Posted by: sweeneyblog | December 17, 2014

City Council Appointment Live-Blog

Welcome to the City Council Appointment Live-Blog! As always, you can support our efforts here at the Political Junkie with a donation by clicking here.

In a fitting metaphor for this whole process, the doors to City Hall were locked when I arrived. After sweet talking a lovely cleaning lady, I was able to gain entry and ensconce myself in the “News Media Seating” chairs in the council chambers (I don’t anticipate much company in these seats but remain hopeful).

Marie, the city clerk, is already here and politely informed me that the front doors are supposed to automatically open 30 minutes before the meeting. There is some dispute over whether that actually happened or not. Either way, I’m in and patiently waiting . . .

Okay, not so patiently waiting for everyone to arrive. I ask Marie for predictions but she demurs, “You will get nothing from me.” Ha! Well-played. I notice that Cathy Lehman’s nameplate has already been moved.

In a burst of activity, Dan Hammill and Iris Maute-Gibson arrive within moments of each other. Iris brought a slight entourage with her. Next Michelle Magee with children in tow and Scot Barg with his partner Becky. Meanwhile Pinky Vargas, Michael Lilliquist and Terry Bornemann. Michael, a father himself, takes the opportunity to let the youngest Magee’s sit in the council chairs.

Gene Knutson has a weary air about him as enters. I ask him if he is ready for the excitement and he chuckles. “I’ve been through four of these, so it should be fine.”

We strike up a discussion about what would be an appropriate hashtag and local social media expert Rifka MacDonald (and partner of Iris) recommends “#applicantthunderdome. Andrew Reding is in Washington, DC and unable to attend.

Samantha Wohlfiel from the Bellingham Herald has arrived and set up – I’m no longer alone in the press box! With a final swirl of her poncho, Mayor Linville arrives and we are off to the races.

Terry Bornemann, in his taciturn baritone, outlines the schedule of the evening. The applicants will give a little time on the microphone to make their case, then the council will go into executive session (“super secret time away from the public”) to discuss qualifications. After that, they will return and open the floor up for nominations. The first person to get four votes shall be victorious. “With that said, let the games begin!” said Bornemann.

Scot Barg

Scot Barg

Scott Barg is first up. He cites his experience with the waterfront and his love for the town, “I love this town so much I moved here twice!” He talks about his experience with the PDA where he worked to deliver a “Community-based vision” of the waterfront.

“Leadership is not about getting people to do what you want them to do . . . it means listening.” He talks about the need for moving beyond inclusion to engagement. “I don’t know how we can do this but if we work together, I know we can do this.”

Linda, assistant city clerk, is flagging down speakers with colorful cut off cards. Gene suggests that they use the cards during council meetings.

Iris Maute-Gibson takes the stage and uses the power of multi-media. On the big screen, her endorsements from local movers and shakers (Chuck Robinson from Village Books kicks off the list).

Iris says she is willing to stand alone on issues if necessary before seguing into her pitch for the need for millennial representation on the city council. “I’m a young professional, feminist, queer, “Smart Trips” using, outdoor enthusiast, and I grew up here in Bellingham on reduced lunch.” She closes with a brief story of encouraging a frustrated citizen to be engaged in the rental licensing process even though they were on opposite sides of the issue.

Dan Hammill, sporting a sharp purple tie, calls for “wise choices” around land use, environmental protection and affordable housing. He name-checks the comp plan and calls the work of engaging the public, “the spade and shovel” of public service.

He mentions his work on the Bellingham Home Fund (a subject I wish I could have covered in more depth when it was passed in 2012). His rapid-fire approach makes him the swiftest speech but he packed a great deal of material into that couple of minutes.

Michelle Magee kicks it off by identifying herself as a “Mom, Super volunteer and social activist.” She said that her daughters advised her to tell the council about them. “As a single parent on a limited income in a small apartment, I know alot about working on a budget with limited resources.” She cites her experience standing firm working with difficult bureaucracies. She speaks about her experience with domestic violence and the value of community. “When you’ve walked through fire, it is hard to see anything as hopeless.”

“We want to be people who create a little more luck for more people.” She also mentions her hundreds of supporters and her core values of social justice and activism.

With that, we are back to the council. “The presentations, unfortunately, did not help whittle it down. No matter who we appoint, there are going to be four other very qualified people who are not.” Gene Knutson asks for a round of applause for the applicant, a request the audience eagerly indulges. With that, the council slips out to a separate chamber for a discussion.

I ask if anyone in crowd is taking bets. I quickly shoot a nervous glance at Mayor Linville, she says that there should be no problem so long as she’s not taking any of the money. Linville says that she, “made (the council) promise not to make her choose.” A deadlocked council kicks the decision to the mayor’s office.

