Tom Hornish stepped down Tuesday as deputy mayor but remains on then Sammamish City Council as an elected member.
Hornish has taken a new job that will require heavy travel in the next several months. He announced that he has to step down from council and regional committees while he assimilates into the new position.
Karen Moran was selected by the council to be deputy mayor on a 4-3 vote. Ramiro Valderrama was nominated by Pam Stuart to succeed Hornish. Jason Ritchie joined with Stuart and Valderrama to vote for Valderrama.
Moran, nominated by Chris Ross, receive her own vote along with Ross, Mayor Christie Malchow and Hornish.
Hornish’s new employer is a law firm in San Diego, with a Seattle office.
Valderrama and Ritchie essentially called for Hornish to leave the council, said three council members, citing precedent when Troy Romero, a partner in his own law firm, opened a San Diego office. Eventually, it became known that Romero and his family had moved to San Diego and he was living at a relative’s home when he was back in Seattle. Romero’s San Diego residence became known when a photo of him appeared on the front page of The Seattle Times inspecting the ashes of the house, which had been destroyed in one of San Diego’s periodic major wildfires.
Following the newspaper photo and story, Romero resigned his position on the Sammamish council.
Valderrama said Tuesday he talked to the former council member that day. Romero, Valderrama claimed, said he had been in Sammamish most of the time.
Council member Karen Moran, who was a close friend of Romero’s at the time, disputed Valderrama’s claims. Romero wasn’t a Sammamish resident by the time he resigned.
“He was couch-hopping,” a current city council member said.
Sammamish Comment asked Romero about his conversation with Valderrama.
“He asked me several questions about my experience in 2003 and splitting my time,” Romero wrote in an email. “I told him it was very difficult to do, but possible. I was fortunate because I was always in WA at least three business days per week, and the Council was great at scheduling Council meetings and Committee meetings in the middle of the week when I was always here (so I didn’t miss meetings).
“That said, I told him that it was really difficult to pull off and I was only able to do it for about a year,” Romero wrote.
“[Valderrama] asked if I thought someone could serve if they were never around during the week. I told him I thought that would be really hard, but again possible depending upon how his Council colleagues helped him or her balance the split.
“He also asked if I quit going to Council or Committee meetings (or resign from committees) and I said no. I was around for those and participated fully.
“It wasn’t until the very end of the conversation, when I asked him why he was asking about my experience, that he told me that Tom had taken a job down in San Diego.”
Four council members charged Valderrama came to the meeting Tuesday essentially campaigning to force Hornish off the council, something Valderrama denies.
“He came with both barrels loaded,” said one council member.
Hornish had given advance notice to the council last week that he would step down as deputy mayor and from committees.
The jockeying by Valderrama began immediately, the council members claim.
Valderrama talked with Ritchie and Stuart. Valderrama appeared Monday at the Citizens for Sammamish meeting, conducting what amounted to push-polling about an unidentified council member who resigned from committees and would have challenges attending meetings.
Valderrama said at the Tuesday council meeting that he called former Romero and former council member Nancy Whitten. Whitten served when John Curley was a council member for four years. Curley constantly objected during his one four-year term to the amount of time the position required and committees meetings members were appointed to. Curley refused to serve on many committees during his one term.
Valderrama cited his conversations with Romero and Whitten in response to Hornish’s announcements, but he says he didn’t try to force Hornish off the council.
Remaining or not on the council?
“I did not try to force Hornish off the Council,” Valderrama wrote The Comment in an email Wednesday. “I have enormous respect for Tom, and I stated this during the meeting.
“We all stated that we wanted to work with his schedule and to accommodate his schedule so he could continue work on his committees. I said we had two past council precedents that needed to discussed, given the announcement by Tom. One was the Troy Romero situation, who had a home in California and was splitting time between California and Sammamish.
“In talking with him [Tuesday], he told me that he spent the majority of his time here in Washington (a requirement to serve, he believed) and never missed a council meeting while on. He said that the work load did however take a toll,” Valderrama wrote.
“The other precedent (which the [city] attorney recalled caused “friction”) was John Curley not taking committees and that the past council wanted to ensure that going forward, everyone was on committees due to the burden to the others.
“Last night, Tom said while he figures the schedule out he planned to spend the majority of the week here in Sammamish but was adamant he would not serve on any committee (except governance) and wanted them relinquished at that meeting immediately. We again asked to take some time and work with him but he was adamant.”
“I…want to reiterate that I value Tom’s contribution to the council, want him to continue to be effective, and hope that his schedule will permit this. We are all committed to helping him as needed.”
Hornish told The Comment Valderrama omitted several “key” points.
“I stated that I’m hoping to be in Sammamish the majority of the week, but that’s four out of seven days (including the weekend days), but not three days of the workweek (when such committee meetings often occur),” he wrote in an email.
“In addition, I highlighted that I am going back into the private practice of law which is a very time-demanding position–often 16 hour days. I stated for these reasons I wanted to be clear that I would no longer have the time to serve on committees (even if I was in town) except the governance committee.”
Although Valderrama’s emailed comments are understanding and conciliatory, four council members told The Comment the meeting became heated as Valderrama, Ritchie and Stuart pressed the issue of Hornish’s continuing service.
At one point, the city attorney said Hornish could resign or be recalled, but the council can’t force him off. Despite this statement, one council member said the conversation continued about Hornish’s serving.
“The conversation should have been, congratulations, Tom, what can we do to help?” said member Chris Ross. Instead, “it appeared to me that they were trying at a least establish a precedent. The tone was negative to a council member having work outside Sammamish for a period of time. They weren’t open to being flexible,” he said of Valderrama and Ritchie.
“Jason suggested Tom keep all the committees and if that burned him out then it proved he wasn’t capable of service,” Ross said.
Hornish old The Comment that he and his family will remain in Sammamish, in contrast to Romero’s situation. But initially, Hornish said his travel schedule will be heavy. He hopes that within a few months, this will ease and he’ll be able to reengage on committees.
Mayor Christie Malchow said Hornish deserves some leeway. She said Hornish has been one of the hardest-working members of the council, even reading the detailed (and excrutiating dull) Highway Capacity Manual as part of the council’s analysis of traffic concurrency.
“Who does that?” she asked.
She expressed confidence that Hornish will give the new arrangement a fair chance and if he can’t in the end reengage, he’ll make the “right” decision.
He also noted that public interaction usually is on weekends (when Hornish will be in town) because the public by and large works during the week.
Hornish called into Tuesday’s council meeting from out of state (he was on vacation). Valderrama also has called into council meetings when he’s been traveling on business or personal trips.