Opinion

Too hard to run for mayor | Editorial

The salaries of Whidbey Island’s three mayors may be dissuading potential candidates from running for office.

State law (RCW 29A.24.091) requires that those filing for offices with a fixed salary pay a filing fee equal to one percent of that salary. That wasn’t much of problem a few years back when Whidbey Island’s mayors were paid negligible salaries, working mostly on a volunteer basis. But today we’re talking big bucks.

To run for mayor of Oak Harbor, the filing fee is $499.09, which is 1 percent of what Mayor Jim Slowik makes. The filing fee for mayor in the small town of Coupeville, which is about one-twentieth the size of Oak Harbor, is $637.52 -- 1 percent of Mayor Nancy Conard’s salary. In little Langley, about the same size of Coupeville, the filing fee is $535.32, or one percent of Mayor Paul Samuelson’s salary.

A candidate for mayor should not have to have a healthy bank account or hundreds to blow on a dark horse campaign. Perhaps a homemaker, a philosopher, a poet or struggling artist possesses the ideas and leadership skills needed to serve as mayor, but not the money. They should not be stopped from running for lack of money.

State law takes poverty into consideration, but on the small town level with handsomely salaried mayors it’s too high a hurdle. Instead of paying a filing fee a candidate may submit a petition that “shall contain not less than a number of signatures of registered voters equal to the number of dollars of the filing fee.”

The 2007 mayoral voter turnout figures show that only 394 people in Langley voted for mayor, as Paul Samuelson was running unopposed. But a petition to run for mayor would require 535 signatures, far more than the number who actually voted. In Coupeville in 2007, 722 votes were cast for mayor, with Conard getting 471 of them. A petition to run for mayor would require the signatures of 637 registered voters, far more than the winner, Conard, received.

The situation isn’t so bad in Oak Harbor, where 3,982 voted in the 2007 mayoral race, 2,226 for Slowik. A signature drive would need 499 names.

Salary increases for the job of mayor on Whidbey Island, particularly in Coupeville and Langley, have made the petition requirements of state law ludicrous. One way to address the problem is the slash mayoral salaries. Another way is to change the state law.

 

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