Yelm City Council considers Term Limits on elected positions
At the Yelm city council’s Study Session of August 4th, the council discussed a draft city ordinance introduced by Molly Carmody [though she was unavailable to attend this session] limiting the city’s elected officials to two terms, which would be applicable to the November 2020 election if passed.
The discussion among councilors was robust with support from Councilors Carmody, Blair and DePinto, yet fierce opposition from Councilor Wood (who is expected to run for a 4th term in 2021, and if so, would serve 16 years). This ordnance has become pertinent with council appointments in tie-breaking votes by Mayor Harding for Jen Littlefield several years ago, and Mayor Foster’s appointments of EJ Curry, the 2nd one after she lost her election last Fall:
- In 2009, Littlefield was a city council candidate who ran against Tracey Wood for the vacated Position 5 city council seat, losing by only 47 votes.
- In 2011, Mayor Harding appointed her to the Planning Commission.
- In 2014, Mayor Harding appointed Littlefield in a tie-breaking vote over candidate Tad Stillwell for Mike McGowan’s vacated Position 4 seat, notable for a conflict-of-interest because Harding’s wife was an employee of Littlefield’s husband’s accounting firm.
- In 2015, Littlefield ran for council Position 5 against Tad Stillwell, narrowly losing by 7 votes.
- In 2016, (September), Interim Mayor JW Foster cast a tie-breaking vote to appoint EJ Curry to replace his vacated Position 1 seat after he became Interim Mayor.
- In 2016, (October) Interim Mayor JW Foster appointed Jen Littlefield to replace the Position 3 seat vacated by Robert Isom.
- In 2017, Curry ran unopposed for her Position 1 seat’s remaining 2 years and won.
- In 2019, Curry ran for her Position 1 seat’s full term and lost to James Blair.
- In 2020, Mayor Foster cast a very contentious council tie-breaking vote to appoint Curry to the vacated Position 3 seat held by Cody Colt, who Mayor Foster appointed as Public Works Director.
In an e-mail exchange with Councilor Carmody on her term limits proposal, I described the state of Yelm’s council appointments like a “Banana Republic,” with council’s split votes requiring mayoral appointments that have had an appearance of a conflict of interest due to abject cronyism. The aforementioned timeline reflects why I made such a statement.
As the Nisqually Valley News stated, if the ordinance is “passed by council in its present form, would limit the mayor and city council members to two terms in order to limit power, lessen the chance of abuse of power, stimulate civic engagement by the public, and bring new and more diverse ideas to the council.”
Clearly, the intimidation factor of a new entrant running against a multiple term councilor up for re-election has been a fear driving the lack of candidates running for public offices in Yelm for years. This was another issue I referenced to Councilor Carmody via e-mail. And the way the candidates were treated to fill a vacant seat earlier this year, where a councilor who lost her seat last November was re-appointed, adds to a “why bother” attitude of citizens wishing to serve the public.
Mayors Harding and Foster said they appointed former councilors back onto the council because of the their previous experience and in easily getting “up-to-speed,” after Littlefield and Curry each lost an election. This was a further affront to the public and outstanding candidates who applied for councilor in good faith, and well qualified with diverse qualities. Is there any wonder why participation in citizen committees and council posts has been so dismal?
This has been borne out here for over 2 decades. Below are city council office holders for more than 2 terms, unless the position of “mayor” is noted:
At the city council session of August 11, 2020, the council voted to postpone a discussion on this until the next meeting on August 25, 2020, to allow the public to get educated and comment.
Ed. Note: The time has come for Yelm to enact term limits and attract more diversity onto the council with greater frequency. What has been termed by others in Yelm as “The Cabal,” that has dominated the council since approximately 1995, is a relic of the past and has got to go to the rubbish bin, an issue covered here previously. I acknowledge Councilor Carmody for bringing forth this issue and seeing this through to a vote.