What city council members seek in candidate

Jason Victor Serinus As I see it
Posted 6/19/24

A rare opportunity awaits the right public servant. Rather than having to campaign for office, a full-time Port Townsend resident who is a U.S. citizen and registered to vote in Jefferson County can …

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What city council members seek in candidate

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A rare opportunity awaits the right public servant. Rather than having to campaign for office, a full-time Port Townsend resident who is a U.S. citizen and registered to vote in Jefferson County can fill out an online application to join the Port Townsend City Council.

Applications are due by July 5 at 4 pm — that’s when current Councilmembers first see them—with the appointment announced on August 7. 

Not having to campaign hardly means that the applicant is off the hook, however. The hardest part of the application is answering nine anything but “supplemental questions” that, in essence, clarify how the applicant will interface with members of the city council, the public, and the job’s responsibilities. Completed applications will become public record — it’s a bit like having your college admissions interview broadcast city-wide — and some applicants may be asked to interview with City Council. If you aren’t ready for the spotlight, which for some has included public confrontations in the supermarket, death threats, and smear campaigns, you’d best not apply.

After reaching out to four City Council members, Mayor David Faber, Deputy Mayor Amy Howard, and Councilmember Ben Thomas replied in time. Opinions differed as to the amount of time a Councilor must devote to the job, but it’s close to 20 hours a week, and likely more at the start.

For that much service, council members receive a whopping $725, rising to $800 in January 2028. The Mayor, who is appointed by their fellow council members, rakes in a huge $1,075, increasing by $100 in January 2028. That’s below minimum wage, and health benefits are not guaranteed.

Thomas prefers someone with a fair bit of knowledge about affordable housing. That is what Aislinn Palmer brought to the table. Palmer recently resigned from the council, creating the vacancy.

“I love it when elected officials listen to the people — their constituency,” he said. “I like people with the humility to say, I don’t know all the answers, but I’ll be a good voice for people who aren’t getting heard right now. As a nominated person, I would want them to be slightly more attuned to the public than the average councilor because they didn’t earn the position through the normal election process,” said Thomas.

To Howard, the most important skill an applicant can possess is the ability to listen. “You need to be able to pay attention as you receive information from many avenues,” she said. “Otherwise, you can’t ask good questions.”

Because she serves on the board of the Association of Washington Cities (AWC), Howard knows that some people run for office as “chaos agents.” Others tout a single item agenda and have no interest in working on anything else. She prefers someone who is willing to be a good generalist to someone who applies “with a single topic in mind that they want to drive home.”

“I’m really looking for someone who can be collaborative, and who is willing to engage in this activity like it is important, because it is,” Howard said. “Being respectful has been a hallmark of this City Council since I’ve served on it. We’re all pretty different, and we approach things from slightly different ways. We’ve had significant discussions where we are not on the same page to begins with, yet often reach similar conclusions. If we can get to the same page, that’s generally better for the community.”

Faber, in turn, said, “I’m looking for someone with thoughtful responses to the questions we put on the application … and who is honest and direct about themselves. There will be intangibles that people state in their applications that I won’t know I’m looking for until I read them and they jump out at me. But I’d most like to see someone who understands or at least has a reasonable interest in the difficult issues that are facing the community. 

“Policy making frequently requires trade-offs. Sometimes you have to deal with controversy and have the courage of your convictions. Policy making also requires compromising and find ways to work together — finding common ground rather than dogmatically sticking to a position. There are times when we enter the room from very different angles, but we almost always get to a place of agreement,” said Faber.

“That’s what’s really fantastic about our Council right now.”

 

Jason Victor Serinus is a critic of culture, music, and audio. A longtime advocate for rights, equality, and freedom, he is also a professional whistler. Column tips: jvsaisi24@gmail.com