Off the Press

March 29, 2011

By Greg Farrar

Council vote was almost a time warp

Greg Farrar Press Photographer

As the Issaquah City Council’s first vote to fill its vacancy ended in a 3-3 tie, my life suddenly began flashing before my eyes.

And all I could think after the second ballot was, “Thank you, Joshua Schaer!”

If it hadn’t been for his wisdom and flexibility, I might’ve relived one of the craziest news stories of my life, the headline being, and I’m not making this up, “56 ballots to a council deadlock” in the Edmonds Enterprise in January 1984.

That was during my first full-time newspaper job just out of college, and not only was I doing the photography, but on that small staff one of my writing beats was Edmonds city government.

Here are hypothetical questions for you: What if the Southeast Bypass was still the major policy issue dividing Issaquah’s City Council? What if Maureen McCarry’s retirement had left the council in two evenly split coalitions?

I can answer that what if.

That’s exactly what was going on in my hometown in the early 1980s, with the issue being downtown development and building heights versus preservation and slow growth. When City Councilman Larry Naughten won the race for mayor, there was an open seat to fill.

During the first council meeting’s vote, three candidates survived after the first 10 ballots to fill the unexpired term. Votes were changing back and forth, and one candidate even had collected more than enough votes to win if only he’d gotten four votes on the same ballot.

A week later, they began another round of voting. One of the three candidates dropped off in the voting by ballot 15, and then a 90-minute marathon began.

They were voting by paper ballot, not by the raising of hands as Issaquah’s council members did this month. There were 90 printed slips of paper. A clerk distributed six ballots, then collected them and read them. She distributed six more ballots, then collected them again. And so on, and so on!

This was my lead paragraph:

“About halfway through the balloting, Deputy City Clerk Jackie Parrett began tearing pages out of her steno pad. And near the end, they were tearing up leftover copies of the council agenda.”

It was crazy! Naughten read a book while the council battled. Despite a 10-minute recess after ballot 47, they remained deadlocked between two candidates — an Edmonds Chamber of Commerce president and an engineer with the Alderwood Water District who had once been a Kiwanis Club president.

The council adjourned without a decision. And scheduled one more session for voting. This is what I wrote:

“The council will hold a special session 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2 at the Edmonds Library Plaza Room with just one agenda item. This one. Bring your sleeping bags just in case.”

Well, they met. They voted 10 more times and remained deadlocked. They had taken a total of 66 ballots.

So, what I wrote in my very first story turned out to be strangely prophetic:

“If they were to fail, Mayor Larry Naughten will be in the unique position of appointing a citizen to fill his own former seat. The odds of that happening are slim…”

It is 27 years later. Let me repeat, “Thank you, Joshua Schaer!”

Greg Farrar: 392-6434, ext. 235, or gfarrar@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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