City Council turns to veteran for vacancy

February 5, 2013

By Warren Kagarise

Joe Forkner (left) is welcomed back to the dais for another City Council stint by Eileen Barber on Jan. 29. By Greg Farrar

Joe Forkner (left) is welcomed back to the dais for another City Council stint by Eileen Barber on Jan. 29. By Greg Farrar

Joe Forkner returned to the City Council on Jan. 29 after a divided council appointed the former councilman, onetime city employee and longtime community leader to a vacant seat.

Forkner, a councilman in separate stints during the early and mid-2000s, did not fade from public life after departing from the council in 2007. The engineering technician and draftsman served as a member of numerous municipal boards and commissions in recent years, and spearheaded the initial plan to redevelop the business district along Interstate 90.

The depth of experience led the council to appoint Forkner, 59, to occupy the seat left after former Councilman Mark Mullet resigned to serve in the state Senate.

The council selected Forkner and Mary Lou Pauly, a civil engineer and longtime member on the municipal Development Commission, as the top choices among seven applicants for the seat. Then, after about 15 minutes of discussion, members chose Forkner in a 4-2 decision.

“For me, the question really was about who was the most ready to go at this particular time,” Councilwoman Stacy Goodman said in nominating Forkner.

Goodman, Councilwoman Eileen Barber, Councilman Paul Winterstein and Council President Fred Butler backed Forkner. Councilmen Tola Marts and Joshua Schaer supported Pauly for the position.

“I can’t say that I feel any one individual, Mary Lou or Joe, is ready to go or not ready to go, because I think you’re both ready to go,” Schaer said before the decision.

Mayor Ava Frisinger administered the oath of office to Forkner moments after the council vote. Forkner is expected to serve until the November election; he could run for election to the seat then.

The seat opened Jan. 8 after Mullet departed to serve in Olympia. The entrepreneur and former banking executive defeated Snoqualmie Republican Brad Toft to represent the 5th Legislative District in the state Senate.

The council cited issues on the docket in the months ahead — negotiations for future fire service, a plan to adjust design rules in the Central Issaquah Plan, a revised Klahanie Potential Annexation Area study and more — before the decision.

In September 2009, Frisinger picked Forkner to lead a task force to craft a 30-year redevelopment blueprint called the Central Issaquah Plan.

Forkner, a past Issaquah representative to the Cascade Water Alliance and Eastside Fire & Rescue, could aid the city as partners in the emergency services agency hammer together a pact for future service.

“I think, for me, that was the piece that was of the most importance, because it could have a very strong potential financial piece, but also a service piece for fire for the city of Issaquah,” Barber said.

‘There is, unfortunately, only one seat’

Experience in shaping the Central Issaquah Plan — a document approved by a unanimous council late last year — influenced the choice to elevate Forkner and Pauly to the top tier.

“Mary Lou has had a long, distinguished career on the Development Commission,” Marts said in nominating Pauly. “She’s been involved in a lot of important issues in front of the city, particularly in the last few years.”

Pauly cited efforts to examine environmental impacts related to the redevelopment blueprint as a qualification for the council position.

“A few of the things I think that I would bring to the table are a really strong record as a balanced and experienced decision maker on the Issaquah Development Commission, a strong interest in the Central Issaquah Plan and the process for the review and approval of the design guidelines,” she said in a Jan. 22 presentation to the council. “I have experience working in city government and a solid civil engineering background.”

The decision to appoint Forkner capped a time-tested process to appoint a resident to a vacant council seat.

The council listened to presentations from applicants Forkner, Pauly, Michael Beard, Tim Flood, Bill Ramos, Mark Rigos and Chantal Stevens in 10-minute segments Jan. 22.

Members then headed into a closed-door executive session to discuss the applicants’ qualifications.

Under state law, the council is allowed to discuss candidates’ qualifications in a closed-door executive session, but interviews and the decision must occur in public meetings.

Ken Sessler initially applied for the vacant seat, but withdrew Jan. 16, not long after the city released the applicant list.

Beard, Forkner and Pauly also applied to serve during the last council vacancy in 2011. Members instead selected Goodman to fill the vacancy, and she later won election to the seat.

Members earn $700 per month for the part-time role. The deputy council president receives $750 per month and the council president earns $800 per month.

The council said applicants’ impressive qualifications and long résumés set up a difficult decision.

“There is, unfortunately, only one seat,” Winterstein said moments before the council selected Forkner.

Butler called the appointment “one of the toughest decisions that I’ve had to make” as a councilman.

“I didn’t know when I walked in here which way I was going to vote,” he continued. “For me, people prepare for things over time and they don’t quit at the end.”

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