King County Council chairman spurns Pierce County Council’s joint meeting invitation

The chairman of the Metropolitan King County Council on Thursday swiftly rejected the Pierce County Council’s plan to hold a joint meeting in Tacoma to choose a replacement for a state lawmaker who died.

A few hours after Pierce County Council Chairman Dan Roach announced a plan to have the two councils meet together on Monday, King County Council Chairman Larry Phillips said in an emailed statement that there would be no joint session to pick a replacement for state Rep. Roger Freeman.

Phillips said Roach has no authority to call for a special meeting of the King County Council, which has recessed for the year. And Phillips said his council already chose a candidate Dec. 8 “to satisfy its responsibility of taking joint action to fill the vacancy in the 30th Legislative District.”

“While we appreciate the effort of the Pierce County Council to also act on the appointment at its December 22 special meeting, the King County Council has acted,” Phillips said in his statement. “Accordingly, there will be no special meeting of the King County Council on December 22, 2014 in Pierce County.”

Roach said King County has repeatedly rebuffed the Pierce County Council’s efforts to have a joint meeting. When his meeting announcement went out Thursday morning, Roach said he left messages for eight King County Council members and talked with another.

“We are trying to fulfill the obligations of the state Constitution,” Roach said. “It they don’t want to be a part of that, then that’s their choice.”

Roach learned about Phillips’ rejection of Monday’s meeting from a reporter. Phillips didn’t call Roach directly.

“That’s too bad,” Roach said of Phillips’ decision.

“It’s worked a certain way for decades, that is having joint meetings with weighted (proportionate) voting,” Roach said. “For whatever reason, they’ve decided to change course and not follow the state Constitution.”

Pierce County and King County are jointly tasked with filling the seat formerly held by Freeman, a Democrat from Federal Way who won re-election Nov. 4 despite dying six days earlier. Freeman’s district straddles the Pierce-King county line.

The Pierce County Council has a Republican majority; the King County Council is officially nonpartisan but five of its nine members are Democrats.

King County maintains that the two governing bodies can take a joint action as required by state law even if they vote in different places on different days. Pierce officials say a joint meeting is legally required under a 1941 opinion of the state attorney general.

King officials met Dec. 8 and voted 8-0 to replace Freeman with Federal Way School Board president Carol Gregory — a move that has irked members of the Pierce County Council.

Roach said he expects that without a joint meeting the process used to replace Freeman will be challenged in court. He said Pierce County Council members would still recommend a candidate Monday if King County doesn’t take part.

Phillips said that “in the interest of a balanced and equitable system,” the King County Council’s choice of Gregory “will not be effective unless the Pierce County Council also makes the same appointment.”

“If it does not, there will be no joint appointment,” Phillips said.

The councils have through Dec. 28 to agree on one of the three Democratic nominees for Freeman’s seat, according to the governor’s office. The decision goes to Gov. Jay Inslee if the councils don’t act or can’t agree.

Inslee wouldn’t make a decision until after Jan. 1, but he would make it in time for the start of the legislative session Jan. 12, said Nick Brown, the governor’s general counsel.