Politics & Government

Departing Tacoma councilman runs into opposition with fill-in choice

Tacoma City Councilman Anders Ibsen knows who he wants to occupy his council seat while he’s away training for the Marine Corps reserves.

But some fellow council members, who learned last week that Ibsen will be taking a yearlong leave from the council, say they want to consider either leaving his position vacant or accepting applications for a temporary replacement.

Ibsen will start training in January and return late next year or in early 2015, with about a year left in his current City Council term. State law says elected officials can take a leave of absence from their elected duties while serving in the military.

Ibsen wants the nine-member council to appoint Jordan Rash to his seat while he is away. Rash is the conservation director for Forterra, the organization formerly known as Cascade Land Conservancy.

Both Ibsen and Councilman Ryan Mello said it makes sense for Ibsen to hand-select his interim replacement.

“I think it’s completely justified for (Ibsen) to have faith in the person who will be covering his duties in the interim,” Mello said.

Other councilmembers are not sold on the idea.

Councilwoman Lauren Walker said she congratulated Ibsen on his decision to serve his country when she learned of his pending departure last Tuesday, shortly before the news became public. But as for naming Rash as his replacement, Walker said: “I don’t think we simply take Anders’ suggestion.”

Councilman Robert Thoms concurred.

“To suggest that it’s a done deal is probably premature,” Thoms said of Ibsen’s choice of replacement.

City attorney Elizabeth Pauli said the City Council has leeway to decide how to place someone in Ibsen’s seat.

“Our charter says the council shall fill the vacancy. However, it’s up to the council to determine the process and their timing,” Pauli said.

The City Council is likely to discuss the impending vacancy during a meeting Tuesday.

Both Thoms and Councilman David Boe said they would defer to Mayor Marilyn Strickland on how the council proceeds. Strickland said the council members “will probably look at all of our options.”

Boe said the city does not necessarily have to fill Ibsen’s seat.

“It’s going to take them six months to learn how it all really works,” Boe said. “By that time, Councilman Ibsen would be returning, practically.”

Councilman Marty Campbell said if the council picks a temporary replacement, it should allow interested residents to submit applications.

“It’s an opportunity for us as leaders to really help develop other leaders in the community,” Campbell said.

Councilman Joe Lonergan said he’s still wrestling with what the council should do. But he’s certain that Ibsen, whose last council meeting is Dec. 17, should not have a vote in selecting his appointment.

“He can’t choose to fill his seat until his seat is empty, and when the seat is empty, he won’t have a vote,” Lonergan said. “Certainly Council member Ibsen’s preference is noted. It’s hard to say, but it feels a little presumptuous to appoint your replacement or presume to appoint your replacement.”

Ibsen said last week that he was sworn into the Marine Corps about a month ago “give or take.” When asked if he was sworn in on Sept. 11, he said, “Yeah, come to think of it, it was Sept. 11.”

He began briefing Rash on issues soon after, but didn’t tell his fellow council members at the time because he did not know if he would be selected for the officer program. He found out he was selected about two weeks ago.

At least two other people have expressed interest in the vacancy: former two-term City Councilman Spiro Manthou, who once held Ibsen’s seat, and Ibsen’s 2011 opponent, Karen Smitherman.

Smitherman said she would apply for an appointment “in a minute.” Manthou said he would have to talk with his family and employer, Pierce Transit, before seriously considering it.

“I know the system and how it operates. There’s no learning curve,” Manthou said.