Council member’s eligibility questioned

The Chronicle (Centralia)September 9, 2013 

Some Tenino residents and City Council members are challenging the political legitimacy of Ann Richter, a registered nurse recently appointed to fill a vacant council seat.

Richter’s tenure was scheduled to last until the November election. But since her appointment, Richter has added her name to the ballot as a write-in candidate, opening the possibility of a full term on the City Council.

Those who question Richter’s legitimacy say she has not lived in Tenino long enough to be eligible for political office.

According to state law, in a mayor-council form of government, council members must be registered to vote in the city where they will run for office, and must have resided in that city for more than one year.

The Revised Code of Washington “is pretty plain,” Thurston County Elections Manager Steve Homan said. “But whether or not they have actually been a resident for a year, we don’t check.”

All candidates sign a declaration swearing they meet all the qualifications.

Richter told The Chronicle last week that she and her husband bought property in the city two years ago. She moved into her Tenino residence full time in October 2012, she said.

She is a registered voter in the city of Tenino, according to the Thurston County Auditor’s Office.

Richter said she has done nothing wrong and is frustrated with the city’s handling of the situation.

“A citizen contacted a council member who took it to a couple other people. Then, the city called to find out how long I’d lived here, rather than coming to me personally,” Richter said. “It’s basically dropped as far as I’m concerned.”

At least one City Council member doesn’t see it that way.

Wayne Fournier said he believes Richter’s time in the city — about 10 months when she joined the council — makes her ineligible; it’s residency, not property ownership, that the law requires, he said.

Mayor Bret Brodersen said he “doesn’t really have a take” on the situation.

“She filled out the application promising she meets the requirements,” Brodersen said Wednesday. “Whether the city takes any action would be up to the City Council.”

The next step, should the council decide to take action, would be to take the case to Thurston County Superior Court.

The challenge is the latest development in what has become an increasingly bizarre race for City Council Position 1.

During the primary election — Tenino’s only primary race — newcomer Sirena Painter and now-Mayor Brodersen received the majority of the vote, shutting out current council member Frank Anderson.

It appeared that Painter had the position locked: In June, Brodersen was selected by his fellow council members to fill the mayoral vacancy left by former Mayor Eric Strawn, negating the need to run for re-election to the City Council; it was too late for Brodersen’s name to be dropped from the ballot.

Richter’s write-in candidacy challenges Painter’s sure-thing race.

On July 23, the City Council chose Richter from three potential candidates to temporarily fill Council Position 1, the seat occupied by Brodersen before he became mayor.

Richter, a registered nurse for 33 years, told the council she has extensive budget experience. She has held numerous management positions, she said, and once oversaw five hospital units simultaneously.

“I live in Tenino. I’m very excited about being in Tenino, and I’d like to be part of the solution here,” she said.

Richter reiterated her enthusiasm in an interview Wednesday.

“Tenino needs new industry to strengthen its economic base. We need to create more local employment, so people don’t have to commute to Olympia or Tumwater,” she said. “I’m excited to be a part of the process of putting together a new budget and helping put the finances back in order.”

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