For the second time in less
than a year, a quirk in the Kent city charter has denied a citizen-volunteer the opportunity to be considered for an appointment to Kent City Council.
Melissa Long was ruled ineligible to seek appointment to former Councilman Robin Turner's seat on council last week solely because of her service on the Kent Planning Commission. Long also was ruled out, for the same reason,when council was considering an appointment to fill another unexpired term in February.
Long ran afoul of a 1995 charter amendment that prohibits present and former members of the Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, Charter Review Commission and Assessment Equalization Board from being considered for employment by the city during their term of service and six months afterward.
We don't recall the rationale for the amendment, which was one of a number passed following the 1995 review of the charter, but in the 17 years it has been on the books, its only consequence has been to deny a Kent resident the opportunity to be considered to serve on the body that appointed her to the volunteer position she holds. That seems incredibly unfair.
Whatever the intent of the charter provision was, it effectively sanctions discrimination against a very small class of people -- the relative handful of residents who serve on the four bodies enumerated, one of which -- the charter reveiw commission -- meets only once every 10 years. Why only four of the numerous boards and commissions that are part of city government were singled out for this exclusionary clause is unclear. The end result is to forbid those who volunteer to serve on them to seek an appointment open to any other elector in the city.
The citizen-volunteers who step forward to serve on city panels, especially those who deal with planning and zoning issues, make important decisions that entail a considerable amount of time. When controversy arises, as is often the case with issues impacting neighborhoods, their task can be a thankless one. Unlike council members, they serve without remuneration.
The charter section in question is unfairly punitive. It ought to be repealed, or if there is some compelling reason to retain the ban on city employment, it should be amended to enable those covered by its provisions to seek appointment to City Council.
This isn't about Melissa Long, although we sympathize with a capable citizen-volunteer who appears to have a genuine desire to serve her city as a council member. It's about fairness.
The next Kent Charter Review Commission will not convene until 2015; however, City Council has the authority to put a charter amendment on the ballot at any time. Council should act to remedy this flaw in the charter and put a corrective measure before voters. There is no need to wait for two years.