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Choosing City of Lakewood council members: A flawed process

Choosing a council memberLakewood council members are chosen by the electorate, right?

Sometimes. Council members are elected for four-year terms, but if they resign, die or become ineligible for office there is no special election for a replacement. The remaining council members choose a replacement.

We saw this happening at the beginning of 2021. Council member John Simpson announced that he was moving out of Lakewood, and as a result he resigned from the Council.

The City asked for applicants to fill the vacancy. Anyone could apply, if they were a Lakewood resident and voter.

There were fourteen final applicants and in early February 2021 they were interviewed on Zoom. Each interview lasted for 15 minutes. Applicants made a statement about themselves, answered five questions, and gave a brief  summing up. These were the questions:

  1. What skills, talent or diversity of background would you bring to the City Council?
  2. How would the aforementioned attributes help you be an effective council member on day one?
  3. What is your vision for the City of Lakewood?
  4. What are the top three priorities you believe the City Council should focus on in 2021?
  5. Why you? Why now?

The winning performance was from Patti Belle. Here’s her interview:

Patti Belle’s performance was beautifully choreographed, and she had the star quality of a gameshow contestant. Most importantly, she seemed to have just the profile the City was looking for:

I work in the mayor’s office in one of the largest cities in the State. I manage a national, awarding-winning communications team that produces and designs content for video, photography, online, and all of our social channels. We support the mayor, city council and ten City departments. My leadership…

A municipal bureaucrat who is used to keeping mayors and council members happy. Little chance of her rocking the boat or asking difficult questions.

Lakewood’s six council members voted for the fourteen candidates, in a series of rounds. In the final round Patti Belle was up against local architect Jeff Brown. Five council members votes for Patti Belle.  Jason Whalen was the only council member voting for Jeff Brown.

The council made a terrible choice, and they demonstrated that committee decisions can never replace the democratic process. Patti Belle made a good impression with the interview panel, but in the process showed herself to be the wrong choice.

This has been born out over the last year or more. Patti Belle tends to parrot the opinions of other council members, and seems to find it difficult if not impossible to act independently.

Worse still, we’re stuck with Patti Belle until 2025. In Lakewood, incumbents rarely get voted out of office, and in the November 2021 election she kept her council seat by a mile.

There’s more bad news. If Linda Farmer gets elected as Pierce County Auditor, I assume she’ll step down from the City Council. This means that at the beginning of 2023 the City Council might have to choose her replacement. So if you care about democracy in Lakewood, make absolutely sure that you don’t vote for Slippery Linda as Pierce County Auditor.

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