Who Will Be Appointed to Lehman’s City Council Seat?

Riley and John share the short list of who might replace Cathy Lehman on the Bellingham city council on January 5.

Riley and John share the short list of who might replace Cathy Lehman on the Bellingham city council on January 5.

• Topics: Bellingham, Elections,

There are a great deal of rumors flying around about who will be appointed to fill out the remainder of Cathy Lehman's term on the City Council. The basics are: the person is chosen by the council in Dec/Jan, they will serve from January till the end of 2015. During this time, they will almost immediately have to start running for reelection, since that seat is up in November of 2015. The council must come to an agreement within 30 days or the mayor will get to make the appointment.

When I asked the council members what they are looking for in a candidate, most said variations on the same themes. "Independent thinker," "ready from day one" and "willing to ask questions." The council has grappled with how to best provide oversight for the strong mayor's office - a fact of which the council members are very aware. However, most of the people I spoke with said that appointing a "caretaker" to the position, someone who would merely fill out the last year and not run for reelection, is very unlikely.

Gender is also brought up as a key factor. With the total number of women on the council dwindling to two, many political movers and shakers I spoke with expressed an interest in appointing a qualified and capable woman to maintain some semblance of balance.

When it comes to naming names, the councilmembers themselves have been rather tight-lipped about who is interested, although most agreed that they would rather come to an agreement rather than have the decision default to Mayor Linville.

Working with my friend and fellow blogger John Servais of NWCitizen, I have compiled a list of some of the rumored candidates. I generally try to avoid rumors and speculation on this blog but because of the nature of this appointment, I believe these smoky room discussions should be dragged into the light.

Without further ado, here are some of the people we have heard mentioned as potential candidates for Lehman's seat:

Bill Geyer
Larry Farr
Doug Starcher
Dan McShane
Alexandra Wiley
Arlene Feld
Rebecca Johnson
Kate Blystone
Wendy Harris
Cerise Noah
Clayton Petree

Update of additional names:
Arlene Feld
Jim Bjerke
Rebecca Johnson

Now some of you may be going, "Waitaminute Riley, those people don't all live in the 3rd Ward!" That's because the most likely person to be appointed to Lehman's seat in the 3rd Ward is . . . Roxanne Murphy, currently serving as the "At-Large" representative. Murphy actually lives in the 3rd Ward and would be eager not to run for reelection every two years. This would allow the council to draw from a larger pool of potential applicants for the appointment.

If you feel comfortable adding to the list or crossing your own name off the list, feel free to comment below or send Riley an email here or send John an email here.  

Servais here.  The above was written by Riley and he covered it well.  Over the past few weeks we have both reached out to political players to learn who is in the running.  The nature of political reporting is that the sources are strictly the politicians and operatives who purposely give out false info in hopes of advancing their cause, as well as giving out true information but only to those who might futher the cause.  Political watching is not a verifiable process and we all need to take this information with a touch of skepticism.  

We share a desire to inform the public so more citizens can participate in the process.  With this information you can ask specific questions of your council reps and express your approval or concern about specific possible appointees.  More citizens can participate - and that is something the powerful local political operatives do not want as it weakens their power.  We run our websites to inform citizens and voters. 

There may be other people being considered.  If you hear of someone, let one of us know and we will check it out.  This appointment is very important to City Council decisions in 2015.  Over the next two years we will probably see at least 3 and possibly 4 council seats change.  Our council is facing a time of more quick changes than at any time in the past several decades.  All six remaining council members have an obligation to listen to the hopes and concerns of any citizen on this issue of appointing a 7th council member.   This is a city-wide issue, not just a 3rd Ward issue.  This is not just for the six council members to quietly form a secret concensus and drop it on us on January 5.  And so Riley and I bring you this information.

Let us not be surprised on January 5.  This appointment will be someone who is supposed to represent all of us.  Share what you may know with us.

About Riley Sweeney

Citizen Journalist • Member since Aug 10, 2009

Riley Sweeney, raised in the Pacific Northwest, moved to Bellingham during the Bush years, worked on a cross-section of political campaigns during the Obama years, and then fled to the [...]

Comments by Readers

John Lesow

Sep 09, 2014

Wendy Harris is a lawyer.  She would bring a legal perspective to a City Council that has lacked one since the departure of Seth Fleetwood.

Moreover, her presence on the City Council would put the City Attorney on notice that his function of providing cover for questionable decisions by Councilmembers would immediately become more difficult.

