Ballot measure would tweak how Airway Heights selects mayor
Measure doesn’t affect process of choosing Richey’s interim replacement
Last updated 12/3/2020 at 12:24pm
AIRWAY HEIGHTS—Council and city manager Albert Tripp discussed tweaking the way the city chooses its mayor at council’s Nov. 23 study session before Mayor Kevin Richey and councilmembers unanimously agreed that the tweak should occur and a ballot resolution should be filed in hopes of bringing said resolution to public vote in February.
The tweak, which was first brought up to council by Richey in 2015 to allow for flexibility in the case of circumstances causing a council and/or mayoral vacancy, would change the process for selecting, specifically, the mayor.
In Airway Heights, the mayor acts as Council Chairman in Position 1 of seven council positions. The mayor is presently directly elected by local voters into their positions both as mayor and as councilmember to serve a four-year term. This method has been in place since the start of 2002 following discussion in 2000, when the city elected to abandon a council/mayor form of government and adopt a council/manager form of government, according to City Manager Albert Tripp’s presentation to council.
Under the new process, an election would still be held during the November general election season to permanently fill the vacant council position left behind by a mayor not running for re-election. However, that council position wouldn’t necessarily be elected mayor. Instead, council would then choose from within which elected councilmember would serve as mayor.
“The voters would still get to decide (the mayor), in a sense, because they’re still electing the councilmembers,” Tripp said. “The election process for council wouldn’t change.”
Tripp shared other cities that select their mayor from council, including Spokane Valley, Union Gap and Toppenish in Yakima County and Fircrest, Woodinville and Chehalis on the West Side.
All these cities have mayors who serve in two-year terms, instead of Airway Heights’ four.
“They usually select an appointed person at the first meeting of the year to serve as the mayor and/or the chair person, to preside for two years,” Tripp told council. “All of the communities I came across seem to have positioned themselves around a two-year cycle.”
Tripp said the city has yet to decide whether this tweak would change Airway Heights’ mayoral term length from four years to two.
Richey positioned himself as a strong advocate for the change.
“This would give the council a little bit more flexibility to make changes,” Richey told council before citing his own resignation as mayor as an example. “If I could move into just a council role, I probably would. This would give you the flexibility to do this kind of thing…if things change in two years and that person needs to step away from the role, it would be fairly easy for that person to move right in.”
Parks and Recreation Director J.C. Kennedy, speaking as a citizen, said it was “very important” to him to have some say in who acts as mayor.
“I don’t think it should be as easy as shuffling some pieces around,” Kennedy said.
Deputy mayor Sonny Weathers said the voice of the people is collectively represented by the councilmembers.
“Changes happen, and as those changes happens, for the best interest of the city, I think an efficient and effective council is critical,” Weathers said. “For who presides over the meetings, the confidence of council being behind that person, (and) having that be a discussion that takes place every two years, I think naturally it creates a continued hunger for whoever’s going to be interested in filling that seat…but it would be up to the voters to ultimately decide.”
The tweak must be approved by voters in a public vote. Council unanimously motioned to move the ballot resolution decision to a council vote at its Dec. 7 legislative session. They moved quickly to take action, as the deadline to submit a ballot resolution for the February election is Dec. 11. Richey made a rare move to take chair prerogative and make the initial motion himself.
The February election, which will be certified Feb. 21, 2021, was chosen over the April 27, 2021 election, as a cost-saving measure.
Presently, Cheney Public Schools is hoping to bring a levy to voters on Feb. 9, so adding to that ballot saves costs to Airway Heights. Since there is currently no one scheduled to run a ballot measure on April 27, Tripp estimated the city’s cost to run a solo ballot measure would run between $20,000-$25,000.
He said he was told by the election center that the cost would be minimal for adding on to a present ballot being supported by other sources.
The date was also chosen to allow time for prospective candidates running in 2021 to file with the new measure in place.
Open candidate filing week for those hoping to fill the elected Position 1 as Chairman of Council when the present term expires at the end of 2021 opens May 17-21, 2021. The general election is Nov. 2, 2021.
This ballot resolution will not affect the process for selecting an interim mayor. That process is a deliberation the city has to take, as Richey announced his resignation as mayor and councilmember in October due to his new job as assistant chief within the Spokane Valley Police Department.
To fill his position, council can either select a mayor from within or select an outside candidate, though the former is more likely, according to multiple city sources.
If a mayoral candidate is chosen from present city councilmembers, that chosen councilmember would leave their current position and be promoted to council Position 1, which serves as mayor and council chair. This would leave a vacancy on city council needing to be filled.
The process of filling a vacant council seat, according to Tripp, would involve publicizing the notice of availability and receiving applications before candidates are brought to a council meeting for an interview in a public setting. Typically, Tripp said, council then moves to executive session before re-convening and announcing their selection.
Richey’s resignation is effective Dec. 31, 2020. Council will then have 90 days from New Year’s Day to select an interim replacement. Richey’s term ran through 2021, so his interim replacement would serve for just 2021, unless they decided to run for council re-election.
Drew Lawson can be reached at email@example.com.