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.