Pierce County Council wrestles with how to fill dead lawmaker’s seat

Pierce County officials will discuss next week whether to choose a replacement for a state lawmaker who died or to do nothing and pass the decision to Gov. Jay Inslee.

King County and Pierce County are jointly tasked with filling the seat formerly held by state Rep. Roger Freeman, a Democrat from Federal Way who won re-election Nov. 4 despite dying six days earlier.

But King County officials met Dec. 8 and voted for Freeman’s replacement independently — a move that has irked members of the Pierce County Council.

Pierce County officials had considered asking for an attorney general’s opinion on whether the councils could vote in separate meetings, but Council Chairman Dan Roach said Friday that he believes an opinion issued in 1941 is clear that the vote must come during a joint session.

Roach said the Pierce council will discuss Tuesday how to proceed with filling Freeman’s seat.

The council could schedule its own meeting to pick a candidate, or it could choose to let a 60-day deadline expire and not make a choice to fill the vacancy, Roach said.

Roach said he’d prefer the latter approach.

“What is the point of having our own standalone meeting, when no matter what we do we have not been able to participate in the process correctly?” Roach asked.

The council must choose from three nominees forwarded by Democratic party officials.

If Pierce County picks the same candidate as King County did — Federal Way School Board president Carol Gregory — she would be selected as Freeman’s replacement, according to King County officials.

But if the council chooses another candidate or picks no candidate, Inslee could end up deciding between the three Democratic nominees.

The county councils can’t even agree on how much time they have to make their choice.

State law says that the two councils have 60 days after a legislative seat becomes vacant to choose a replacement. King County officials and the governor’s office said that gives Pierce County through Dec. 28 — 60 days after Freeman’s death — to fill the open seat.

Pierce County officials, meanwhile, think that the 60-day clock began on the day election results were certified. That means the County Council would have until at least the third week of January — after the Legislature will have begun its 2015 session — to pick a new lawmaker.