Clatsop County Commissioner Sarah Nebeker was selected Wednesday night as the board’s new chairwoman.
Fellow commissioners approved the appointment in a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Lianne Thompson nominated herself and was the sole divergent vote.
Nebeker, who was elected in 2012, is the longest-serving board member. Commissioner Kathleen Sullivan, who was chosen vice chairwoman, made the first motion to nominate Nebeker, who later nominated Sullivan for her new role.
Nebeker previously served as vice chairwoman with former chairman Scott Lee, who did not seek re-election last year.
“I’m looking forward to working with this new group of commissioners, and I think we have a lot of dedicated, intelligent, capable people who care a lot about the citizens of our county,” Nebeker said.
Former Warrenton Mayor Mark Kujala was sworn in to replace Lee in District 1, and Pamela Wev succeeded former Commissioner Lisa Clement in District 3. Thompson, who was re-elected in November, took her second oath of office in District 5.
“We collaborate with our colleagues to define and accomplish the work of our collective body, the board. We act to further our work by our liaison assignments. That much, I think, we can agree on,” Thompson said in a statement she read at the meeting. “After that, we have differences. How we resolve those differences arising as our intentions are translated into words and actions determines our effectiveness and results.”
Functionality was an immediate priority for the new board after two rocky years. Commissioners plan to meet in the coming weeks to discuss board rules and potentially make changes.
“As we revisit our rules, I have some ideas that I think may improve our meetings, so that’s my first thought,” Nebeker said.
Another new face at the meeting served as a visible example of her thinking.
Nebeker asked Larry Taylor to take notes as a voluntary parliamentarian, an expert on board rules and procedures. Taylor sat behind a table near the dais and next to County Clerk Theresa Dursse.
One of Nebeker’s ideas is to enter into a contract with Taylor to help streamline meetings and ensure that commissioners are following board rules and Robert’s Rules of Order, a set of guidelines for public meetings widely used in the U.S.
The board rules, adopted in 2014, require that meetings adhere to Robert’s Rules unless they conflict with previously stated mandates. The rules also give the chair the power to appoint a parliamentarian.
“I just thought it would be good if he could face the board so that if anyone had a question to ask about procedure or had a point of order, they could ask him,” Nebeker said. “We have, in the past, run our meetings, I think, quite casually. But it worked, and we may agree that we want to continue to do that. But our county counsel is not a parliamentarian, and we all look to her for that advice. But I just thought, let’s give this a try.”
In an email forwarded to commissioners Wednesday morning, County Counsel Heather Reynolds said she had “grave concerns” about the idea.
“A parliamentarian usually serves a large legislative body, and the board of county commissioners acts both in a legislative and quasi-judicial capacity,” Reynolds wrote. “The chair runs the meeting (and) determines the order of the board business under the rules of the board per chapter 3, section 4 of the (Clatsop County) Charter.”
Both Reynolds, in the email, and Thompson, at the meeting, also raised concerns about an appearance of partisanship. The county charter mandates that all county offices be nonpartisan.
Taylor, a longtime Democratic activist who ran for Astoria mayor in 2014, served last year as chairman of the Clatsop County Democratic Central Committee.
“I’m eager to keep a bright, clear line between any affiliation and the operation of this nonpartisan board,” Thompson said. “Anybody who thinks Larry Taylor isn’t still active in the Democratic Party locally and at the state level just isn’t paying attention.”
During the discussion, Sullivan offered support for Nebeker’s idea.
“I have no problem with working towards better understanding of Robert’s Rules of Order. I think that they can be very helpful in a meeting,” Sullivan said. “I also know that Mr. Taylor has recently been certified as a parliamentarian, which is not an easy task, and not many people have that level of skill.”