Council president Bruce Harrell on Thursday announced he will open up applications to the public for Tim Burgess's replacement on the council. The outline included two community forums—a request from the Transparent Seattle coalition that includes members of the Peoples Party—but left it optional for applicants or council members to attend.
The council on Monday unanimously passed a different version of the resolution; with a Kshama Sawant-sponsored amendment, council members are now requiring applicants to show up to at least one public forum. Council members will still ultimately decide who gets appointed on October 6, but it will come with an extensive public process. Community members say the forum allows the public to ask applicants questions and see where they stand on issues important to them. Two who have already expressed interest are former council member Nick Licata and Gender Justice League director Danni Askini, who's been pushing for more funding to support sexual abuse survivors.
Along with moving a community forum to 5:30pm on Tuesday next week (another request from the coalition), the resolution now states that "council expects applicants to attend at least one of the forums." Council members removed language that said lack of attendance would not be counted against candidates.
"This is an important if only partial victory of true democracy," Transparent Seattle member Guy Oron said about the forums while urging council members to require applicants to attend. "(The public process) must be transparent and it also must change the final outcome."
The city council has appointed several council members in the past, some of whom have continued to hold the seat after being reelected. Sally Clark and John Okamoto are two council members who were appointed, and were brought up again as potential candidates for council members this year. (Clark told PubliCola she will not be applying for the seat.) So could the change in process this year, for a now 46-day council term, be a new standard for future appointments?
"I think this is a great template for us to consider for all vacancies moving forward," said council member Lisa Herbold during the Monday meeting. "These are important values not just for transparency's sake but also ensuring that the person that we are choosing to fill this vacancy really represents the values of the city."
According to the city's listings, there have been 47 council appointments in Seattle's history since 1869. Several of them were appointed more than once, and—in Seattle's very early years—some even got appointed the same day a council member retired.
The appointment for Burgess's seat will be the fourth in the past 20 years, during which there has never been a community-led forum on record. In recent history, there has also never been an appointment that's been this short (less than two months). The other three most recent appointments were John Okamoto in 2015, Sally Clark in 2006, and Richard McIver in 1997:
- Okamoto was appointed on April 27, 2015, to take over for Sally Clark, who left the council for a job at the University of Washington. Tim Burgess, who was council president at the time, outlined a process that included public three-minute presentations by finalists council members chose for the vacancy. The meeting also had a public hearing, and the applications were made public beforehand.
- Clark was, coincidentally, also appointed to her seat first—on January 23, 2006, to replace Jim Compton after his resignation. She ran for the seat in November 2006 and won.
- McIver was appointed on January 27, 1997, to fill in for John Manning. McIver successfully ran for a different open council seat in November that year, while Peter Steinbrueck won Manning's old seat.
The format is still undecided as to how the community-led forums will go. Sally Bagshaw at the Monday meeting asked that the community-led forums be kept open to differing opinions and free of intimidation or "bullying tactics."
The council also did some housekeeping and officially made Herbold chair of the budget committee, with Rob Johnson as vice chair. The council president pro-tem will rotate on a monthly basis for the rest of the year.
Updated 4:58pm on September 28, 2017, to include some background on appointments in the past 20 years.