Toilet break nearly derails $22 million project at city council meeting


A short break during the city council meeting on Wednesday almost cost the city dearly.

In the final moments of a marathon business session, the item came up to approve or deny the expenditure of $22 million to build a municipal organics processing plant.

But when this point was brought up, Councilman David Kirton briefly left the room and almost flushed the project down the toilet.

“I'm not sure it was intentional, but it had serious consequences,” said Mayor Charlie Clark when he realized Kirton was not in the room during the vote.

In the city's video of the meeting, another councilor can be heard saying, “He's in the bathroom.”

The moment was significant because, as with most major issues in recent years, the council was split. Without Kirton's vote for the project, the council was in a deadlock, with five for and five against. According to procedure, a tie vote means a loss.

“I can’t remember anything concrete like that happening,” said City Councilor Donauer on Friday.

Kirton says he simply thought he had time before the vote, so he decided to take a moment and walk out – a common practice during long meetings in the council chamber.

However, since the city council had discussed the biowaste facility in numerous meetings over the past few months, there was no discussion but only a vote, meaning Kirton was absent at a crucial moment.

“I miscalculated and when I came back to a fairly quiet room, Councilman Loewen said, 'You know, we lost. We lost the organic vote by a tie,'” Kirton said.

“I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I felt sick, and I felt sick.”

The situation was made even more dramatic by the actions of Donauer, who preferred to offer the project on the open market rather than realizing it internally. Knowing that the plant would probably be completed by a vote of 6 to 5 based on the previous meetings, he stood up and asked the councilors to reconsider the motion, knowing that the plant he rejected would now be completed.

“As soon as all the municipal councillors are together, a proposal will be found,” said Donauer.

“They would have had to change just one word or one dollar and we would have had to discuss the whole thing again. So the end result was inevitable.”

By not only sparing Kirton an embarrassment, Donauer says, he also likely saved the administration and city council many hours of time that they would have spent on another vote.

Kirton says that although he and Donauer are often involved in dissenting votes, such a gesture shows how the council members work together.

“I just thought it was incredibly classy,” Kirton said.

“We've become best friends, and when we're there, it's not about agreeing or disagreeing, it's not about fighting each other. It's about moving the city forward.”

Ultimately, Kirton supported the motion to allow a vote in the presence of all council members.

“The votes can go any way at any given time, but no one on the council is really playing games,” Donauer said. “And we're all trying to get to the bottom line, which is that our citizens are heard.”

As Donauer predicted, the motion passed by a vote of 6 to 5, allowing the city to build its own organics processing facility in an area near Recovery Park. However, no one had any idea how the path to get there would ultimately be.

“This is a new experience in the council in 18 years. But I would like to thank you, Councillor Donauer, for your generosity in this situation,” Clark said shortly after the vote.

“I always like to bring something new to the council, and I guess that was the latest. But I don't want to do it again. Ever,” Kirton said with a smile.