In response to objections from residents, newly elected SeaTac Mayor Jake Simpson backpedaled Tuesday (Jan. 25, 2022) on a plan to suspend council rules in order to expeditiously amend the city’s 2022 state legislative agenda, which had been adopted by the previous council in October 2021.
Simpson had asked City Manager Carl Cole to bring the previously adopted legislative agenda back to the council in order to consider striking language instructing the city’s lobbyist to oppose legislation regarding accessory dwelling units (ADUs) that would conflict with local regulations.
“The legislative agenda that was created by the previous council wasn’t necessarily reflective of the new council majority’s vision for what was going to be lobbied for in Olympia,” Simpson told The SeaTac Blog on Wednesday, referring to bills such as state Rep. Mia Gregerson’s HB 1337 and state Rep. Sharon Shewmake’s HB 1660, each of which aim to do away with owner-occupancy rules, such as those in SeaTac and most other Washington cities, that require property owners to live on properties that have ADUs.
In order to consider the proposed change to the city’s legislative agenda during Tuesday night’s meeting, a supermajority of the council (five of seven councilmembers) would have needed to vote to suspend council rules that require prior review by a standing committee of the council or direct referral to the council by the city manager.
“I think the urgency was felt around the fact that this is a short session,” Simpson said of the proposed motion to suspend the rules, referring to this year’s 60-day legislative session from Jan. 10 to March 10.
Two residents spoke during Tuesday’s meeting and ten residents submitted written public comments opposing suspension of the rules in order to consider amending the legislative agenda, including former councilmembers Pam Fernald and Stan Tombs.
“Rule suspension should ONLY be used in exigent circumstances where action must be taken that cannot [be] achieved in the normal course,” wrote Tombs, who in November 2021 lost his bid to remain on the council to Simpson. “Suspension of the rules must be done with the utmost judiciousness and circumspection and not as an opportunistic end‐run.”
Fernald, who lost her re-election bid to councilmember Iris Guzman in November 2021, said the move “shows that council ethics are sorely lacking” and “sets a chilling precedent.
“This is a blatant attempt to obfuscate and usurp the rights of citizens and any stakeholders to weigh in on deconstructing something the last council had worked diligently– and OPENLY on!,” Fernald wrote.
At the end of Tuesday night’s meeting, councilmember Guzman thanked those who submitted public comments.
“I think that as new councilmembers it is important to hear from folks and how they’re feeling about things, and it’s a really great learning lesson for us,” Guzman said.
Councilmember Erin Sitterley, who previously served as mayor, said city councilmembers work for their residents and not the state Legislature.
“To even suggest that it is proper for our council and therefore our constituents to bend to the will of any state representative, setting aside the will of our people, is reprehensible and abusive,” Sitterley said. “I hope my phone never blows up the way it did today ever again with comments that we received tonight.”
In response, Simpson said he appreciates the public input on this issue and looks forward to future conversations with residents.
“I want to uplift what former Mayor Sitterley said: We do work for the people and the people gave us a very strong mandate in 2021 by electing us,” Simpson said, “and we are going to do the work that they elected us to do, and I look forward to doing that with this council.”
Simpson told The SeaTac Blog that suspending council rules in order to expedite council action is by no means unheard of, citing the council’s suspension of council rules in December 2021 in order to confirm the appointment of a new municipal court judge.
“The council can absolutely do that in what we feel are urgent situations,” Simpson said, noting that this has been a learning experience for him as a new councilmember.
“Understanding these administrative procedures takes a little bit of time, and there’s going to be bumps along the way,” he said. “I think this was more of a misinterpretation of how things get done than anything nefarious.”
Nicholas Johnson (he/him) is an award-winning writer, editor and photographer who grew up in Boulevard Park, graduated from Highline High School and studied journalism at Western Washington University. Send news tips, story ideas and positive vibes to [email protected].