Bellingham council shuffles leadership for new year

Gene Knutson, Bellingham City Council.
Gene Knutson, Bellingham City Council. The Bellingham Herald

Gene Knutson, in the second year of his last four years on the City Council, will lead meetings as council president in 2015.

The council’s two female members, Roxanne Murphy and Pinky Vargas, were chosen by fellow members on Monday, Jan. 5, to serve as mayor pro tempore and council president pro tempore, respectively. Murphy will represent Mayor Kelli Linville if she is unavailable, and Vargas will chair meetings in Knutson’s absence.

Knutson, who has served on the council for 21 years, takes over the center chair in council chambers from Cathy Lehman, who resigned in December to take an environmental job in Seattle.

When sworn into office in January 2012, Lehman was the only woman on the council. Two years later, she was joined by Vargas and Murphy.

Murphy said that by stepping into their two pro tempore positions, she and Vargas weren’t seeking gender balance in council leadership. Rather, they were both ready for these roles in their second year as council members.

“It’s both Pinky and I wanting the same kind of experience,” Murphy said after the council took unofficial votes on members’ duties at a meeting Monday afternoon. Council members finalized their selections that evening.

Murphy did appeal to gender balance to keep her seat on the Whatcom Transportation Authority Board of Directors. She and Jack Weiss will remain on that board.

“If Mayor Kelli isn’t there, I’m the only female up there” at WTA board meetings, Murphy said.

Weiss cited his experience on the transit board, having served for the past five or six years, he said. The board will be working on a strategic plan for the WTA in 2015.

“It will lead to important decisions about bus service, in the city particularly, but also in the entire county,” Weiss said.

Council member Michael Lilliquist made an unsuccessful pitch at Monday’s afternoon meeting for a seat on the WTA board — the only job that saw any competition.

Council member Dan Hammill, appointed on Dec. 17 to replace Lehman, took the chairmanship of the council’s Lake Whatcom/Natural Resources Committee, which considers measures to protect Lake Whatcom before they go to the full council.

Hammill, who co-founded Bellingham/Whatcom Project Homeless Connect and was program director of the Volunteer Center of Whatcom County, also will be the council’s liaison to the Opportunity Council, among other assignments.

The full list of council assignments is at cob.org/council under “ Council committees and other assignments.”