The Everett City Council meets remotely in February 2022. Mary Fosse (upper right) later that year ran and won election to the state House of Representatives and now serves on the council and the Legislature. (City of Everett)

The Everett City Council meets remotely in February 2022. Mary Fosse (upper right) later that year ran and won election to the state House of Representatives and now serves on the council and the Legislature. (City of Everett)

Editorial: Fosse shouldn’t have to choose between elected roles

The Everett City Council can bar its members from other offices, but should not do so retroactively.

By The Herald Editorial Board

We know the Bible takes a dim view of serving two masters, but that hasn’t stopped elected officials in Snohomish County — past and present — from serving in separate elected offices at the same time.

Currently, that includes Snohomish County Council members Sam Low and Strom Peterson, who also serve in the state Legislature; Low as a Republican in the 39th Legislative District and Peterson as a Democrat in the 21st Legislative District. As well, Mary Fosse, first elected to the nonpartisan Everett City Council in 2021, ran successfully in 2022 to serve the Legislature’s 38th District as a Democrat.

A proposal by fellow city council member Brenda Stonecipher, however, could change that for Fosse, at least, barring city council members from holding any other elected position. Stonecipher, who is the current council president and will be stepping down at the end of the year after 20 years of service on the council, raised the proposal last week during a council meeting, saying she had been considering the move for some time, with concerns for the amount of time the work of a council member and a state lawmaker each demand, especially during legislative sessions, which alternate between two and four months in length each year.

A 60-day short session is scheduled to start Jan. 8, with Low, Peterson and Fosse already having attended caucus meetings this month in preparation.

Unless the two positions are deemed “incompatible,” Washington state law allows officials to be elected to and serve concurrently in two offices. “Incompatible service” includes offices in which one position is subservient to the other, or where the two offices could result in “inconsistent loyalties,” the Bible’s God and mammon split. Otherwise, unless a city or county sets its own law, officials can serve in two elected or appointed positions.

A few cities have adopted such restrictions. Bremerton, SeaTac and Yakima outright bar city council members from holding any other elected public office; and Everett prohibits the mayor and council members from serving in any other city office or in city employment or serving on city advisory boards or commissions, except as liasons.

Fosse didn’t speak to the proposal during the meeting, but later told The Herald’s Janelle Baumbach that Stonecipher hadn’t approached her about the proposal and considered the potential ordinance undemocratic because it discounted the wishes of voters who had elected Fosse to both positions.

“It’s unfortunate that I’m being targeted in this way instead of leveraging the knowledge that I have,” Fosse said. The work that Fosse, Low and Peterson do for one body can help inform the other, a plus as long as caution is taken to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

And that’s a point as legitimate as Stonecipher’s concern over the time commitment both jobs require.

All three have expressed confidence in their ability to handle the positions for which they are responsible. All three have now faced and won election with voters’ knowledge of their dual service.

Stonecipher, however, believes others on the council had to cover for some of Fosse’s city assignments during this year’s legislative session. Fosse said she made a point of regularly making city council meetings during the legislative session and only asked the council’s two at-large members to attend neighborhood association meetings in her stead.

Other officials who have served in two roles at the same time have differing opinions on the ability to serve two roles concurrently.

Current County Council member Jared Mead was serving as a state legislator in the 44th District when he was appointed to the council in April 2020. Mead completed the final nine months of his legislative term, but then stepped down to serve solely on the council. Still, Mead told The Herald last year that it was possible to serve in both positions effectively and had no concerns as to Low’s or Peterson’s ability to do both jobs.

Former County Council member Hans Dunshee disagreed. Dunshee held both offices for about six weeks in 2016 before resigning from the state House to give the council his full focus.

“During a legislative session, if you do that job right, you’re full-on busy,” he told The Herald. “There are times when the County Council doesn’t really take much work, but I think you’re splitting your time.”

But state Rep. April Berg, D-Mill Creek, offered the most informative take on the dilemma of serving in two positions at the same time. Berg was on the Everett School Board when first elected to the Legislature in 2020, but stepped down from the school board before running for reelection to the state House in 2022. Berg, in an interview with the editorial board compared that dual service not to “walking and chewing gum at the same time, but to chewing gum and being in a hot-dog-eating contest at the same time.” Possible, but not advisable, she said.

As have other cities, the Everett council can require that those who seek election to that post serve on the council and nowhere else. However, it would be unfair to apply that restriction retroactively on Fosse and on those who have voted for her. If voters believe that Fosse’s performance in either position is lacking, they can remove her at the next election.

Otherwise — assuming Fosse has acquired a taste for hot dogs and bubble gum — she shouldn’t be forced to choose one job over the other.

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