Our View

Mill Creek voters were ill-served in election

Nov 30, 2017

 

Mill Creek residents were not well served in this past election. City Councilmember Sean Kelly ran for reelection to a second term, winning handily, while being ineligible for office.

We received a tip in September that Kelly had moved out of Mill Creek and, under state law, that prevented him from continuing to serve on the council. We did some research, discovering he had, in fact, bought a home in Snohomish.

We checked with county Elections & Recording Manager Garth Fell, who confirmed that, if Kelly wasn’t a Mill Creek resident, he couldn’t run for Mill Creek City Council. Unfortunately, even if Kelly resigned from the council and quit the election, it was too late to remove his name from the ballot, Fell said.

After the Sept. 12 council meeting, we asked Kelly if he had moved to Snohomish. He said he had. He said he thought that as long as he still owned property in Mill Creek that he could continue to serve on the council. We told him that was wrong, that state law required that he live in the city.

“Now you’ve given me something else to worry about,” Kelly said. But he didn’t worry enough to do anything about it. He didn’t notify his fellow councilmembers or other city officials that he had moved. He didn’t notify county election officials, either. And he didn’t fess up to Mill Creek voters that, even though his name remained on the ballot, he was no longer eligible to be a council candidate.

It took persistent prodding by the Beacon, and an official challenge by Mill Creek resident Carmen Fisher – who ran against Kelly in the November election – before Kelly finally fessed up. He resigned from the council Tuesday.

Kelly’s fellow councilmembers and city officials didn’t serve residents well, either. Like ostriches, they offered only head-in-the-sand responses when presented the facts.

Mayor Pam Pruitt, who accused us of “ambushing” Kelly when we talked to him after that Sept. 12 council meeting, said she asked him about it and that he told her he hadn’t “fully moved out.” That’s like being partially pregnant.

Pruitt explained that Kelly was having marital difficulties and was trying to work them out. We had heard about that, too, but hadn’t planned to include that information in our story until she brought it up. She said she took him at his word that he was still a Mill Creek resident.

Joni Kirk, director of Communications and Marketing, said they first became aware of Kelly’s problem from the Beacon story. Kelly hadn’t talked to any City Hall staff about it, Kirk said, so, “Until he has made that disclosure, it’s a personal matter.”

But it wasn’t personal. He was a public official illegally serving on the City Council. As we reported, Kelly admitted he had moved. County records showed he had bought a house in Snohomish. He even told us he liked his new house. Shouldn’t someone at City Hall have pressed him?

Now, 2,661 residents who voted for Kelly are finding out they wasted their vote. Another 1,055 who voted for Fisher also were short-changed.

The City Council has an opportunity to make it right. When a councilmember resigns, they are charged with appointing a replacement. We think Carmen Fisher deserves strong consideration for the vacancy. She is the only one who threw her hat in the ring against him. She proved her willingness to serve by running an uphill campaign against an incumbent. She has met with city officials and has been doing her homework on city issues. And, unlike Kelly, she’s legally eligible to serve.

Kelly is a nice guy. It’s too bad he couldn’t see his way to do the right thing.

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