SEATTLE - The man who preceded Seattle Mayor Ed Murray at City Hall says that Murray’s resignation is new ground for Seattle.
“I think it’s unprecedented, at least in modern history, to have a mayor resign like this with these allegations, and you can see the council struggling to sort out how this transition works,” said former Mayor Mike McGinn late Tuesday. “I don’t think there’s much history on how to interpret the charter.”
McGinn ran for mayor again this year but was eliminated during the primary election.
The current city charter — the set of rules that, among other things, guide how power is transferred within the various branches of city government — was approved by voters in November 1969. The last time a Seattle mayor resigned was before that, in March 1969.
In 1969, Mayor Dorm Braman resigned to take a job in the Nixon administration. Under the old charter, Councilmember Floyd Miller was chosen by his fellow council members to fill the remainder of Braman’s term. Wes Uhlman was elected mayor in November of that year and sworn in (along with three new city council members) on Dec. 1, 1969.
But this transition will cover slightly new ground.
Under the 1969 charter now in effect, the president of the city council – Bruce Harrell – automatically becomes mayor for a period of five days.
The charter reads:
“If the office of Mayor shall become vacant, the President of the City Council shall become Mayor; provided, that said President may within five days of such vacancy decline the office of Mayor, in which event the City Council shall select one of its members to be Mayor in the manner provided for filling vacancies in other elective offices.”
So, Harrell becomes mayor at 5 p.m. on Wednesday (Sept. 13, 2017) when Ed Murray officially steps down. Harrell then has five days, during which time he may decline to serve; at that point, the city council would then choose another council member to serve as mayor. Or, Harrell can remain mayor for what will amount to about three months.
Whether Harrell remains or whether the city council chooses another mayor, that person will step down when the winner of the Nov. 7 mayoral election – Jenny Durkan or Cary Moon – is “qualified”; that is, when the Secretary of State certifies the election results. The latest that would happen is Dec. 7, 2017.
Were Ed Murray to have remained in office, Durkan or Moon wouldn’t have been sworn in until January – which would give the mayor-elect more time for transition.
“So that’s interesting,” said McGinn. “The newly elected mayor won’t have the same period of time to catch her breath and figure out who’s gonna work in the mayor’s office and who’s gonna work in the departments. They’ll be thrown into the fray pretty quickly.”
Either way, Mike McGinn is optimistic about what will happen in the months between now and when the next elected mayor takes office.
“I know Bruce has wanted to be mayor, and, you know, here’s his chance and he’s got it for five days at least,” McGinn said, pointing out that Harrell ran for mayor in 2013. “I think the key for whoever steps into the position is just to make sure that there are good decisions being made and guidance being given to the department heads, who do know what their departments do and do know what needs to be done, and leave the new initiatives to whoever is elected in November.”
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