Dynamic of Puyallup City Council could shift after election

The Puyallup City Council often sees shifting group dynamics after local elections, and this year has the potential to follow the trend.

Two incumbents appear headed for new terms, while another is losing his bid for re-election.

The city’s mayor chose not to run for office again, leaving the seat open.

The two apparent newcomers have said they’re committed to improving council civility, which they and others say was lacking during their predecessors’ tenures.

Incumbent John Palmer maintained an overwhelming majority over opponent Keith Sherrill on Friday, with 61 percent of the vote in District 2 Position 1. Incumbent Tom Swanson led challenger Robin Ordonez with 54 percent for the District 3 Position 1 race.

Incumbent Steve Vermillion trailed Dean Johnson by 268 votes for the at-large seat. And Robin Farris held a strong lead, 64 percent, over fellow newcomer Pat McGregor to seize the spot being vacated by Mayor John Knutsen.

The election won’t be certified until Nov. 24, but most of the ballots have been counted.

Knutsen’s and Vermillion’s voting records have often aligned with Swanson’s.

Several years ago, the three often voted in a majority bloc along with former Mayor Rick Hansen, who ended his stint on the council two years ago due to term limits.

That’s when Julie Door and Heather Shadko were elected, and the council majority shifted.

Now things are up in the air once more.

Johnson said Friday he believes this election will mark the end of contentious voting blocs.

“It doesn’t mean that we’ll all agree,” he said, “but we’ll get along even in disagreement.”

Johnson and Farris have both called for increased civility among council members and between council members and the public.

Their predecessors at times were criticized for unprofessional conduct, ranging from publicly airing personal feuds with a private citizen to limiting a resident’s comments during a public meeting.

Some residents called for new ethics rules for elected officials earlier this year, partly in response to behavior they considered to be bullying.

Knutsen said Friday he wasn’t elected to get along with his fellow council members.

“I ran to represent the public. The quiet voice in the back of the room doesn’t get heard,” he said. “I have no regrets. I wouldn’t change the way I did it.”

As for the potential direction of the new council:

“The pendulum swings and it always returns,” Knutsen said. “One side does damage and one side repairs it. Nobody knows what this swing is going to do.”

Vermillion said in an email Friday that he wouldn’t comment “on accusations by candidates or current council members on incivility.”

Johnson said the people’s message was clear while he doorbelled for his campaign: “The voters of Puyallup want a council that is civil and is going to get things done for the people and not for their own personal agendas.”

Farris couldn’t be reached for comment Friday, but she has said in previous interviews that the council must work toward a higher standard of behavior.

Although it’s unclear if new voting blocs will emerge in Puyallup as a result of the election, one change is certain: The newly elected council will appoint a mayor from its ranks for a two-year stint.

The choice has historically been the sitting council member with the most seniority. That puts Councilman John Hopkins next in line for the ceremonial role.

Hopkins told The News Tribune that “appalling behavior” has plagued the council, but he’s “supremely optimistic” that will change as a result of this election.

“I think, going forward, we will have differences of opinion,” he said Friday, “but we will handle them in a professional and civil manner.”

Hopkins said the City Council has had too many split votes on important issues. He still anticipates differences of opinions to arise.

“But I believe with this new council that’s coming in, we’ll be able to talk them through,” Hopkins said.

Some on the council have suggested changing the process for appointing the mayor. But the council ultimately decided to postpone the discussion until after the election, to give the new members a voice in the process.

A new mayor will be selected by the first meeting in January.

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682