Wanna run for Walla Walla City Council? Now’s your chance.
This year there will be two open seats on the City Council. As in, no incumbents seeking re-election to either seat. This is your chance to compete on a level playing field.
You against any number of other newcomers for a chance to be one of seven Council members to make important decisions about Walla Walla.
But there is a catch. Always a catch, right? If you wanna run for one of the open seats, ya gotta live in either the East Ward or the West Ward. The other two Council seats that will also be up for election this fall (meaning that four out of seven Council seats will be on the ballot in November) are citywide seats, not limited to a specific ward.
And there are four current members of the Council — including me — whose terms will be up this year who might, and probably will, seek re-election. Meaning that the two citywide seats will probably have incumbents seeking re-election to fill them (although, of course, you are also free to seek one of these citywide positions). My term is up and I plan to seek re-election, but not in the East or West wards. I live in the South Ward.
Confused yet? Let me try to explain.
For many years, all seven Council positions were at-large. Meaning that you could live anywhere in the city and run for any of the seven Council positions. And the requirements to run for Council are easily met. You need to be a citizen of the United States, qualified to vote, and a resident of the city for at least one year prior to the date of election. You also may not be a city employee. To be qualified to vote (i.e., an elector), you have to be 18. That’s it. Pretty easy, huh?
Oh, and with the new ward election plan, if you want to run as a candidate in a specific ward, you must be a resident of, and live in, that ward.
So what’s the deal with these wards you ask?
About two years ago, the Council voted to establish four wards (East, Central, West and South) in which you had to live if you wanted to be elected from that ward. Three seats remained at-large. Meaning, if you wanted to seek election to one of them, you could live anywhere in the city.
Although there are four wards, the Council voted to have two wards each election cycle. This year is the first time we will have ward elections. The Council decided that the first two wards would be East and West.
That means in two years, in 2021, there will be three Council seats up for election, two of which will be from wards — the Central and South wards. Same process and rules, as explained herein, will apply then.
The policy behind creating four wards was to increase diversity — social, economic and geographic — on Council. There was and remains justification for the concern and change.
When the past Council voted to form wards, six members of Council lived in what is now the South Ward. Now, with three new members since the last Council voted to form wards, six of us still live in the South ward. And historically, parts of town — primarily the East and especially the West wards — have not had much representation on Council.
That is, these parts of town, which I believe are, in some important ways, distinguishable from other parts of town, have not had representation at the Council table. I also believe, as some wit once said, that if you are not at the table you are on the menu. Hopefully, all parts of town — socially, economically and geographically — will soon be at the table and not being feasted on, overlooked or ignored.
So, if you wanna run, how do you do it with these newfangled and hard-to-understand wards? First, decide which Council seat you qualify for and want to run for.
If you live in the East Ward or the West Ward, you can run in that ward or at-large. If you do not live in the East or West ward, you may only run for one of the two at-large seats.
If I were a first-time candidate for City Council and lived in the East or West ward, I would run in that ward and not at-large. Why? Because if you run for an at-large seat you are probably going to face an incumbent member of Council seeking re-election. Not that any of us are unbeatable, and not that members of Council are that well known, but we still have some name recognition and experience on Council to brag about. Still, if you want to run for an at-large seat against an incumbent, have at it!
Once you decide you want to run and for which seat, you then have to file. And that is a formal legal requirement. This year, the filing period is one week: May 13 through May 17. You can file at the County Auditor’s Office, 310 W. Poplar St., or online at the Walla Walla County Elections Department website (bit.ly/WWelections). There is a filing fee of $48, which is 1 percent of the Council’s fixed annual salary of $4,800 (as in, $400 per month).
You also need to fill out and file with the Public Disclosure Commission form showing, in broad outline, your financial status. Depending on how much you plan to raise/spend on your campaign, there are some additional forms that may be required by the PDC. The helpful and friendly folks at the County Elections Department will assist you with all of this. It may seem daunting but you can do it.
So, you have filed and filled out all the needed forms and paperwork. Now what? Now you put together a campaign staff (if you want, it is not absolutely necessary — heck, you could be your own campaign staff), raise money (if you want, it is not necessary — heck, you could finance your own campaign or do it on the cheap), and start campaigning.
How you campaign is up to you. Knock on doors, ads in the U-B, social media, billboards, letters to the editor, yard signs. Any and all are ways to get known and persuade folks to vote for you. Knocking on doors costs nothing more than your physical effort, a smile and time. The other approaches are all going to cost you money. How much money will be determined by how many ads, how much social media, how many yard signs, etc.
If there are three or more candidates for the seat you are running for, there will be a primary vote in August. And here things get interesting regarding running for a ward seat. Per Washington law and the city ordinance that established wards, if there is a primary for a Council ward seat, only the voters in that ward get to vote in the primary.
So, for example, if you live in the West Ward and run for Council, and if there are three or more candidates for the position, there will be a primary vote and only the voters in the West Ward may vote in the primary. The top two vote-getters will move on to the General Election in November. At the General Election, however, all city voters — not just those in the West Ward — will vote for the West Ward candidate of their choice. Same in the East Ward.
That means that if there is a primary, you only need to campaign in, knock on the doors of, and send campaign literature to voters in your ward. In the General Election, you are going to have to campaign citywide. Lots more doors to knock on, lots more places to put yard signs, lots more folks to whom you may want to send campaign literature.
You’re thinkin’ about it, aren’t you?
Being on Council is challenging but rewarding. It requires a commitment of time and energy. Besides two regular Council meetings each month and two Council workshops, members of Council are assigned (by the mayor) to various city boards and commissions. Most of which meet monthly — some of which meetings last more than one hour.
After the filing period is over and we know who will be running for which seats, the City Council, with support from the Sherwood Trust, plans to schedule a meeting, or meetings, to help candidates and their campaign staffs organize and plan for the campaign. So you will not be doing the above alone or without assistance.
Do it! Throw your hat into the ring and run for Council.
Tom Scribner is an attorney and has served on the Walla Walla City Council since 2016 and previously from 1991-1995. Contact him at email@example.com.