In a move criticized as a “political purge,” the Democratic majority on the Snohomish County Council voted in a public meeting Wednesday to fire one of its policy analysts who is a Republican.
Ed Moats, hired six years ago when Republicans held the majority on the council, is expected to leave his job May 1.
Led by County Council Chairman Dave Somers, all four Democrats on the council voted to fire Moats and said the move was part of a change in direction.
Their action came over the strong objections of John Koster, the lone Republican on the council.
“It smacks of a political purge and a personal vendetta by Somers against Moats because he doesn’t like his political orientation,” Koster said.
As far as anyone can tell, the County Council had never before fired someone in public.
“I wish that Ed would just have done this in a more normal manner, but he chose not to, and we chose to terminate him,” Somers said.
Politics had nothing to do with firing Moats, Somers said. “I don’t feel anything about Ed’s political leanings,” he said. “They’re irrelevant as far as I’m concerned.”
Moats said his firing reflects an approach to politics that works to remove opposition rather than focus on policy.
“This is really directed as much at John Koster as it is to me,” said Moats, 64, of Arlington.
The council’s action Wednesday marked the latest step in a monthlong debate behind the scenes over who controls personnel working for the County Council.
Somers called for Moats’ resignation last month, as well as that of another legislative analyst, Chuck Beck, who has worked for state Republicans. Beck agreed to resign.
“Making a shift in staffing, this is normal for the council,” Somers said Wednesday. Three analysts resigned during the last staff purge, which occurred when Republicans took charge in 2002, Somers said.
When Moats declined to resign, Koster quickly moved to shield Moats from being fired by the council. Koster argued that county code gave him authority to oversee two employees “at my pleasure.”
Each County Council member, as well as other county elected officials, can select and oversee two employees, according to Snohomish County Code cited by Koster.
Somers said the code doesn’t apply to Moats’ situation, and Koster doesn’t have budget power for more than one personal aide.
“I have been hopeful that Mr. Moats would see the wisdom of resigning instead,” Somers wrote Koster on April 4. “If that does not occur, I anticipate that I will initiate the necessary steps to bring this matter before the council.”
In the meantime, the council posted two job openings for legislative analysts.
Moats is a friend, neighbor and political ally of Koster. Moats said he taught math, business law and logic at community colleges around the state and worked one year for the House Republican caucus in the Legislature. He is a lawyer licensed to practice in Colorado and Missouri, he said.
He was elected as an undeclared Republican presidential delegate in February in the 39th District.
He earns $111,000 a year and works as a member of the council’s central staff, which includes five policy analysts, but primarily he has worked as an analyst for Koster’s committees.
Moats is bright and hardworking, Koster said.
“I believe there’s not a council member here that can say that Mr. Moats has not delivered anything he has been asked to deliver,” Koster said during Wednesday’s meeting.
The debate Wednesday was another signal of mounting tension between Koster and the Democratic majority.
“You feel you have the authority to appoint Mr. Moats to any vacant position in the county?” Somers asked.
“Within your authority here, up at the council,” Koster said.
“Any position? So chief of staff? Appoint Mr. Moats? It’s an absurd interpretation of the code,” Somers said.
“The code exists, Mr. Somers,” Koster said.
Koster abstained from the final vote. Somers and Councilmen Mike Cooper, Brian Sullivan and Dave Gossett voted to fire Moats.
Moats’ politics might have shaded his policy analysis, Cooper said.
“I have some concerns we didn’t always get the most balanced analysis on issues,” Cooper said. However, he said that he hadn’t had any problems since he was elected last fall.
“We had a tough decision we had to make on changing staff, we made that decision,” Cooper said. “I think the decision belongs to the council, and always has belonged to the council.”
Koster said he is considering suing. He abstained from the vote because he thought the council was acting unilaterally.
“I didn’t think the council had authority to terminate his appointment without my consent,” Koster said. “They want to hamper the only Republican left up here and take his analyst away.”
Moats said he enjoyed his time working at the county.
“County staff are excellent,” he said. “They work their heart out to do their very best to deliver governmental services to the people.”
Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To watch video of the Snohomish County Council’s Wednesday debate over firing Ed Moats, go to www.snoco.org and search using the keywords “council meetings.” The debate occurred during the general legislative session at the 33:45 minute mark of the 43-minute meeting.