A scant fifteen minutes later and the council is back. Terry reassures the audience that they only discussed qualifications in the executive session, noting that there was no talk of who was supporting whom.

Gene Knutson speaks first after the chair, he nominates Dan Hammill. No one else was nominated, leading to an extended awkward silence. With that, it is an unanimous vote.

Now it is time for the reassurances. Lilliquist and Vargas offer their thanks and stress how difficult the decision was and how proud they are for stepping forward. “There are elections next year, so it ain’t over.” Vargas said. “I encourage you to keep moving forward.” Roxanne Murphy talks about how she lost her first election. “There will always be seats on councils and there will always to be seats to run.”

Terry Bornemann reminisces about his application for the vacancy when Joy Keenan stepped down, many years ago. “I knew that I was the best candidate but I didn’t get it.” He makes the point that this isn’t a popularity contest. “Who can we feel can step in and fill out a remaining position. Who can be up to speed the quickest?” Bornemann speaks to Dan’s diverse experience.

Knutson thanks the council for how they handled it. “There was no clear front runner. There are no winners and no losers, everyone is a winner. I wish Dan the best serving with us.”

Next up, Dan signs the oath of office. After he signs it, he will officially be a council member although the swearing in will be in front of the judge later. Pictures are snapped on a couple smart phones, documents are signed and the crowd gets restless. Hand shakes commencing and the gavel bangs the meeting closed.



  1. Wow Riley, if you are in those seats this early, you will be extremely uncomfortable as the evening progresses. I’ll be watching from home. In 2008, after attending council as candidates, Jack, Barry and I were sworn in, we said we would replace that seating, first chance we got. Then the recession hit….

    • Smart man, Stan. Good crowd tonight, though.

  2. Riley – Scott’s partner is Betsy Hasagawa. She herself is an extraordinary mover and shaker.

  3. Thanks for keeping us posted – watching!

  4. Scott Barg comes across a bit wooden, wouldn’t you say? Riley, your review of his “presentation” ?

  5. I knew that somehow knew that Hammill would be appointed, but there wasn’t really a clear front-runner, as Gene Knutson said. All of the applicants were winners, and I hope that all of them stay involved in city government and public service. Maybe some of them could run in 2015. It is really rare to have such a long, well-qualified list of candidates. I wish them all the best.

    And thanks, Riley, for covering this Bellingham City Council vacancy so well. It was great coverage with all the interviews.

  6. Hamill was the obvious and logical choice. Of all the speakers, however, Iris Maute-Gibson showed the most presence and gravitas. I hope she runs in 2015.

    Riley, any analysis / last thoughts on all this?

  7. I think that public support should have played a role in the council’s decision making process, seeing as how this is an elected position that is being temporarily filled (by appointment) for the sake of expediency and cost. Though I understand the need for continuity and a smooth transition, Terry certainly made it clear that public opinion wasn’t a significant factor (if at all) in this decision. That said, Iris had the support, the message, and intelligence to make an effective councilmember. I too hope that she continues to pursue public office and am happy that I have the opportunity to work with her on the Lake Whatcom Watershed Advisory Board.

  8. Nick, finally, we agree. It was bound to happen on day. The council was essentially proxy voting for the public, and that means we should have played a more prominent role. There were many good reasons to appoint Dan, but a bad one was the fact that the council found him to be the best “fit” for their group. I hope he proves them wrong and becomes an independent voice that breaks from the the constant 7-0 votes.

  9. Riley, thanks for the coverage. Its a tough position to be in but i believe the council did a great job. We had 5 great candidates. It was by far the best process we have ever had no politics or favorites. I see future candidates
    on the horizon. Happy Holidays to all.

    • And Happy Holidays to you, Gene for all the good work you have done over the years.

  10. Public support did play into the Council’s decision. We had public input on all of the candidates and we listened to the input but that was just one factor amoung many we used to make our choice. There is always this misperception that if we vote differently then certain folks advise us to vote that we are not paying attention. In this case we had community members asking us to vote for 5 different candidates so no matter which candidate we choose we could be accused of not listening to the public. In the end we voted for who we thought was the best qualified candidate,

  11. If “public support did play into the Council’s decision,” Terry Bornemann, then how does the moderator report, “Terry reassures the audience that they only discussed qualifications in the executive session, noting that there was no talk of who was supporting whom.”

    Seems to be a disconnect there…

  12. […] all the candidates, I tried to keep my personal preference out of my reporting. This selection (read my liveblog of the proceedings here) was the safe choice. Hammill is smart, ethical, and ready to step into the […]

  13. […] was appointed, unanimously, to the City Council last month to fill out the remainder of Cathy Lehman’s term which expires this year. He is planning to […]

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