The same would be true with Wendy on the County Council, but first things first.

How many of the potential candidates listed attend City and County Council meetings?  How many attend and Live Blog these meetings so that we can follow the way the public’s business is being conducted without having to attend ourselves?

And finally, how many have the will to challenge our politicians when they run roughshod over City, County and State codes?

Wendy is an Independent in every sense of the word.  Her record as a citizen journalist and civic conscience is admirable, as is her unimpeachable integrity.

A breath of fresh air. Just what the Bellingham City Council needs.


Abe Jacobson

Sep 09, 2014

Since the same piece is published in Political Junkie, please indulge my making the same comment too.

I am a Bellingham Democrat who voted for each of the current members of Bellingham City Council. Each of them is a serious and well-prepared representative.

However, I find it a tad malodorous that Council is currently on track to appoint the At Large incumbent to fill the soon-to-be-vacant seat of Kathy Lehman, effective on Kathy’s resignation. This is an obvious artifice to move an incumbent from a tough election that occurs every two years, into an easier election that occurs only every four years.

The use of incumbent-generated appointments should be held to a bare minimum, and should never be used to help an incumbent’s -any incumbent’s -political career. The interim appointment of a replacement for an ill or deceased council member is obviously good and necessary, and so is the replacement for a departing council member like Kathy, who is moving to an important job statewide, where I wish her the best success.

But it stops there. For Council to go further, to tinker with politics in this appointment, is to indulge in incumbency-assurance engineering, which diminishes the role of the voters. Council should not exploit this necessary interim appointment to also slide an incumbent horizontally from one seat to another, in this case from At Large to Ward 3. The voters “bought” the candidacy of Roxanne Murphy for the At Large position. She “sold” her candidacy to the voters as At Large. The voters did not buy onto her running for Ward 3, and nor did she seek it.

If any At Large incumbent wants a different position in Council, then that incumbent has every right to run for it at the next election, but without the benefit of interim incumbency in that new position via appointment. Let the voters decide!

Roxanne should serve out her term as At Large, and then (if she wants to) in 2015 run for Ward 3 or whichever ward she then resides in, or At Large if she wishes.

Whenever possible: Let the voters decide.

Abe Jacobson
Bellingham, WA


Delaine Clizbe

Sep 10, 2014

Thank you Abe for your comments.  When I read this article my first reaction was the same as yours.  How can it even be legal to move an sitting council member into another seat.  The voters decided she should be in the at-large seat.  If she wants to be in the seat for Ward 3 she should have to campaign for that seat. 

The City Council should be aware that they work for the citizens of the City, not for themselves. 

People talk about gerrymandering…..this, if allowed to happen, would be an extreme example of it.


Mike Rostron

Sep 10, 2014

The fact that Geyer’s name is even on this list is quite revealing. With reference to Delaine’s comments; the council members for the most part do not work for the citizens who elect them, they work for the developers.


Gene Knutson

Sep 10, 2014

As a member of the city council let me respond to Mr. Rostron’s comment. Just ask developers in this city do we work for them, you will get a different answer than your cheap shot at the council we
we work for ALL the citizens of this great city. I fully understand when people do not like one of our decisions they are free to respond and i as a citizen and council member can also. 


Mike Rostron

Sep 10, 2014

The problem is that most of the people on that list, and most of the sitting council members all have the same mid-set with respect to growth and development. There is not one person, other than perhaps Wendy, who we could characterize as a “no-growth,” or “slow-growth” advocate. Yet a substantial number of Bellingham residents hold to the view that no or slow population growth and development should be our goals, and that there are ways to discourage population growth and help preserve our environment and historic neighborhoods from the ravages of the profit motivated developers.

These pro-development politicians can be found in both the “progressive” and “conservative” ends of the spectrum. It is easy to spot them. They use tired old tropes such as:

Infill and increasing density in Bellingham will preserve county farmland.
People move to rural areas because they want a rural lifestyle, and will continue to do so. The only way to preserve farmland is to zone certain areas for farmland. And what do we mean by farmland? Shall we only encourage corporate farming and large acreage farms? What about smaller family efforts? What about neighborhood and single lot gardens? The distinction between city and country is not so clear—part of what makes Bellingham unique, and part of what we should be preserving. The county is a continuum. Should we up-zone Joe’s Garden acreage to provide more housing—after all, that area is close to the university, and certainly more appropriate for apartments, the developers would argue.

