It looks as though the Pierce County sheriff and auditor will remain elected positions for the foreseeable future. That’s because an effort by the Pierce County Council at its regular July 27 meeting to turn them into appointed positions failed.
Ordinances No. 2021-60 and No. 2021-61 asked voters if the auditor and sheriff, respectively, should be appointed, rather than elected, via amending the county charter.
The former ordinance was tabled indefinitely, while the latter ordinance took longer to address, with comments from members of the public and several councilmembers.
Councilmember Ryan Mello announced his intention to vote for the ordinance.
“I’m doing it for accountability reasons primarily,” he said, saying there is no way to hold politicians answerable between elections.
“This office is a professional, administrative leadership position that really needs special kinds of skills,” Mello said.
Fellow councilmember Jani Hitchen, a sponsor of the ordinance, agreed: “It is a very technical, professional job with a special set of skills they need to have. I am not qualified to run for sheriff. Yet I could have run, and I could have won.”
Council Chair Derek Young indicated his support of the ordinance because it would let voters have the ultimate say.
“I think it’s incumbent on us to let the voters know and see what they want to decide,” he said.
Councilmember Hans Zeiger also referenced voters in explaining his opposition to the ordinance, saying he gave great deference to voters deciding in 2008 to make the sheriff an elected position. Still, he said he understood the technical considerations that some of his colleagues had brought up in favor of the bill.
“But at the same time, I don’t see that in itself as a reason to remove the selection process from the rigors of politics in our democratic society,” he explained.
In the end, the vote went along party lines, with the measure receiving approval from four Democrats, while being rejected by three Republicans. A two-thirds yes vote — five out of seven votes — is required for passage of a charter amendment.
Voting yes were Mello, Hitchen, Young and Marty Campbell. Voting no were Zeiger, Amy Cruver and Dave Morell.
Had either of the ordinances passed, their corresponding charter proposals would have been sent to voters, who would then have had the opportunity to decide if the positions should be elected or appointed. An appointed auditor or sheriff would be selected by the county executive and then approved by the Pierce County Council.