This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
Departing Tacoma City Council members should resist the temptation to make a final mark (or two) on city government via the appointment process.
The council is debating how to fill vacancies created by this month’s election. Councilwoman Marilyn Strickland is moving to the mayor’s chair, and Julie Anderson is leaving the council to become Pierce County auditor.
Both need to be replaced, and the question before the council is not only who will fill their seats but who gets to do the picking – the three newly elected council members or the term-limited four who are leaving?
The question is complicated by timing, council members’ schedules, city charter requirements and potential conflicts of interest. The result is a process that is, as Councilman Rick Talbert put it Tuesday, “clear as mud.”
One thing is apparently certain: The council must at least start the appointment process for Anderson’s replacement. She becomes auditor next week; Strickland doesn’t officially vacate her seat until Jan. 1.
Problem is, applications from people seeking Anderson’s position are due Dec. 4. That’s just two weeks before holiday schedules would hobble the current council’s ability to make an appointment.
At least three councilmembers favor squeezing a vote in, arguing that people who have done the job can best identify who would be a good fit.
Two of those council members – Talbert and Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg – have good reason to want their colleagues to make the call since they are expected to throw their hats in the ring.
And that’s exactly the problem with commandeering what should be the new council’s role. Any decision by the current council would inevitably look rigged.
Perhaps Talbert or Ladenburg can make a compelling case that the City Council needs to balance its new faces with some experienced hands.
Let them make that argument – to the newbies voters just elected to help lead the city. Fresh off the campaign trail, they likely have the best handle on what average Tacomans want from their council.
Waiting to fill the council’s vacant seats until the new council members are seated is no punt. It would be a vote of confidence in the new council’s abilities and a show of respect to the voters who elected it.