Pasco City Councilman Tom Larsen had to sit out a vote on a proposed Goodwill store Monday after he revealed he had knocked on residents' doors about the issue.
A rezone for the old K-Mart building on West Court Street and a special permit allowing Goodwill to operate in the building already had a public hearing at the Pasco Planning Commission with testimony from any interested members of the public.
State law allows only one hearing on land use matters, and city council members then act as judges making decisions solely on the record sent by the planning commission. They're not allowed to take any new information or testimony, especially outside of the council chambers.
Mayor Matt Watkins had to stop a woman who owns property near the old K-Mart from offering comments during the Monday meeting because of that rule.
It's not unusual for the public to contact council members on land use issues that have been in the public eye, and Mayor Pro Tem Rebecca Francik and Councilman Saul Martinez both said they were contacted by people wanting to express opinions about the K-Mart rezone or Goodwill special permit.
In both cases, those council members told the residents they couldn't discuss the matter.
"You did the right thing," Kerr said. "The point is you didn't open the evidentiary door to receive information."
But Kerr told Larsen that going out and knocking on doors was a problem.
"You don't generally have a judge go out and interview witnesses before a trial," Kerr said. "That's what happened here."
Larsen said he went to the neighborhood only to make sure people knew the council was considering the rezone and special permit at Monday's meeting.
"All I did was tell people it was being discussed and if they had any wishes to have it one way or another that they should show up," he said.
Larsen said one family he talked to did express an opinion about the issue, and Kerr said that could create a conflict of interest when Larsen is supposed to be looking only at the planning commission record.
Larsen agreed to recuse himself from the vote and left the council chambers while the remaining council members voted unanimously in favor of the rezone and special permit.
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org