Former Yelm City Council member EJ Curry was appointed to a vacant seat on the council on Tuesday, June 9.
After the council was stalled on four votes for four candidates — each of which ended in a 3-3 tie — Mayor JW Foster provided the tie-breaking vote for Curry, the candidate he felt had the most experience. Brian Hess, Allyn Verbal, Dave Hoadley and Curry were the candidates that all received a tied 3-3 vote by the council.
Curry will serve out the rest of former council member Cody Colt’s term through November 2021. Colt was hired as the city’s director of public works.
Here’s how the voting played out: Curry’s candidacy was the first to be motioned to a vote by the council. Because the council was unable to vote in majority for her, council members moved on with motioning another candidate for a vote.
This process happened four different times. While Foster initially voiced opposition to making the tie-breaking vote, it was clear after four candidates that the council would be unable to come to a majority vote on a candidate.
During the votes to appoint candidates, council members Terry Kaminski, Tracey Wood, and Tad Stillwell voted in favor of appointing Curry, but later voted against appointing Hess, Verbal and Hoadley.
Conversely, council members Molly Carmody, Joe DePinto and James Blair voted against appointing Curry and cast their votes for appointing Hess, Verbal and Hoadley.
This is the second time Curry has been appointed to a vacancy after a 3-3 tie during Foster’s tenure as mayor, and the third time Foster has used executive authority to break a tie to fill a council vacancy.
The council was split into two camps on whether to bring back Curry, who was originally appointed to the council in 2016 to fill Foster’s vacant seat and who lost her bid for a second term to Blair.
Those opposed to Curry wanted to avoid the 3-3 tie and largely opted over the last couple meetings to move forward with a ranked-choice voting system to appoint a candidate through a more general consensus. A motion during the meeting for the process died as it could not find a majority vote.
Ranked-choice voting, according to Ballotpedia, a nonprofit and nonpartisan encyclopedia, is an “electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots” often used in large candidate pools.
In the process, a candidate is declared a winner if they receive a majority of first votes. If no one candidate gains a majority of the votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. This process is repeated ad nauseum until a majority vote is had.
Carmody, who was on the council the last time Curry was appointed through an executive tie breaker, said Tuesday’s vote felt obviously like a case of deja vu.
Speaking on the vote, Carmody said she and those opposing Curry felt as if they were forced into a vote on Curry.
“When people get voted down by the people, I don’t think they should be voted into the position by council. I think that’s a disservice to the people,” Carmody told the Nisqually Valley News.
Carmody also said she felt the council wasn’t doing its homework on the ranked-choice voting system after last week’s consensus that it would proceed with the voting method. During the meeting, the council extensively discussed the process of voting before voting on the four candidates.
According to state law, mayors are allowed the ability to cast a vote if a council cannot come to a majority vote on any matters other than “ordinance, grant, or revocation of franchise or license, or any resolution for the payment of money.”
Foster said he leans into experience when considering someone for the position, and said Tuesday night’s decision should have been easier than the council made it out to be.
Curry is ready to address the issues the council is currently faced with and won’t have to learn on the go, Foster said.
“We even have her name plate for crying out loud when we get back to live meetings,” he said.
Foster added that he believes the move to use a ranked-choice system was largely an end-run to keep Curry from the seat. While not dismissive of the system, Foster said it’s largely more successful during a much larger vote in much different circumstances.
While some may argue against it, this choice wasn’t an election, Foster added.
But the extensive debate over the nature of the vote didn’t overshadow the bigger picture, Foster said: the Yelm council has a full voting body now.
“Starting last night, we’re at a council of seven and we can continue to do the important work for the City of Yelm,” he said.
Who is EJ Curry
A lifelong Yelm resident, Curry, 69, is a semi-retired property developer who has served as chair on the Yelm Senior Center Board of Directors and has played in roles both big and small throughout the community.
In the past, Curry has also been an avid supporter of Yelm Dollars for Scholars and of the 2019 Yelm Community Schools bond initiative.
During her time on the council, Curry served on the Yelm Planning Commission as a member and also attended Southeast Thurston Fire Authority’s board of fire commissioners meetings, representing the Yelm council, according to her application for candidacy.
Curry is a graduate from Yelm High School, and also attended the University of Washington and University of Georgia.
Curry first came on to the council in September 2016 as an appointee by Foster following a 3-3 council tie. She was later approved by the voters in November 2017 to her first full term, having run unopposed for the seat.
She lost reelection in November 2019 by a margin of 30 votes.