In 2007 Pierce County voters overwhelmingly approved extending the Sheriff’s, the Assessor-Treasurer’s and the Auditor’s term of office from two four-year terms to three four-year terms.
During Thanksgiving week in 2008, Pierce County Councilman Dick Muri sponsored a resolution to do the same for the County Council and the County Executive. On December 2 at a County Council meeting held in Sumner, with only County resident Ken Paulson speaking in opposition, the Council voted five to two to put the issue before the voters this November.
On Christmas Day the County Council, using their official organ, The Puyallup Herald, published their intent for a vote by the people that if approved would extend their own and the Exec’s term limits to three four-year terms. A vote, if passed, that would also guarantee themselves another four years in office and another $400,000 in pay, not to mention a massive increase in their retirement accounts.
Fast forward to June of this year when this publication began asking questions as to how and when the “pro” and “con” committees, who write the statement in the voters’ pamphlet, would be appointed. The Auditor’s office, the County Exec’s office and County Councilman Tim Farrell didn’t have a clue.
Subsequently Farrell, who was one of two no votes on the measure, was instrumental in the formation of the “Con” committee.
Then out of the blue, in mid July, three elected officials, County Exec Pat McCarthy, Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma and State Auditor Brian Sonntag send the Council a letter asking to be appointed to the committee opposing the extension of term limits.
Had that letter not been submitted, is it likely that the Council would do as it has done in years passed and defer to the County Auditor to take the applications. However in the 2007 election no “pro” or “con” statements appeared in the voters’ pamphlet for charter amendments. So either nobody applied or, as Muri said, the Auditor fell down on the job.
By August 17 twelve people applied to be on the term limits “con” committee. On August 18 the council appointed Larry Faulk, Sherry Bockwinkel, and yours truly to the committee giving the members just six days to write and submit their statement.
To further confound the committee members the ballot title written by the Prosecuting Attorney’s office changed the traditional “Yes or No” vote on the ballot to “Accept or Reject” vote. Combined on the same measure was whether to change the election years for the County Exec and Council from even to odd number years.
So what if the voter was in favor of one and not the other; how are they suppose to vote? For the one they favor the most? The way the title was written is patently unfair to the voter.
That ballot title is now being challenged in Pierce County Court, not only over the “Yes or No” / “Accept or Reject” language, but also over a portion of the wording being argumentative.
There is also a question of Pierce County Deputy Prosecutor Mark Lindquist have been appointed to the committee in favor of the measure being a conflict of interest since the ballot title was written by a member of his staff. Arguments on the case will be heard August 31, a week after the committee statements are due at the Auditor’s office.
Also appointed to the pro committee was current City Councilman Rick Talbert a county employee who works directly for the County Council. Talbert, another career politician, if elected to the County Council, could then serve twelve years as opposed to eight.
Is what we have here a Machiavellian plot hatched by some County Council members for their own personal gain rather than for the benefit of Pierce County residents as some would have you believe, or is the simpler explanation that this elected body just can’t seem to get their act together?
It’s possible Muri came up the answer when he said, “People (County Council Members) who can make a difference don’t hit their stride until their sixth or seventh year (in office).”
Either way this is one hell of a political pill to swallow.
Editor’s note: This article was written while Hathaway was wearing his New Takhoman fedora.