Infill will help protect the environment:
Infill means more hard concrete, asphalt and roof surfaces, which results in more pollution run-off into our already compromised bay. By discouraging growth and retaining our single family neighborhoods we help reduce run-off. Most home owners in single family areas plant extensive gardens and yards, thus helping to absorb run-off.

Increasing development will help with unemployment:
The number of total jobs will increase, but the percentage of unemployment is not necessarily connected to population growth or development. Increased population will bring more traffic, more need to provide city services, but unemployment rates are tied to other economic forces and realities. In fact, as our population increases, the number of unemployed, homeless, and impoverished will likewise increase.

We should elect people who will work to preserve those things which make Bellingham livable and unique—council members who will work to preserve the historic neighborhoods and the semi-rural and verdant aspects of our city, not politicians who think that we should encourage growth. Why should Bellingham aspire to be like larger cities? Who benefits from growth and large scale development? Follow the money.

One name that should have been on that list is Patrick Mckee, a tireless advocate for preserving neighborhood quality of life and character. We could support him or Wendy, certainly.


Abe Jacobson

Sep 10, 2014

A few more comments, this time perhaps curmudgeonly.

(1) There seems to be a widely-shared premise that the goal of the interim appointment should be to put into office someone who can then prepare to stand for election to a complete term. But there’s another approach, which is to appoint a “caretaker” with a declared non-interest in running for a full term. This is how Tim Douglas served as interim mayor when Asmundsen resigned mid-term. Tim scrupulously avoided imposing his political views (although I wish he did!).

(2) There is much wailing that the no-growth constituency is not represented on Council, and that this appointment is the opportunity to redress that. Well, there’s a better way to represent an underrepresented point of view: Run for the friggin’ office! Stand for election! But what happened in 2013? There was so little interest in running for City Council amongst progressives that a complete newcomer to town, Roxanne, waltzed to victory despite having had *zero* public presence in the community by which voters could accurately calibrate her upcoming governing. Why did no progressives other than Bob Burr enter the election for At Large? And why did they not throw some real support behind Burr? And why did two incumbents run UNOPPOSED if there was a strong progressive constituency wanting different results? And why was there so much yawning apathy about Port that the Democratic endorsement had to go to another complete newcomer to Bellingham? Just asking…

(3) This Council has not been “pro-development” in any consistent way. Ask the Padden Trails developers if they would call this Council by such a term.

(4) I’m not sure I understand the “no-growth” philosophy. Taking “no-growth” seriously, wouldn’t anyone who is not a Native American have to leave? I came to Bellingham in 2004, and it would be kind of rich for me to want to lock the gate now.

Abe Jacobson


Mike Rostron

Sep 10, 2014

A few observations regarding Abe’s criticisms:

If no “extreme” positions are ever discussed, then all “compromise” ends up one-sided. One does not have to espouse closing the doors after you moved here to support a slow or no growth position. (And archeology shows that other peoples lived here long before the Native Americans.) Any city has in and out migration. We simply suggest those be more in balance. Those cities grow fastest which encourage development, let developers have a large say in politics, and give developers tax breaks and incentives which the citizens end up paying for in the long run.

Many cities are advertised as great places to move to. Usually this is because developers have tracts of land they want to build out and sell. There is no logical reason why any city cannot and should not set limits to, or at least try to slow down growth if the majority of residents wish it.

There is no logical reason (save greed on the parts of some) that, for example, the polluted and probably someday to be flooded GP site should not simply be made into more park land. We fear commercial development of that will only further impact downtown in a negative way.

How can a city with a suspect potable water supply, which will only get worse, encourage population growth?

Bellingham is a medium sized gem of a city. Why not strive to keep it that way, rather than attempting to make it more like Bellevue, or worse? One could point to certain improvements in Fairhaven as good examples of development. Developers should be vetted by having to prove themselves by restoring older buildings first, before allowing them to construct ugly monstrosities in our city. In particular the wealthy must be forced to understand the concept of the commons and noblesse oblige by a strong and independent council. Otherwise, we will end up leaving a polluted, noisy, and traffic-snarled mess to future denizens.

And for the record, I have served a term and a half on MNAC, and seven years on my neighborhood association board. It is equally important that citizens participate in their neighborhood associations. There are many that have put in far more time and energy than myself.

And so: Pat McKee for city council!

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