Tacoma’s City Council is gearing up to fill a soon-to-be vacated council seat as Rep.-elect Jake Fey prepares to head to Olympia.
Nearly a month before Fey gives up his Position 2 seat at year’s end, the council will launch an appointment process to replace him, publicly calling for applications to fill the seat representing Northeast Tacoma, the Port of Tacoma and parts of downtown and Old Town.
If all goes by schedule, a new council member will be sworn in Jan. 29.
“I think the process is pretty straight-forward,” Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland said Friday. “We should have a new council member in Jake’s seat by the end of January.”
For months, the council has known its ranks would temporarily fall from nine to eight members, as two council members battled each other to fill the state House seat vacated by Jeannie Darneille, who ran successfully for state Senate.
Fey, who had twice before run for the Legislature, decisively beat his colleague, District 3 Councilwoman Lauren Walker, to win the 27th Legislative District seat representing Tacoma.
To replace him, the council has opted for a selection process that will include consideration of candidates by all members, rather than merely having the body hold a final vote on one candidate recommended by a committee tasked with vetting the field.
“We had a couple of options,” Strickland said, “but there was a feeling that some council members would feel excluded that way.”
The process will mirror one used two years ago, when the council faced filling two seats that were eventually awarded to appointees David Boe and Ryan Mello.
The appointee will serve the remainder of Fey’s council term, through the end of 2013. He or she will likely have a leg up in next year’s election. After completing their appointed terms, Boe and Mello each won election to their respective council seats.
The council will kick off the appointment process Dec. 4, a week after Pierce County certifies its election returns, by formally directing City Manager T.C. Broadnax to start accepting applications.
The deadline to submit an application is Dec. 19, just before the council adjourns for the holidays.
The city charter dictates that Fey’s replacement must have lived in Tacoma for two years and resided in District 2 – the horseshoe-like city ward that curls around part of Commencement Bay from Northeast Tacoma to Old Town – “for one year immediately preceding the time of appointment.”
To be eligible, any applicant “would have to meet the same qualifications as a candidate seeking election” for the seat, noted Tacoma City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli.
City officials don’t expect the number of applicants to be anywhere near the 44 who applied to fill two open seats two years ago. Both vacancies involved at-large seats, meaning eligible residents from any part of the city could apply to fill them.
“I’ve not really heard much at all,” Strickland said of potential applicants. “Because there’s just one seat and it’s a district position versus a citywide position, I expect there’ll be a lot fewer applications this time.”
At least one candidate has made it clear she would seek the position if Fey won. Patricia Lecy-Davis – a downtown resident, business owner and past president of Tacoma’s Downtown Merchants Group – has attended various council meetings and study sessions for months to prepare herself for a potential appointment opportunity. Lecy-Davis, who was among eight applicants named as finalists during the last appointment process, confirmed Friday she intends to apply to fill the vacant seat.
Real estate agent Sharon Benson, who finished just out of the top two vote-getters in a field vying for the Pierce County Council Position 4 seat in August, also confirmed in an email Friday she’s “considering applying” for the open seat.
While the council has agreed on a schedule and process for the appointment, still unclear is exactly how council members will winnow the applicant pool.
State law allows for government bodies to convene in private to discuss applicants’ qualifications, but they can’t make decisions behind closed doors.
During the last appointment process, The News Tribune challenged the city in court, contending the council had violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act by deciding on finalists behind closed doors.
Before the final appointments were made, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff found a “reasonable inference” that the council had violated the law. He also ordered the city to video- and audio-record any future closed-door deliberations during the appointment process. The council ultimately selected Boe and Mello during lengthy public deliberations.
Pauli, who contended Thursday that the newspaper’s “objections were to something that never happened,” added she has yet to advise the council about the selection process this time – and likely won’t until the body is ready to consider applicants.
“I have not specifically advised on that yet,” she said. “We’ll see what happens.”
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Council appointment timeline
With Councilman Jake Fey headed to the Legislature and set to vacate his Position 2 City Council seat at the end of the year, the City of Tacoma will be appointing a replacement. Here’s the timeline of the city’s appointment process:
Dec. 4: Council makes motion to direct city manager to accept applications.
Dec. 5-9: City advertises vacancy and posts application on website.
Dec. 19: Deadline for candidates to submit applications.
Dec. 20: Applications forwarded to mayor and council.
Jan. 8: Mayor announces that candidates will be interviewed during either a special meeting or a council study session. Interviews will be broadcast on TV Tacoma.
Jan. 15: Interviews conducted at special meeting or study session.
Jan. 22: City Council appoints candidate to fill vacant seat.
Jan. 29: City swears in new council member.
Mar. 3: If a council majority fails to make an appointment by this date, the mayor shall make the appointment, subject to confirmation of the remaining members of the council.
Source: City of Tacoma