Updated April 29, 2020 to reflect a new response from David Larkin of the Utility Advisory Committee
Recently, the Richland City Council temporarily tabled a proposal to eliminate the 12-year term limit for Boards and Commissions in Richland. Of the 70 current members of the Boards and Commissions, a request to the city showed that five have served more than 12 years.
I reached out to all five public servants with phone calls, emails, letters and personal messages to see if they would share some thoughts with the public. Three of them, Gus Sako, Daniel Porter and David Larkin responded; the other two did not.
Gus Sako, a 14-year member of the Economic Development who owns the Octopus Garden and Luna Fish in the Uptown Shopping Center, is one of the two who did. In an email, he described why he serves:
The glamour, the glory, the free parking space, the cookies. What? We don’t get any of those? Okay, apparently, I am just very slow and gullible.
On the other hand – Serving on advisory committees has been a great way to help effect positive change and growth in the City. City staff has been universally dedicated, positive and a pleasure to work with. I also very much enjoy meeting and working with other committee members who come from diverse fields and bring sharp intelligence and insight to the table. Oh, and once every couple of years – there are cookies.
But Sako is not the longest serving member of the Boards and Commissions. That honor goes to Marianne Boring who will have served 20 years when she completes her current term on the Board of Adjustment. During the same period, she has been on the Planning Board for 14 years with 4 more to go on her most recent appointment. Her husband Michael Boring is a plans examiner in the City of Richland Development Office.
Both of those boards had some of their authority stripped in 2014 when the City hired a Hearing Examiner who decides on cases that these two had previously considered. Consequently, the Board of Adjustment has only met about 10 times since 2014 mostly regarding variances for garages, carports and sheds being placed in required setbacks. In each case, the board approved staff recommendations.
The Planning Commission advises on planning and development and makes recommendations about grant applications. It meets twice a month. In the last few years, it has made recommendations about zoning on parcels like Columbia Point South. Both the Planning Board and the Board of Adjustment have had members who were short of 12 years but were not re-appointed.
The Utility Advisory Committee has two long-serving members David Larkin and Daniel Porter. Larkin will have 15 years when his current term ends in September. Porter will have 14 in 2022. The committee meets every other month starting each January.
All of the members of this committee have experience in the electric power industry and the majority are retirees. As to why he serves, Daniel Porter wrote:
I spent my career in the electric power industry, gaining a lot of knowledge and experience pertinent to the mission of the UAC in advising the City Council on some pretty involved technical and financial issues, knowledge and experience that Council members may not otherwise have access to. So serving on the UAC is an ideal way to give back to the community I live in. Plus as a retiree it keeps me sharp.
I am most proud of being able to apply my technical and financial knowledge and experience to provide good input and guidance to the staff and advice to the Council in order to keep utility rates low and fair to each customer, and help avoid reliability issues. Richland’s rates continue to be some of the best in the region.
David Larkin also wanted to offer his experience:
When I retired from my career as an engineering manager at Columbia Generating Station I had built up decades of experience with working with BPA on long range planning for electrical generation and was in charge of recommending and spending some $60-million a year for nuclear fuel. I had served on committees with the national Electric Power Research Institute and as chairman of a national users’ group of spent fuel storage canisters. So I felt that I had useful expertise and wanted an outlet to continue to provide some advice in the utility area. I also had the time as I was retired.
Maria Gutierrez chairs the Parks and Recreation Commission. She will have served 14 years when her term is up in 2021. The committee meets once a month. According to the city website, the purpose of the commission is to advise the City Council about facilities, beautification, preservation and recreation. According to other members of the committee, the amount of time required varies from month to month. The commission is responsible for recommending grants for recreation groups and that activity is more time consuming for members than others. In the last 5 years, among other actions, the commission created Richland Walks, a very successful program that is run by volunteers.
As for the term limits, the members believe that it is a double-edged sword. According to Gus Sako:
Term limits is an interesting beast. They can prevent the accumulation of power and force organizations to bring in new blood. They can also keep someone like me from staying on so long that we become the old guy who says things like, “We already tried that back in ’84.”, “I remember when that area was the sewage plant.” and “Didn’t we used to have cookies at these meetings? Where are the cookies?”
On the other hand; term limits are a factor in losing some institutional memory. There might actually be an occasion wherein knowing that something didn’t work when it was tried in ’84 might be relevant. And the longer one is working at anything the deeper a body of knowledge they bring to the table.
So, apparently I am ambivalent on the subject of term limits.
Dan Porter adds an additional point about volunteers:
Another factor is that it has been a real challenge some times to get qualified folks to apply. So when you get a knowledgeable and willing member that the Council is happy with, why not keep them instead of losing them to term limits?
David Larkin commented on the advantages and disadvantages of term limits:
The advantage of term limits is the continual refreshing of an organization with people with new ideas and different perspectives. The disadvantage is the loss of experience and knowledge of city issues gained over a substantial period of time. I was not aware of the Council consideration of removing term limits.
Mayor Ryan Lukson has said that the Council plans to bring up the term limit elimination proposal again when citizens can attend the city council meeting.