Yakima council member returns after a year of skipped meetings

Council considers adding attendance requirement through proposed charter amendment
Yakima City Council Jason White

YAKIMA, Wash. — Yakima City Council member Jason White attended a council meeting Tuesday for the first time in more than a year, after skipping meetings since June 2020.

The council member has continued to collect about $1,000 a month, despite not attending any regular city council meetings, study sessions or committee meetings held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.

White’s return came during the first in-person meeting at city hall since the pandemic began and just as the council was set to consider a proposed charter amendment that would allow them to remove a council member who repeatedly skips meetings.

Among other things, the charter amendment would give the council the ability to vacate a council member’s position and remove them from office if they failed to attend three regular meetings in a row or six regular meetings in a year without being excused by the council.

Mayor Patricia Byers motioned to remove the attendance requirement, stating that trying to amend the city charter was an overreaction to an isolated cituation and would take power away from the voters.

“The voters of District 2 put Councilman White into office and the voters of District 2 can remove him,” Byers said.

Byers was the only one to vote in favor of taking out the attendance requirement and the motion failed.

White said he was in favor of the charter amendment and asked if it could be expanded to remove a council member who goes against their own ordinance or issue.

“Even though this is geared toward me, I definitely appreciate accountability and transparency in government,” White said.

White’s term as council member expires at the end of the year and he has not filed for reelection.

“To me, Councilman White doesn’t owe it to us to be here; he owes it to his voters to be here,” council member Soneya Lund said.

Council member Holly Cousens said the council has a duty to represent their districts and the people in them, which includes the duty to be at meetings and be the voice of their constituents.

“I think a meeting rule is totally impartial, unbiased, applies to all, is sort of the minimum duties of a city council member,” council member Kay Funk said.

Council member Brad Hill motioned for the council to direct city staff to create and bring back a resolution for the proposed charter amendment that they can put out to voters in the November ballot, saying he thinks it will be “overwhelmingly popular” with voters.

“I think it’s common sense we should show up to these meetings,” Hill said.

Hill said he’s received calls from his constituents concerned about White’s absence and while it may be an isolated incident, he believes the attendance requirement is the best course of action.

The council voted unanimously to approve the motion directing city staff to bring back a resolution to include the proposed charter amendment on the November ballot.

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