Could Mayor Murray be impeached? Skepticism expressed in council meeting

Seattle City Council file photo

Seattle council members cautiously discussed the process and limitations of mayoral impeachment during a full City Council meeting on Monday, but they did not start an official process of impeaching embattled Mayor Ed Murray at this time.

The council gathered on Monday morning after Councilwoman Lorena Gonzalez released a statement saying she was "deeply concerned" about Murray's ability to run the city amid unearthed Oregon records that indicate he sexually abused his foster son in 1984.

The newly found records come after months of allegations against Murray from four alleged sexual abuse victims. Gonzalez released a statement in which she asked Murray to consider stepping down, and she reiterated her concern during the council meeting.

Scroll down to read the exact steps for impeachment proceedings.

What council members said about impeachment

Council President Bruce Harrell called it premature for the council to consider removal, but he held a casual discussion, broached by Gonzalez, about what the charter mandates regarding impeachment.

“One of the first things I’m trying to determine, openly, is what the appropriate forum and actions (are for conversations on impeachment). According to charter, this takes place in an hearing, but it’s not clear, at this point, whether we could have those conversations in an executive session,” Harrell said.

“The mayor is entitled to a hearing, due process, an attorney. We would be in a situation to make factual and legal determinations of something that occurred 30 years ago and in another state, which is a tall drink of water,” he said.

Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw echoed Harrell’s sentiment on the difficulty with the case being decades old. She advised the council to “avoid grandstanding” in an unprecedented situation for Seattle politics.

“My hope is that we could spend time off TV cameras to talk about this,” she said. “As a former prosecuting attorney, like Gonzales, we know that facts matter and the allegations that are in the newspaper again (Sunday). (The newspaper article) points out again that these are 30 years old. I hope we can avoid grandstanding because our responsibilities as council are articulated (in the city charter). The mayor may be removed by council from office only for violation of duty or for the commission of offense. At this point, we want to give the mayor some space …  and for us to acknowledge our responsibility, which is to do the best we can for the people of our city and do it in a way that is honorable and complies with our charter.”

Harrell believes that many people in the city have turned to the mayor’s race and its several candidates for leadership.

At the end of June, Murray completely ruled out a re-election run when he said he wouldn't do a write-in campaign. He endorsed former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan to take his place Jan. 1, 2018. Read about all the candidates running here.

Harrell conveyed skepticism on impeachment, but KUOW reports he was consulting with city lawyers about the council's options.

What the city charter says about impeachment

As discussed, the City Council does have the power to impeach the mayor. If a two-thirds majority vote happens, the City Council president would serve as mayor. Here’s exactly what the city charter says:

ARTICLE V. Executive Department

In case of the absence of the Mayor from the City, or if he or she from any cause be incapacitated from acting, the President, or in case of his or her disability or absence, the acting president of the City Council shall act as Mayor, and for the time being exercise all his or her powers.

ARTICLE V. Executive Department

The Mayor may be removed from office after a hearing, for any willful violation of duty, or for the commission of an offense involving moral turpitude, upon written notice from the City Council at least five days before the hearing. He or she shall have the right to be present, to the aid of counsel, to offer evidence and to be heard in his or her own behalf. Upon the affirmative vote of two-thirds of all the members of the City Council, acting as a court of impeachment, the office shall become vacant. (As adopted at November 8, 1977 election.)

The text of the Charter of the City of Seattle was last amended by the voters in 2013.

Murray not stepping down

The mayor released a statement late Monday afternoon that said he would not resign.

"Since the day several months ago when sexual abuse allegations surfaced against me in the media, I have been clear that those allegations are false. They remain just as false today as they were back then.

"But I also know that the allegations about events more than 30 years ago have created a cloud of uncertainty in the public mind. That is why in May I announced that I would not seek reelection to the job that I love, serving as mayor of Seattle. As I said at the time, it was a very difficult and painful decision for me, but upon reflection I felt that putting the best interests of the city first meant that I had to announce that I would step aside and allow someone else to take leadership of City government at the end of my term.

"Guiding my decisions is my continued focus on what is in the best interest of the city. I know that today a member of the Council has issued a statement calling on me to resign, and warning of action against me if I do not. I continue to believe such a course of action would not be in the city's best interest. That is why I am not going to resign, and intend to complete the few remaining months of my term as mayor.

Murray said his administrations continues to govern the city effectively – with one example being that he announced an agreement to expand the use of body cameras by Seattle Police Department.



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