In Stanwood, being an elected official won’t make you rich.
City council members earn a stipend of $350 a month.
The mayor earns $1,300.
In return, council members and the mayor attend city council meetings on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month.
Each council member also serves on subcommittees that meet once a month.
Because of the number of subcommittees, six council members serve on two, and one council member serves on one.
Council members prepare for meetings by reading agenda packets and communicating with staff so they’re versed in the workings of city government and know what they’re voting for or against.
It isn’t a rule, but it is expected they also attend at least some city events, business openings and other happenings around town.
Mayor is advertised as a part time job, but doing it well is a commitment.
In addition to presiding over council meetings, signing contracts on the city’s behalf and attending events, the mayor also sits on regional boards and committees.
Mayor Leonard Kelley, who served previously as a city council member, retired from his job with UPS to run for mayor in 2013 because he expected the role to take much of his time.
He said the job has taken even more than he expected, and he’s the first to admit that being a city council member is “a thankless job for $350 a month.”
Maybe that’s why so many positions are uncontested in local elections.
Three seats on council expire the end of this year and will be on the ballot in November, and all three of them were last filled without contest — Rob Johnson, Arne Wennerberg and Dottie Gorsuch were all elected in 2013 for terms beginning January 2014. No one ran against them.
In fact, in the 2013 election, five council seats were up for grabs, and none of the races were contested.
Larry Sather and Conrad Ryer, who had been appointed to fill vacancies, ran uncontested to keep the seats until the terms expired.
When their terms expired the end of 2015, both ran for re-election, again uncontested. Tim Pearce and Elizabeth Callaghan, both of whom had served on council previously, also ran uncontested in 2015.
Sather said he thinks at least two things are at play in uncontested elections. First, serving on council is a lot of work. Second, apathy — the rationale that “someone else will do it.”
“I don’t necessarily think those are good reasons,” Sather said, “but I think they might be some of the reasons.”
Kelley agreed that “complacency” likely plays a role, as well as fear.
“I think politics is one of those things that scares people,” he said.
Say what you will about American politics, but getting involved in democracy at the lower levels, like Stanwood, is simple.
Go to the Snohomish County Auditor’s website, snohomishcountywa.gov.
Click on “County Services,” then “Elections,” then “File for office.”
Filing week begins May 15 at 9 a.m. and continues through May 19 at 4 p.m.
The website also includes instructions to file by mail, and a phone number to call for help.
Despite the narrow pool of Stanwood City Council contestants, and despite the fact that some of those on council differ in their politics, they often reach the same conclusion.
“In most cases, council votes unanimously, which has been a pleasant surprise to me,” Sather said.
He said he appreciates that people with diverse political views often reach the same decision, and takes it as a sign that the city is mostly moving in the right direction. It’s only on controversial issues that council splits its vote four to three, or five to two.
It’s those controversial issues, though, that might benefit from greater range of candidates.