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Tacomans paid a price for their council’s secrecy

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Jan. 14, 2010 at 6:06 pm with 6 Comments »
January 19, 2010 2:18 pm

As we’ve repeatedly noted, the Tacoma City Council shut the public out when its members decided on finalists for two open seats. The citizens paid a price for that secrecy.

I’ll focus on a single case. In making that first cut, the council eliminated 36 applicants, leaving eight. One of the rejected candidates was architect Jim Merritt, who narrowly lost the citywide election for mayor last September. His opponent, Marilyn Strickland, was among the council members who secretly made the cuts last week.

Was Mayor Strickland magnanimous, chilly or judicious in that discussion? Did she defend her recent rival? Argue cogently against possible polarization resulting from his appointment? I don’t particularly care what side she came down on. But Tacomans would have learned more about their new mayor had they been privy to a discussion that produced a de facto decision behind closed doors.

I’m not arguing for Merritt’s appointment here, just wondering why his application was dumped in favor of other candidates who – for all their virtues – couldn’t match his very long record of contributions to the city.

There’s also the fact that November’s election was hardly a sweeping repudiation of the guy. The margin was so close that slightly different circumstances might easily have reversed the results. The fact that he lost, though barely, might have been a reason not to ultimately appoint him; it wasn’t – to my mind – a reason to eliminate him from the outset. An applicant who’d lost by a larger margin, like Keven Rojecki, would be another story.

Leave Strickland and Merritt aside. Tacoma would have learned more about the entire council had it made its actual decision – about all 44 candidates – in the open public meeting instead of just formalizing it there. (In a probable violation of open meetings law, a judge found Wednesday.)

I bring up Merritt because he was in this morning to talk about some urban planning issues close to his heart. I asked him if he’d learned anything about why the council had tossed out his application at the first opportunity.

“I’m just as in the dark as the rest of the citizens. I’ve not had any of the council members give me any clue at all as to what was involved.”

That makes two of us.

Leave a comment Comments → 6
  1. Hoodsportwriter says:

    A silly issue! The council was going to pick who they were going to pick. There are about a million other issues more worthy of a newspapers attention in this town that the citizens have no idea about and you don’t report on. You birds are just mad because you think you should be part of the insiders game and you were closed out this time. Boo Hoo!

  2. ldozy1234 says:

    the only thing missing in this travesty was the final act of pure arrogance and stupidity that would have be thrown in our faces if Rick Talbert had received a seat. Guess it was only prevented by having the spotlight on these irresponsible and probably illegal proceedings in the selection process.
    Another example of why Pierce Politics are such a joke.

  3. I am referring to the letter entitled “Tacomans paid a price for their council’s secrecy” because the citizens of University Place are paying the same price. The University Place City Council also had a secret ballot on January 13, 2010, to start the process to fill the #7 seat on their council. The council meetings are usually televised, however, I understand this meeting was not. The UP City citizens are being cut out of a process that should be open and transparent.

  4. “A silly issue!” NOT. Pat, you mention Merritt and his time spent already doing good works. Add Harold Moss. Former Councilmember, Former Mayor, Former County Councilmember, Former County Council President.
    I’d like to see why he didn’t make the great eight along with Former Councilmember Bil Moss and the wife of State Rep. Bill Smitherman.
    They passed on a lot of talent for a guy that draws pictures of what he dreams Tacoma would be (Boe), and a guy that has only proved that he can’t finish a job (Mello). What DOES Ryan Mello DO for a living??? Does anyone KNOW???

  5. derekyoung says:

    Ryan is Pierce County Executive Director of Cascade Land Conservancy.

  6. An excellent illustration of why open and honest deliberations are beneficial to civic conduct. It’s always facile to debunk criticism by claiming the issues are not important or that one has ulterior motives. The debate should be kept squarely on the issue of the political process, not its outcome or its subject matter. I remember that Mayor Strickland made education her campaign cornerstone; in this case she robbed the city of a civic education opportunity.

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