Indecisive water district cedes appointment to County Council

March 30, 2009

By J.B. Wogan

In five months, the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District has been unable to fill a vacancy on its board of commissioners. After much debate and two failed votes, the commission is likely to miss its chance to make the appointment, passing off the responsibility to the King County Council.

The commissioners set the rates for water and sewer service and make policy decisions about water, sewer and streetlights across much of Sammamish and north Issaquah, except for the highlands, Pickering Place and the Overdale neighborhood. They formally removed Commissioner Steve Stevlingson in January after he had been absent from all commission meetings since October due to personal illness. They have been unable to decide on a replacement.

The vacancy isn’t due to a lack of applicants or time needed to decide on a candidate: Four people submitted résumés and underwent interviews between February and March. The commission meets the first three Mondays of each month and had 90 days to make a decision.

The commission has five elected members who serve staggered six-year terms.

After interviewing all of the candidates, the commission took votes at its March 9 meeting, but the vote was split 2-2 on two proposed candidates. The commissioners have remained deadlocked.

Commissioners Tom Harman and Bob Brady tried to appoint Robert Abbott to the spot, but Commissioners Mary Shustov and Lloyd Warren opposed.

Brady said he was impressed with Abbott’s educational background, especially his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and genetics.

“He would understand water quality issues and things like that,” Brady said. “It does take somebody who can think on their feet, somebody who is astute. It does not take somebody with a special degree.”

After Abbott’s appointment failed to receive a majority vote, Shustov and Warren motioned for Stanley Stone to be appointed, but Harman and Brady opposed.

Stone, an Issaquah resident who served on the commission for seven years, was unseated by Brady in the 2007 election. Stone had been president of the commission for six years prior to losing the election.

Warren said he preferred Stone because of Stone’s extensive experience as an attorney who had worked with water districts. He said Stone understood both the legal and policy decisions the commission would have to make.

The other two applicants were Robert George, who served on the commission from 1989-2001, and Elayne Grueber, wife of Jim Grueber, a senior project engineer for the city of Sammamish.

Brady said Elayne Grueber had impressed him, but the commission had concerns about conflict-of-interest situations arising, as Grueber’s husband would have to work with the district on public works projects in the future.

Since the stalemate, the issue of picking a new commissioner came up at meetings March 16 and 23, but no resolution was reached.

By not appointing someone to the position at the March 23 meeting, the commissioners have effectively ceded their right to pick one of their own members. They have no further meetings before the 90-day time period expires April 5. As a result, the decision will go to the King County Council.

Warren said it was disappointing that the appointment would become a county decision. He said he hoped the council would pay special consideration to Abbott and Stone, since they were proposed in the commission’s votes.

Reach Reporter J.B. Wogan at 392-6434, ext. 247, or jbwogan@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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