Council to discuss Hyer replacement

OLYMPIA - The Olympia City Council, which meets tonight, is expected to discuss appointing a council member to replace Joe Hyer, who resigned over the weekend after being charged in February with dealing marijuana.

Tonight “will be their first opportunity to have that conversation,” city spokeswoman Cathie Butler said. The council hasn’t had weekly meetings for the past two weeks because of an annual spring break vacation.

A majority of the six remaining council members will have to agree on a candidate, and their even number sets up the possibility of a 3-3 tie.

If 90 days pass and no appointment has been made, the Thurston County Commission gets to choose the new council member, according to state law. And if the county commissioners won’t make a decision, it falls to Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The state law seems to be at odds with a provision in the city’s municipal code that allows the mayor to appoint a council member if the council can’t agree on one. But City Attorney Tom Morrill said he believes state law takes precedence.

The salary for council members, with the exception of the mayor and mayor pro tem is $16,639.99. The mayor’s salary is $19,968.01 and the mayor pro tem’s is $18,303.95.

Mayor Doug Mah said he will ask the council to discuss the appointment process tonight under other business, which is usually reserved for the end of the meeting. He said he’d like to come up with a formal appointment process at the April 20 meeting, and make an appointment in six weeks.

“We have a significant amount of business to do,” Mah said, and “I think it would be a disservice to the community if we were to take the full 90 days allowed by law.”

Mah said the city is seeking clarification on how long the appointed person will serve, but it is his understanding that it will be until the next council election, in November 2011.

The council has occasionally appointed council members when vacancies arise. The last time that happened was when Mah vacated his council seat to become mayor in 2008. Then, as before, the council asked for applications from the community and eight people applied. The full council interviewed each of them in front of the public before appointing Joan Machlis, who served the rest of Mah’s term before she was defeated in an election bid last year.

It was Hyer whom the council appointed in 2004 to fill the term of Jeanette Hawkins, who stepped down for a private sector job. Hyer was elected in 2005 and again last year to four-year terms.

Hyer’s political career was blossoming before his legal troubles. He announced last year he would run for Thurston County Treasurer, and, two days before his Feb. 18 arrest, he was informally selected as the choice to serve out the rest of then-Treasurer Robin Hunt’s term. He pleaded not guilty to three drug felonies March 9, and his attorney suggested in a court filing that Hyer was entrapped by “a trusted political mentor.” The identity of the informant has not been revealed.

Asked to comment about Hyer’s resignation, Mah said it was anticipated in light of Monday’s court action, in which attorneys filed paperwork indicating that Hyer will plead guilty to one felony count of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance.

“The council, the city and the community will move on,” Mah said. As for the appointment, “My preference is that we do it sooner rather than later.”