Public embarrassment? Well, that is not quite what Councilman Don Vlieger says he is promoting with a new resolution he presented last night to publicly censure Council members who are more than 60 days delinquent with any tax or fee owed to the City of Sunnyside or Yakima County.
In a narrow 4-3 vote, the City Council approved last night Vlieger's censure resolution. Mayor Ed Prilucik, Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar and Councilman Alex de la Cruz voted against the measure.
Under the resolution, any Council member delinquent to the city or Yakima County with a bill will be subject to a vote of censure within two regular meetings. The resolution of censure will include all known information on the delinquent bill. The censure will also become an item on every regular Council agenda until the delinquent bill is paid. If the delinquent bill is owed to the city, the Council member's stipend, $40 per meeting, will be withheld until the bill is brought current.
It was Councilman Jim Restucci who presented a strong case for approving the censure resolution. In a prepared statement, Restucci advocated for the passage of the resolution.
"The issue before this Council is one that will set a precedent for Sunnyside and will provide a model, which will influence other governing bodies," read Restucci. "Through the implementation of this rule, we are sending an important message to the citizens of this community that your City Council members are not above the law."
Restucci said the state of Washington already requires elected officials and those running for office to disclose financial information to the public.
"The idea being that the public's right to know far outweighs any right that these matters remain secret and private," said Restucci. "The new rule will serve a higher purpose for the community, holding Council members to their promise of enforcing and supporting the laws of the land, by preventing abject defiance of these same laws."
"I think it is an accountability issue," said Vlieger.
Vlieger explained that the censure doesn't affect a Council member's right to vote on matters.
"It is basically the Council policing ourselves," said Vlieger.
Councilman Bruce Ricks elaborated by saying the community expects firefighters and policemen to be fit. He said the Council needs to be economically fit. Ricks said it is an ethical matter for Council members in regards to paying their bills.
"If they can't balance a $22,000 per year income, than what makes us think they can balance a $22 million budget," said Ricks.
Mayor Ed Prilucik agreed Council members need to be held to the highest standards, but had some issues with the proposal. Prilucik was concerned that city staff would end up having to monitor the financial records of the Council members. Vlieger, though, explained the censure vote would only come to a head when a delinquent issue was brought before the Council. Prilucik also saw the censure motion as a platform for any Council member who had an issue with a tax or fee. Vlieger, though, countered by saying he would invite any Council member to use it as a platform to voice their opinion.
"We need some people who think taxes are unfair to have a forum," said Vlieger.
Aguilar wasn't of the same opinion.
"When I ran for City Council I didn't know I was going to be policing my peers," said Aguilar.
Aguilar said she doesn't think the censure motion is needed. She said there are a variety of reasons why someone could be in financial trouble. Aguilar added that because someone is in financial trouble it doesn't mean they are not capable of making a good decision on the budget.
"I don't feel it is necessary," said Aguilar. "I don't believe it benefits the community in any way."
Sunnyside Firefighter Bob Johnson, in attendance at last night's meeting, said he is against making the private issues of Council member's public. He did suggest the Council adopt a code of conduct.
Councilman Alex de la Cruz agreed with the need to hold the members accountable.
"I don't know if this is the way to go about it," said de la Cruz. "I think this is a little too harsh."
de la Cruz added he has had family members with financial problems, but it wasn't necessarily their fault. de la Cruz added he wouldn't want to read about the financial problems of a Councilman on the front page of the newspaper.
. Mike Kantman can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org