Last Thursday night, February 2, as council members and their staff wound down from an unusually acrimonious January (and the first day of a typically uneventful city council retreat, held in Bremerton) the group's newest member, Sally Clark, was sequestered with several council staffers in a fluorescent-lit conference room, playing poker. (Mike Fong, a staffer for straight-laced Council Member Tom Rasmussen, won.)

But since I find watching poker about as compelling as watching a bunch of hefty dudes lumber up and down a field, I headed over to the South Seas bar, where most of the council and their staff had convened for late-night karaoke. Because I have nothing but respect for anybody ballsy enough to tackle "Material Girl" or "Que Sera, Sera" in front of a room full of people they'll have to face in the office on Monday, I'll just say that everyone was amazing—especially karaoke virgin Richard Conlin, the unsuccessful candidate for council president who sang a poignant rendition of "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

As for the retreat itself: Nothing happened, unless you count a media training workshop that went haywire when council members, unable to agree on an actual topic, settled on the (fictional) perils of blue chewing gum. But the best quote of the retreat, which came during a workshop on broadcast media coverage, Tom Rasmussen said, "Sometimes I think [TV reporters] would rather cover a fire in a dumpster than come to City Hall."

Clark, who officially took office last Monday, got the full ceremonial treatment one week later, when her partner, Liz Ford, swore her in Monday afternoon, capping the staid oath of office with what may have been City Hall's first public lesbian kiss. Clark's appointment remained controversial, however, among many in the Asian-American community, who had hoped the council would appoint a woman of color (a description that fit five of the six council finalists). Sharon Maeda, a candidate many considered the frontrunner for the job, said she was "surprised" Clark was chosen when so many equally qualified minority candidates were available. "When it got down to the final six, it wasn't about affirmative action," Maeda said. Although Maeda says she has no plans to run against Clark in 2006, some have speculated that another formidable Asian American, Washington State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos, might; Santos was not available for comment Monday or Tuesday.

Council President Nick Licata is seeking input from council members on how to address an estimated $67 million cost overrun in Mayor Greg Nickels's $167 million fire levy. Nickels wants the extra money to come from the city budget; but Licata argues, reasonably enough, that the council might want to determine what cutbacks are possible before it rubber stamps the mayor's 40 percent overrun. Council members have until the end of the month to decide which option they prefer; on February 27, Licata is expected to call a council meeting to discuss options for filling the $67 million gap.