Politics & Government

Pierce County Council fails to reach agreement on a replacement for deceased state lawmaker

The Pierce County Council failed Monday to reach agreement on a successor for a deceased state lawmaker, which will result in Gov. Jay Inslee making the appointment.

The County Council voted on three candidates forwarded by Democrats but could not reach a majority of four “yes” votes to appoint any one of them. The council chairman said he declined to vote for Democratic officials’ top choice because King County refused to schedule a joint meeting to make the pick.

Pierce County and King County were jointly tasked with filling the 30th Legislative District seat formerly held by Rep. Roger Freeman, a Democrat from Federal Way. Freeman won re-election Nov. 4 despite dying six days earlier. Freeman’s district straddles the Pierce-King county line.

Inslee will make the selection after Jan. 1, but in time for the start of the legislative session Jan. 12, said Jaime Smith, the governor’s spokeswoman. He will choose from the among the three candidates recommended by Democrats, Smith said.

Pierce County had sought for at least two weeks to have a joint meeting with the Metropolitan King County Council to make the appointment, even after King officials voted 8-0 on Dec. 8 to appoint Federal Way School Board member Carol Gregory.

Pierce officials said a joint meeting is legally required under a 1941 opinion of the state attorney general. King County maintains that the two governing bodies can take joint action as required by state law even if they vote in different places on different days.

Pierce County Council Chairman Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, attempted to schedule a joint meeting for Monday with the King County Council. But King County Council Chairman Larry Phillips rejected that bid last week, saying Roach had no authority to call a special meeting for King County.

Still, the Pierce County Council crowded to one side of its dais on Monday to make room for King County Council members. When none showed, the King County name cards were removed, and the Pierce County Council met on its own.

Pierce Councilman Jim McCune, R-Graham, said he abstained from voting on all nominees Monday because the constitutional process of having a joint meeting wasn’t followed.

The council voted first on the Democrats’ third-place choice: Shari Song, a real estate agent who recently lost a state Senate race to Federal Way Republican Mark Miloscia. Song received the votes of the three Republican members of the council who participated in voting. Councilman Stan Flemming, R-Gig Harbor, was absent.

The Democrats’ second choice, chemical engineer Richard Champion, received just two votes, from Roach and fellow Republican Doug Richardson of Lakewood. Gregory also got Richardson’s vote, joined by Tacoma Democrats Connie Ladenburg and Rick Talbert.

Roach he voted “no” on the final motion on Gregory because she would have been appointed without a joint meeting of the two councils.

“That’s where it became political for me,” Roach said. “If we just go along with what King County does and appoint the same person that they did, then they have set the precedent for the future.

“And that, in my mind, can’t happen,” Roach said. “It’s wrong.”

Talbert also objected to how King County handled the process.

“King County chose to do their own thing,” Talbert said, “which has left us where we are.”

Gregory and Champion both expressed surprise over Monday’s outcome at the Pierce County Council Chambers.

“I expected a decision to be made one way or the other,” Gregory said. “I didn’t expect it not to be made.”

Gregory and Champion both made presentations and answered questions from the Pierce County Council. Song was not able to attend because she was out of town.

Pierce County Council attorney Susan Long said Pierce’s failure to make a recommendation will be forwarded to Inslee’s office this week. He will make the appointment because a majority on both councils didn’t agree, Long said.