list of folks who have applied and shown interest, but you bypass those folks and accept folks who applied after the deadline, you have to wonder why.”
Longview Mayor Don Jensen said Friday that the application deadline is somewhat arbitrary and that the appointment committee — made up of Jensen and Councilmen Chet Makinster and Mike Wallin — was more concerned with picking the best person for the job.
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“The committee can choose anybody at any time. There isn’t a hard and fast deadline that I know of,” he said. “The committee picked who they thought were best and … we made a recommendation to council and council approved it.”
The volunteer boards and commissions make recommendations to the council regarding concerns such as the public library, historic preservation, public development and housing opportunities. The appointments are approved en masse by the council after a comment period.
Melink and Councilman Ken Botero both voted against the appointments earlier this month as a protest against the process, but the motion still passed.
Linda Brigham, former board member on the Longview Housing Authority (now officially known as Housing Opportunities of Southwest Washington) said she found out she would not be reappointed to her position after she read the City Council meeting agenda and saw Allan Rudberg’s name instead of her own.
“Out of respect for my service and being appointed this position by you as the city, it would have been nice to have been informed before others were,” Brigham told the council Thursday, reading from a prepared statement. “I would ask that ... in the future, you contact those who have served, thanking them for their many years of service. Without volunteers, there are a lot of things that would not happen or get done in the community.”
Following her statement Thursday, Jensen thanked Brigham for her service.
“In the past, we haven’t notified those folks that have served the city,” Jensen told the council and the audience. “What we’ve done is they received a letter, (but) I think that’s a great idea to do a phone call or some sort of contact rather than just an informal letter. Thank you, Linda.”
He elaborated on Friday that he had no specific complaints about Brigham’s work but that the appointment committee felt “new blood” would be beneficial for the Housing Authority.
“In the past, myself and my predecessors have always just rubber-stamped the committees and commissions, and we don’t always take the time to look at if we want to make a change,” Jensen said. “Linda is a nice lady, and I’ve known her for quite some time, but that was the decision of the three-member board and council approved it.”
Brigham is the only Housing Authority board member removed since a November email stated that Jensen would ask for resignations from the entire board before the end of the year. Jensen has since backed away from the threats, saying nothing would happen until next year while discussions continue.
The council unanimously agreed Thursday to set up a meeting with the Housing Authority board early next year to discuss grievances. There was no discussion at the time of the vote, but multiple people expressed disappointment with the appointment process during the public comment time at Thursday’s council meeting.
Longview resident Anne Bennett said she was compelled to speak at the meeting after reading about plans to replace the Housing Authority board. She also cited Councilwoman Melink’s statement on the number of appointed individuals who had missed the deadline.
“I looked at the appointments and saw a lot of really capable people on our boards and committees ... but it was really odd that, because of this lack of process, 29 people who applied on time were not appointed,” Bennett said. “On the outside, it shows huge disrespect or disregard for our public process. And I, for one, am really looking for an explanation.”
Jensen disagreed Friday, saying that the appointment committee reviewed all the applicants, recommended the best ones to council and then council voted to approve them.
“That’s the process and I think it went pretty smoothly.”