A week after she called on Mayor Ed Murray to "consider" resigning, Seattle City Council member Lorena González has agreed to support Murray's own proposal for a joint committee to oversee the transition of power to the next administration, a sign of little support among the city council for impeaching the mayor. Still, González is not fully backing away from the possibility of an "involuntary" vacancy in the mayor's office.
"As you know, I cannot legally compel you to resign," González wrote in a letter to the mayor yesterday, "as there is nothing in the Charter that provides Council with that authority nor does the Charter articulate a 'resignation standard' or protocols. The decision to voluntarily vacate the Office of the Mayor remains with you even if I continue to have concerns about your ultimate decision."
In April, the Seattle Times broke the news that several men accused Murray of sexually abusing them in the 1980s when they were teens. One of the men had filed a civil lawsuit against Murray, which he has since dropped. This month, another report by the Seattle Times showed that a child welfare investigator determined in 1984 that Murray sexually abused his foster son. The records were previously thought to be destroyed. Murray denies the allegations.
González said last week that if Murray did not resign by today, the council should "convene its own committee to determine if a transition in executive leadership is merited under these circumstances."
In response, Murray said he would not resign and wrote the council a letter, in which he proposed a "joint mayor-council transition coordination committee to execute a plan for ensuring a smooth transition of power to the next mayor and newly seated city council." González and other council members expressed support the mayor's offer this morning, but none seemed to know exactly what it means or how it will make this transition of power any different than previous transitions between mayoral administrations.
“I’m not sure exactly what it means at this point, so I’m going to seek some clarification," Council President Bruce Harrell said during a council meeting this morning. Harrell said he planned to consult the mayor.
But González is also pushing for an independent council plan to outline what will happen in the event of a resignation, "whether for voluntary or involuntary reasons," she said this morning. Harrell said he has drafted a "succession plan," but is not yet releasing it publicly. Harrell said the plan, which "will hopefully address all scenarios," will be released Wednesday or Thursday. If Murray were to resign, Harrell would have five days to accept the mayorship, according to the city charter. If Harrell declined, the council would vote to select another member and then appoint someone to fill that council member's seat.
I hope that, consistent with Council President [Bruce] Harrell's and Councilmembers [Sally] Bagshaw, [Lisa] Herbold and [Debora] Juarez's statement of last week, you will endeavor to refrain from using the court of public opinion to disparage your alleged victims of sexual abuse. I also encourage you to refrain from categorically attacking the credibility of caseworkers and institutions, who are charged with the difficult work of investigating serious child sex abuse allegations. These are often times the only entities available for a child to report possible sex abuse to and I am sensitive to the chilling impact that the words of highly-elected officials can have in this context.
This morning, Council Member Kshama Sawant—the first council member to make a public statement in support of survivors—joined González in that call.
"I think these two things are the bare minimum that we should require from an elected official, much less the mayor of a major city," Sawant said.
Council members were careful to avoid talk of impeachment, but Sawant said, "The council has an independent duty to act on this because it’s a question of how our decisions appear in terms of what courage we were able to show in our duties toward sexual violence survivors and what precedent that sets."
"If we say a lot [but] then it’s a normal transition [to the next mayor]," Sawant added, "then ultimately, where do we stand with sexual violence survivors? Are we doing to take the kind of action that is demanded by the situation or not?"