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Albany City Hall

Albany City Hall

The Albany City Council hosted budget committee member Scott Pierson as a guest councilor Wednesday night, a maneuver that drew protests from several attendees.

Pierson will sit as a non-voting guest for the duration of councilor Mike Sykes' five-week vacation.

Hatched in 2009, the resolution allows an absent councilor to suggest a figurehead stand-in while he or she is away.

This is the first time the provision has been used and the second attempt to pass it with a vote. The council on Oct. 9 voted 3-2 in favor of Pierson's appointment, but four yes votes were required in order for it to pass. That vote came Monday evening when Sykes called in from vacation. Councilors Ray Kopczynski and Dick Olsen opposed the appointment.

While the resolution allows for a "one-time" sit-in by a guest, Kellum successfully called for Pierson to able to sit in for the duration of Sykes' absence, which, arguably, is a "one-time" appointment.

The move brought several residents out to protest. They accused some council members of acting outside the rules when, in the protesters' minds, the council voted to ignore the resolution's "one-time" provision. In a written statement, the group asked what would become of other resolutions if this one could simply be amended with a vote at a work session.

"In a democratic society, these decisions matter deeply," the group declared.

Councilor Rich Kellum accused the protesters of floating "wild conspiracy theories."

Pierson spoke as well, explaining that his last guest councilor session five years ago helped him to become better involved in the community.

"I'm not here to waste the council's time," he said. "I wouldn't try and impose my opinion on the council."

He added that he thought all councilors should choose a guest during an extended absence.

"I think it's a lot better than not having a councilor here," he said.

Earlier in the week, Kopczynski said he didn't see the logic in the appointment, considering that the guest has no voting power and can only make comments.

"Whatever he has to say he could say from the floor during business from the public," Kopczynski said.

Kopczynski added that he believes the move gives a potential council candidate a forum and exposure.

"It's free advertising," he said. 

Sykes, reached by telephone on Tuesday, said he is distressed by any suggestion that the move is meant to pave the way for a Pierson candidacy.

"That is not the case," he said. "I had scheduled a vacation over a year ago that I think I am entitled to. Pierson volunteered for the position to help me out."

Sykes said Pierson's role will only be to appear at meetings and keep Sykes updated on the council while he's away.

"I was trying to do what's best for the city of Albany," he said. 

Sykes added that any speculation about ulterior motives is bad for the city.

"That's not team-building," he said. "Is that the direction we as a city want to go?"

Contact reporter Neil Zawicki at 541-812-6099 or neil.zawicki@lee.net

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