Although the statutes are not entirely clear, MRSC’s legal consultants have taken the position that the mayor can vote to break a tie vote of the council to fill a vacant council position.
RCW 42.12.070 provides that it is the governing body that makes the appointment, not the mayor. RCW 42.12.070(1) states that:
Where one position is vacant, the remaining members of the governing body shall appoint a qualified person to fill the vacant position.
We think that under RCW 42.12.070 (see above) the mayor may not vote initially on filling the vacancy since such votes are limited to members of the city council itself. However, if there is a tie in the votes of the councilmembers, the mayor may exercise their tie-breaking authority and break the tie vote.
The mayor’s authority to break a tie vote is set forth in RCW 35A.12.100, which provides in part:
The mayor shall preside over all meetings of the city council, when present, but shall have a vote only in the case of a tie in the votes of the councilmembers with respect to matters other than the passage of any ordinance, grant, or revocation of franchise or license, or any resolution for the payment of money. . . . The mayor shall have the power to veto ordinances passed by the council and submitted to him or her as provided in RCW 35A.12.130 but such veto may be overridden by the vote of a majority of all councilmembers plus one more vote.
Filling a vacancy is a “matter other than the passage of any ordinance, grant, or revocation of a franchise, or any resolution for the payment of money. . . .” So, we think that the mayor could break a tie vote to fill a vacant position on council.
There is a contrary position, based on the legislative history of RCW 42.12.070 and Chapter 35A.12 RCW, that the mayor plays no role in the process of filling a vacancy on a council and that the general grant of tie-breaking authority in RCW 35A.12.100 does not control in the specific process outlined in RCW 42.12.070. This argument is based on a 1994 statutory amendment (1994 c 223 § 1), which removed any reference to the mayor. Prior to the 1994 amendment, RCW 35A.12.050 specifically provided that:
If, after thirty days have passed since the occurrence of a vacancy, the council are unable to agree upon a person to be appointed to fill a vacancy in the council, the mayor may make the appointment from among the persons nominated by members of the council. [Repealed in 1994].
The 1994 amendment removed this language, and instead cross-referenced the procedure in chapter 42.12 RCW for filling a vacancy. The procedure in chapter 42.12 RCW does not specifically reference the mayor.
Because there has been no caselaw or attorney general opinions on this point, reasonable legal minds can disagree, and we defer to the legal advice of the agency attorney.