It would have been quicker, and perhaps even easier, to provide a rundown of all the people who did not apply to fill the at-large Tacoma City Council seat vacated by Victoria Woodards, who bowed out last month to run for mayor.
Still, The News Tribune’s Candice Ruud was up to the daunting task — ticking off all 55 names on the list, and providing some background info on some of the more well known.
And an impressive list it is. You have businessmen and woman, activists and artists. You have a former newspaperman, former charter review candidates and a former City Council member. You have attorneys, bankers and a handful of Realtors. You have the son of a former city manager, and at least one manager of a local business association (who also happens to be a working magician.)
Plus, Sonics Guy.
Never miss a local story.
Now, the spotlight shifts to Mayor Marilyn Strickland and her colleagues on the City Council, who will get down to the important work of selecting Woodards’ successor. Whoever is chosen will receive an annual salary of just over $46,000, and finish out Woodards’ term, which runs through the end of this year.
Good gig, if you can get it.
As Ruud reported this week, first the council’s Government Performance and Finance Committee will whittle down the lengthy list to a handful of finalists. Then, those left standing in this game of local politics “Survivor” will be summoned to the council’s study session Jan. 24 for interviews.
If all goes as planned, expect a vote later that day. Here’s hoping they get it right.
So what does this City Council actually need in Woodards’ replacement?
Varied life experiences would be nice. Smarts should be required. A passion for service and making Tacoma a better place seems like a good place to start.
And, let’s not forget that Woodards’ departure leaves a significant hole in both female and minority representation on the council; filling these voids should be a top priority.
But, to be frank, what this council desperately needs — perhaps more than anything — is someone willing to break rank, publicly disagree and smartly challenge the majority.
Unless you know better, you’d think Tacoma’s City Council shares one brain. ... You have to be an expert in body language to detect disagreements, or know a council member who’s willing to fill you in on the behind the scenes drama off the record.
Covering Tacoma’s City Council certainly has its pros and cons. On the bright side, it’s a functioning governing body, not a smoldering tire fire like some of the other councils we have the privilege of following here at The News Tribune.
Still, it has its drawbacks: Most notably, unless you know better, you’d think the City Council shares one brain.
In my nearly two years at this paper, I can count on my fingers the number of times a council vote hasn’t felt predetermined. By the time decisions make their way to the dais, the debate — if we can call it that — feels largely procedural, and the outcome politely choreographed.
You have to be an expert in body language to detect disagreements, or know a council member who’s willing to fill you in on the behind-the-scenes drama off the record.
Unfortunately, unanimous votes are the way business gets done in T-Town, and political arguments — when they erupt — simmer largely behind closed doors.
It’s good for the optics of unity, I get it. And it’s not like our current council invented the trend. I’ve been schooled by local history buffs enough to know how we arrived at the status quo of local political kumbaya, specifically Tacoma’s years of political discord in decades gone by, when the council was a battleground where wealthy white collars from the North End publicly wrestled for power with blue collar labor interests from Tacoma’s south end. The results often left much to be desired, and often left Tacoma’s image tarnished.
Still, I’m afraid the united-front-at-all-times approach — as we see it today — hurts more than it helps.
For one, when it comes to open government, Tacoma citizens have the right to bear witness to how decisions get made. And if council members disagree — they sometimes do, I promise — that should be seen, not merely suspected.
But even more, the skepticism of the political process that’s taken root in Tacoma (and just about everywhere else) is only furthered when governance appears as a scripted production. Whether demonstrated by 2015’s minimum wage debate or last year’s methanol debacle, the idea that government is a high-functioning machine, stacked against the average person needs to be demonstrated for what it is — largely conspiratorial.
Choosing a friend, insider or yes-person to the council’s current vacancy won’t help.
At Tuesday’s council study session, Tacoma’s elected ticked off some of the qualities they’d like to see in their yet-to-be-chosen new colleague. They highlighted the need for a female representative, a minority voice and someone not from North End.
All good ideas.
But for political health, what they should also be looking for is an outside voice.
And a thoughtful dissenter.