The Yakima City Council could be opening the new year by choosing a new member to take on the ceremonial role of mayor.
Councilman Micah Cawley, 29, is nearing the end of his second two-year term as Yakima’s mayor. Cawley says he wants a third term, but council members mixed about what should happen when they meet Jan. 7 to vote on a mayor.
Only one other member, Councilwoman Kathy Coffey, is expressing interest in the job.
Councilman Rick Ensey said it’s not about who has the role of directing council meetings, but what happens after one person has been mayor for more than two terms.
“People start to think that in some way the mayor has more power than other council members,” Ensey said. “I’m not in favor of Micah having a third term for that reason.”
Councilman Dave Ettl, a longtime personal friend of Cawley, said he would support Cawley for a third term. He said Cawley has grown into the position well since first being nominated in 2010 when he was 25 years old.
“I think we’re past the novelty of the young mayor,” Ettl said. “We have a pretty effective mayor.”
Even Coffey, who confirmed her interest in being named mayor, said she believes Cawley has been effective at running the council’s meetings in an orderly fashion, the job’s primary responsibility.
“I could do the job, I’d be honored to do the job, but I also think Micah could do the job,” Coffey said.
Cawley said he understands why some think the position should be handed to a new council member every few years, but disagrees with strictly holding to it just for tradition’s sake. He said he sees his role as being “first among equals.”
“We have a good chemistry, we’ve been moving forward on a lot of issues,” Cawley said. “Having meetings run well has been a part of that.”
Cawley was preceded as mayor by former Councilman Dave Edler, who some council members criticized for using the position as a bully pulpit to speak out on issues that had divided the council.
Ensey said public interest in how the council chooses a mayor indicates how the position has come to mean more than it was intended.
“No one should care who the mayor is,” Ensey said. “I don’t think anyone on the council should care as long as it’s rotating.”
The other responsibilities of the mayor are primarily acting as an ambassador for the council at public events and meetings with officials from other governments. The position is considered largely ceremonial with few additional powers different from any other council member.
The position does come with a somewhat more lucrative stipend. The average council member is paid $12,900 annually, while the assistant mayor is paid $14,100 and the mayor makes $16,500 a year.
The vote could be tight with only six council members participating. The council has one vacant position it is currently taking applications for after Sara Bristol resigned this month to take a job in Oregon.
Councilwoman Maureen Adkison, who serves as assistant mayor, which the council will also vote on at the meeting, said she is undecided.
“I think clearly it’ll come down to Kathy and Micah, and I don’t want to be the swing vote on that,” Adkison said. “I think they both do a good job and are very hard working council people.”
Councilman Bill Lover did not return calls from the Yakima Herald-Republic on Friday.