Politics Blog

Whatcom council leadership positions up for grabs

The first order of business for the Whatcom County Council in the new year will be to select a chairperson, the chairs of council committees, and members who will serve as liaisons to groups such as the Opportunity Council and Whatcom Transportation Authority.

Council is scheduled to select members for these positions at a meeting prior to the first full council meeting of the year. Committee assignments will take place at 6:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 14. at the Whatcom County Courthouse, 311 Grand Ave., Bellingham. The full council meeting, which has a sparse agenda, starts at 7 p.m.

Council members and members-elect have already checked off which positions they would like to hold, so council will have somewhere to start on Tuesday.

There will be a new chairperson on the council, as Kathy Kershner, who was chair in 2012 and 2013, lost in the November election to Barry Buchanan.

The only council member who has offered to be chairman is Carl Weimer, who is entering his third term. Ken Mann, who along with Weimer just won re-election, has nominated himself for vice-chairman, who fills in if the chairperson is absent.

Mann didn't ask to be on the Finance Committee, which he chaired in 2013. That committee makes recommendations to council on budget adjustments and other spending matters. Much of the debate about whether to fund a regional stormwater project that would serve a new Bellingham Costco was in this committee.

The County Council has four committees that meet during the morning or afternoon on full-council meeting days.

The other three:

(1) Planning and development, which has been busy in recent years hammering out an ag-slaughter ordinance and wrestling with violations of the state Growth Management Act.

(2) Public Works, Health and Safety, which would look at road improvements, bridge repairs and such. In 2013, this committee looked at tubing on the south fork Nooksack River and county rules governing marijuana.

(3) Natural Resources, which you will often find considering issues related to Lake Whatcom -- phosphorus pollution, aquatic invasive species, etc.

These committee meetings, which run from 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday meeting days until mid-afternoon, have a small but consistent audience. I encourage the public to attend these committee meetings. Committees consist of three council members, but usually a quorum is present, if not the full council. It's not unusual to find most of the substantive debate on an issue happening in these daytime meetings rather than the night meeting, when a final vote would be taken. As Mann is wont to say at the night meetings, when going down the list of agenda items handled first in Finance Committee (paraphrasing): "We had a robust discussion on this topic at our committee meeting today, so are we ready to vote?"