Questions dog joint agency

A board member says savings appear to be shrinking as the agency nears its opening date.

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WALLA WALLA -- Formation of a new city-county planning agency is continuing, but not without questions and concerns.

At a joint meeting of the Walla Walla City Council and county commission Monday, county Commissioner Greg Tompkins made it clear he wasn't happy with not having firm answers to questions he had as the launch date of the new agency looms.

"Moving forward for the sake of moving forward, I can't accept that," Tompkins said.

Tompkins said the specific questions he had were who will handle public records requests for the new agency, who will handle unemployment insurance, who will handle negotiations with labor unions and how software costs be handled.

Changes in the projected savings have also dropped while costs have climbed, Tompkins said. "Every week the cost savings to the people I represent has eroded," he said.

But city Councilman Jim Barrow, who serves with Tompkins on the new agency's board of directors, said "we need to move forward."

"People have been given layoff notices, expenses have been incurred, we need to get behind this," Barrow said. "I don't think we can afford to keep worrying it to death."

Others at the meeting agreed, saying that some issues and questions were going to have to be dealt with as they arose.

"We're never going to have 100 percent of the questions answered," said Walla Walla City Manager Nabiel Shawa. However, a team has been assembled "and I do believe we have savings here," he said. "We just need to hold together, hit the marks and make this happen."

The city and county hope to open the doors of the Walla Walla Joint Community Development Agency in early January. While much has been accomplished, from establishing internal policies to setting up a post office box, much still needs to be done, said Tom Glover, agency interim director.

However, Glover told the council and commissioners he believed the agency could be ready to go by the second week of January. Bill Clemens, chairman of the agency's board of directors, agreed. "From what I see at this point, we could be up and running by Jan. 10," he said. "The critical piece is to have Tom do interviews and assemble the staff."

Glover said he plans to begin interviewing applicants for positions in the agency Wednesday and hopes to be finished by next week. Forty-four applications have been received for the 12 positions. Among the applicants are five people from the county's Community Development Agency and five from the city's Development Services Department, both of which will cease to exist at year's end.

As the meeting drew to a close, City Attorney Tim Donaldson told Commission Chairman Gregg Loney he needed to know before next Wednesday "whether we're opening Jan. 3 or not." That deadline was because the City Council will meet that day and would need to approve an interim zoning ordinance.

"It doesn't matter if the agency is ready to go, we need to know if all the partners are ready to go," Donaldson said.

Loney said commissioners will put that on the agenda for their workshop Tuesday and would try to have an answer on the county commission's stance by that day.

"That's the pledge," Loney said. "We will try to make that decision by Tuesday morning so you can know what to do."

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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