Abrupt resignation throws new wrench at Snohomish council

SNOHOMISH — A Snohomish City Council member abruptly resigned Tuesday after questions were raised about whether he lives in town.

Councilmember Zachary Wilde stepped down as the council prepared to wrestle with decisions about transforming the city to a strong-mayor form of government.

Wilde bought a house in Lake Stevens in April, property records show. Until Tuesday, he had three years remaining on his Snohomish City Council term.

He excused himself shortly after the start of Tuesday’s meeting when people began asking questions about where he lives.

Just before midnight, he submitted his resignation to Snohomish Mayor Karen Guzak.

“I would like to thank everyone on council and city staff for this time we have spent together,” he wrote.

The council had gone into Tuesday’s meeting worried about how to enact Proposition 2, including scheduling elections to pick a new strong mayor.

Now, they’re also concerned with finding Wilde’s replacement, Guzak said.

The city also is investigating whether Wilde’s unannounced change of residence raises questions about decisions the council reached during his tenure.

The council will need to appoint a new member, who would have to run in the next scheduled election to keep the job, said Garth Fell, elections and recording manager with the Snohomish County Auditor’s Office.

Despite Wilde’s sudden departure, the council scheduled a primary election for strong-mayor candidates in August followed by a run-off election in November.

Questions about where people live are becoming a common theme in Snohomish city politics.

One of the loudest voices behind Proposition 2 was Bill Betten, who makes his home 300 feet outside city limits near the Pilchuck River.

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, John Kartak and other Proposition 2 backers filed a lawsuit. They sought an injunction to temporarily block the council from making decisions to move forward with a strong-mayor government. Kartak asked a Snohomish County Superior Court judge to dismiss the case after she highlighted some of its legal flaws.

Those pushing for a strong mayor wanted candidates to have ample time to put together a campaign.

“If you’re running for mayor, that’s a major change if you’re a 9-to-5 guy,” Betten told the council Tuesday evening.

At least one council member found the resistance perplexing.

“It’s a quandary that the side pushing a strong-mayor form of government now wants to slow down,” Councilmember Tom Hamilton said.

Last time the council met, Snohomish City Attorney Grant Weed said a special election must be held on the next available election day. That would have been Feb. 14.

Weed’s law partner, attorney Thom Graafstra, offered another interpretation, suggesting state law gave the council more discretion.

The council could have chosen from four primary election dates in February, April, August or November, Graafstra said. Since the council opted for an August primary election, the next available date for a general election is in November.

Until a new mayor is elected, the city plans to continue operating with the council-manager form of government. That means City Manager Larry Bauman and Guzak will hold their positions well into next year.

Councilmember Lynn Schilaty said she didn’t want to wait too long.

“When something is voted in, there is an expectation that it will be implemented in a timely manner,” she said.

The council also voted to change city code to authorize a city administrator position, a job similar to what Bauman does now.

It is a placeholder. That way, mayoral candidates know they have the option of hiring someone to help with the city’s day-to-day operations.

It’s strictly a formality, Councilmember Michael Rohrscheib said. The future elected mayor can choose to hire a city administrator, or not.

Proposition 2 supporters didn’t like the idea.

Rolf Rautenberg, another leader in the group, compared the decision to instructing the president of the United States on how to run the country.

“This shows why we need a city administrator if people are getting confused,” Schilaty said. “I don’t understand why this is such a concern.”

So far, no decision has been reached on the strong mayor’s salary.

Bauman earlier suggested $18,000 a year based on a survey he conducted of strong-mayor salaries in comparable cities.

A few council members requested more time and information to help them make a decision.

“I would rather set it low and increase if need be,” Guzak said. “I don’t want to pay someone who works two hours a week $50,000.”

For now, the issue is tabled until January.

Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins@heraldnet.com.

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