It’s nothing more than a power play to keep the leadership reins tightly held by the voting majority on the Sammamish City Council.
In a break with tradition during most of the past 16 years, the Sammamish City Council voted to give the incumbent deputy mayor a second consecutive one-year term. Since the first city council was seated in 1999, tradition has been to rotate the deputy mayor’s position every year. Until it was discovered that state law required a minimum of two year terms for the mayor, this position was rotated every year as well.
Mayor Tom Vance ignored Council Member Nancy Whitten’s raised hand to be recognized first and went directly to Council Member Tom Odell, whose hand wasn’t raised and who said nothing that was audible over the microphones. Odell placed Member Kathy Huckabay’s name in nomination first. Council member Ramiro Valderrama nominated Council member Don Gerend.
This power play is important because procedurally, the first nominated is the first voted upon without seeking a Nay vote. If the first nominated gets a majority vote, the voting stops.
Vance’s sleight-of-hand prevented any vote on Gerend’s nomination.
There has been at least one other time when the individual holding the deputy mayor’s slot received a second term. That was in 2001-2003, when Ken Kilroy held back-to-back terms, in another power play by the majority on the council. Kilroy was selected by the council in 2003 to be mayor. Huckabay was on the council then.
Under Sammamish’s form of government, all seven council members are elected at large and then the leadership is selected by the council.
Huckabay has served as the deputy mayor for the past year. The council gave her another one year term Jan. 6. The mayor’s slot is a two year term, currently held by Tom Vance.
Vance and Huckabay are very close allies. They were joined by council members Odell and Bob Keller, the consistent majority bloc of the council for the past year, in naming Huckabay to another term.
Gerend, Huckabay’s opponent, was supported by members Nancy Whitten and Ramiro Valderrama, who often make up the minority bloc on the council.
Keller was the swing vote. When it was seen that the majority voting bloc won the vote, Gerend joined while Valderrama opposed and Whitten abstained.
Selecting the leadership is usually sought as a unanimous show of support, despite often fervent behind-the-scenes maneuvering. There were efforts this year to shift the deputy mayor’s position to Gerend to split the leadership bloc, particularly after Vance and Huckabay, joined by Odell, endorsed Democrat Matt Isenhower for State Senate over incumbent Republican Andy Hill. Keller, Whitten and Gerend remained neutral. Valderrama openly supported Hill.
Hill won reelection to a second term with 53% of the vote district wide in the 45th, which includes the north half of the city. Despite Vance appearing in photo fliers for Isenhower, Hill won Sammamish with 55% of the vote and 71% of the precincts, according to Valderrama.
The endorsements were a matter of some controversy because Hill carried Sammamish’s water in the 2014 session of the Legislature, introducing a bill that would have denied Issaquah sales tax revenue if it succeeded in annexing Klahanie and adjacent neighborhoods. Vance and Gerend went to Olympia and testified in favor of the bill. The bill didn’t get out of committee and the annexation to Issaquah ultimately was rejected. Sammamish intends to annex the area this year if voters in the area approve it in what’s expected to be an April vote.
After Hill did Sammamish’s bidding on the bill, the leadership supported his opponent in the November election.
The council leadership has at times been openly disdainful of Valderrama and Whitten during council meetings and emails I’ve reviewed show obvious tension between Vance and Valderrama. Valderrama was leading the charge to replace Huckabay as deputy mayor in behind-the-scenes maneuvering.
Vance, Huckabay and Odell were solidly aligned to give Huckabay another term. Keller received pressure from both sides to support Huckabay or Gerend, according to a council member. In the end, he supported Huckabay, with whom he’s been close for more than 15 years. Huckabay was among those who urged Keller to run for council in 2013.
Disclosure: I supported Keller in 2013 and would have been active in his campaign had he been opposed. In the end, he wasn’t. Keller and I served together on the Planning Commission. At various times I also supported and/or worked in the campaigns of every sitting member of the council.