Special Reports

Ousting not as undemocratic as some would like to think

Some random thoughts on the coup that wasn't.

Banana Republic - I know she was upset about losing, but Tacoma Councilwoman Sharon McGavick let her rhetoric run amok Tuesday night.

"This is a political coup," she said. "It's an overthrow of the city manager."

McGavick suggests that the 5-4 vote to replace Ray Corpuz as city manager with Jim Walton was somehow outside the bounds of law. That's what coup d'etat means - the violent overthrow of a government.

But the citizens who contacted their elected officials and urged that Corpuz be replaced followed both the letter and the spirit of the Tacoma City Charter, which is the city's constitution. So did the council majority that responded to the voters - and to their own best judgment.

The system worked exactly as it is supposed to work. So how does that qualify as a coup? If voters turn out an incumbent governor or president, is that a coup too? Or is it only a coup if your guy loses?

Democracy isn't supposed to be pretty. Exercising it isn't supposed to be denigrated by elected officials.

Perhaps McGavick meant the other definition of coup: a brilliant, sudden move; a master stroke.

Probably not.

Miller's Crossing - Set aside for a moment whether you agree or disagree with Councilman Doug Miller's decision to vote against firing Corpuz. Give him credit for a display of political courage we don't see much anymore. It was courageous because it was unpopular and came at great risk.

Miller is the only one of the four "no" votes on the council who will face voters again. Bil Moss has announced she won't run this year, McGavick is term-limited at the end of this year and Kevin Phelps is term-limited in 2005.

Miller will face voters this fall when the slaying of Crystal Brame - and the council's response - is sure to be the No. 1 issue.

It took a little away from the moment when Miller told us how brave he was being. ("Just know that I probably have more to lose by voting 'no' than anyone else.") Still, the crowded and sometimes boisterous council chambers were completely silent as he was explaining his decision.

Miller's vote wouldn't have changed the outcome and the safer action would have been to join the majority. As political dramas go, the council speeches and the roll call were some of the best the city has seen in years. If you missed it, look for the replay on TV Tacoma.

Government History 101 - Not that I didn't enjoy former University of Puget Sound professor Bill Baarsma's lecture on the history of Tacoma's charter and 50 years of city managers. But had the mayor continued his lesson a second longer, he might have chased away the fifth vote for terminating Corpuz.

Council members are used to his dissertations. But the reaction of some council members Tuesday went from bemusement to seething as he went on and on. And on.

In Olympia, they say, "If you've got the votes, don't talk. Vote."

Terrific Honorifics - The late Dixy Lee Ray once corrected a guest at a reception who referred to her as "Dr. Ray" in honor of her doctoral degree in zoology.

Ray corrected the person, saying she preferred "Governor Ray." There are tens of thousands of doctors, Ray pointed out, but only 50 governors.

It's a personal bias, perhaps, but I think an honorific bestowed by your fellow citizens outranks one given by a university. Sharon McGavick, who has a doctorate in vocational and community college education, should be referred to as "Councilwoman McGavick" while on the dais at council meetings, not "Dr. McGavick."

Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657