If anyone thought that the Sammamish City Council will honor voter wishes after a 55%-45% victory at the polls in an April advisory vote, it looks like this faith in government may well be premature.
Even though there was a consensus expressed informally at the Council’s January retreat that they would follow the wishes of voters, and despite the assurances of Mayor Tom Vance to local newspapers on several occasions that he couldn’t see the Council going against voter wishes, Vance has since been walking back these assurances and the June 15 study session did nothing to provide assurances.
Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay, a staunch opponent to granting Sammamish citizens the right of initiative and referendum, flatly stated there had been no assurances the Council would follow voter wishes.
She then went on to use an argument often used by opponents to a measure that passes over their objections: voter turnout was low and voters were, essentially, too stupid to understand what they were voting, or not voting, for.
Alarmingly, Council Member Bob Keller, a close ally of Huckabay, Vance and Council Member Tom Odell, each of whom also oppose the initiative, sided with Huckabay on the voting argument.
Twice Keller said during the June 15 Council meeting that the vote was “close,” despite the 10 point margin of victory.
Keller told this column after the results he “planned” to honor the result.
Now it’s not clear what he will do. He is the swing vote, with Council Members Don Gerend, Nancy Whitten and Ramiro Valderrama previously saying they will honor the voter wishes. Keller is a member of what’s become known as the Gang of 4, voting together as a bloc on most issues.
The City Council set a special election in April for the Advisory Vote, and this was the only issue on the ballot. Elected officials know full well that special elections usually produce a low voter turnout compared with tying a local issue to a general election ballot in November. Thus it was no surprise that there was only about a 24% turnout.
But 55% of the voters said they wanted the right of initiative and referendum, a greater margin than the 53% of the voters who said they wanted a $33m Community Center. Huckabay, who has been on the YMCA board and who supported a YMCA-run City-owned Community Center, was fine with this margin. So was Keller, who chaired a citizens committee in favor of the Community Center. That vote was concurrent with the November 2012 presidential election, and while the top of the ballot brought out a voter turnout of more than 80%m (typical in Sammamish), there was a voter drop off on races and issues further down the ballot. More than 5,000 voters did not cast a vote in the Community Center issue.
Opponents tried to argue that this essentially invalidated the Community Center vote, a suggestion I found ridiculous at the time even though I opposed the measure on procedural grounds. With a seven point margin of victory, Sammamish voters were clear they wanted a Community Center. (The margin was higher than President Obama’s national victory and Jay Inslee’s margin for Washington governor.)
But having stacked the deck in the Initiative and Advisory vote by choosing April for a special election, keeping news out of the City newsletter (which I’ve written about), and engaging in a stealth campaign led by Huckabay against the issue, Huckabay, now joined by Keller, are using a low turnout to raise doubts about the outcome.
The Council meets July 7, ostensibly for the first reading of an ordinance to adopt the Initiative and Referendum. But the vibes are anything but positive.