Pierce Council may declare emergency in naming Sen. Carrell's replacement

Staff writerMay 31, 2013 

The Pierce County Council is facing pressure to speed up the process of naming a replacement for state Sen. Mike Carrell, who died Wednesday.

At a quickly called meeting Thursday, the Pierce County Republican Party chose three possible successors to the Lakewood Republican: former County Councilman Dick Muri, freshman state Rep. Steve O’Ban and University Place City Councilman Javier Figueroa — with Muri as the top pick.

The names go to the County Council, which must pick from among them.

Carrell’s death leaves the state Senate in a virtual tie — with 24 members remaining in the GOP-led Majority Coalition Caucus and 24 members in the Democratic caucus. The vacancy could hand power to the Democrats if Democratic Lt. Gov. Brad Owen were to choose to exercise what he says is his tie-breaking authority.

On Friday, initiative guru Tim Eyman joined the growing chorus calling for the Pierce County Council to deny the Democrats that opening by appointing Carrell’s replacement sooner than June 11. That is the earliest the council could act if it followed the usual path of giving one-week notice of a public hearing on the resolution.

June 11 also happens to be the last day of the Legislature’s 30-day special session.

“No delay is tolerable when the taxpayers of the 28th District are completely unrepresented in Olympia and the Legislature’s Democrats are trying to exploit the situation,” Eyman said Friday in an email to Republicans. “The Pierce County Council needs to make a decision immediately to prevent them from getting away with it.”

No evidence has emerged that Democrats plan to make a move, but quicker action by the council is possible. Susan Long, the council’s attorney, said Friday that the council could vote as soon as Tuesday if it can cite an emergency.

While the council rules of procedure enshrined in county code recognize emergency resolutions, neither those rules nor the county charter spells out when or how to pass one. Given that silence, the charter provision that appears to apply is the one governing emergency ordinances.

It says: “An ordinance necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, or support of the county government and its existing institutions, may be passed by a two-thirds vote of the council, which shall be effective immediately when approved by the executive.”

Long added one exception: The supermajority vote requirement would not apply to resolutions because neither the county code nor the charter explicitly requires more than a simple majority vote for resolutions.

The council has previously approved emergency resolutions for lesser appointments.

In 2010, it expedited the confirmation of then-Tacoma City Councilman Jake Fey and then-Lakewood City Councilwoman Claudia Thomas to the Sound Transit Board. The council received those resolutions Jan. 6 and approved them Jan. 12, two days before a Sound Transit Board meeting at which the board planned to award a contract for the project extending Sounder from Tacoma to Lakewood.

In that instance, the council cited the “immediate support of county government and its existing institutions” as its justification for declaring an emergency.

If the council were to pass an emergency measure to fill Carrell’s seat, the resolution would have to explain how the action was connected to the “immediate support of county government and its existing institutions” or the “preservation of the public peace, health or safety,” Long said.

County Council Chairwoman Joyce McDonald said Friday that the council is well aware of Republicans’ concerns about the vacancy.

“We are getting a lot of calls from PCOs (precinct committee officers) who say they want to be represented in this legislative session,” McDonald said.

McDonald said next week could bring a push from within the council to pass an emergency resolution, but that as of Friday, the council had taken no steps to hasten its decision.

She has added the legislative appointment to the council’s agenda for its Tuesday noon study session, although the council could make its intentions known earlier at Monday’s 11 a.m. study session. That meeting is in the council chambers on the 10th floor of the County-City Building, 930 Tacoma Ave. S. in Tacoma.

Even if the council decides to go the emergency route in naming an appointee, it still could try to conduct candidate interviews and take public comment at its Tuesday meeting before voting, according to Long.

Kim Bradford: 253-597-8631
kim.bradford@thenewstribune.com

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