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Ferndale City Councilmember Kate Bishop return council to open session after being in executive session regarding an employee matter that led to an admonition of Councilmember Keith Olson (August 19, 2019). Photo: My Ferndale News

Council member lives outside Ferndale – city attorney sees no reason to vacate council seat

FERNDALE, Wash. — Former Ferndale City Council member Keith Olson filed an ethics complaint with the City of Ferndale asserting an ethics violation had occurred since Council member Kate Bishop “is no longer residing within the City of Ferndale and therefore no longer eligible to serve as a council member.”

Bishop was elected to position 6 on the Ferndale City Council during the 2017 General Election. At the time, she ran against opponent Connie Faria under the name Kate Hansen. Her term expires December 31, 2021. A Venus Place address in Ferndale is listed for her on the Ferndale City website.

The complaint was submitted on December 30th, 1 day before Olson’s term on the City Council expired. City Administrator Jori Burnett received the complaint and turned it over to City Attorney Dannon Traxler on January 2nd for investigation.

Traxler submitted a report detailing her findings on January 21st. She said she spoke with Bishop and was told Bishop was staying with a friend in Bellingham subsequent to moving out of the Ferndale home she owns jointly with her ex-husband.

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Requirements for city council candidates include being a registered voter in Ferndale at the time of their declaration of candidacy and residing within the city for at least 1 year by the election date. But, Traxler explained, not maintaining residence inside the city after being elected is not in violation of the City Council’s Ethics Handbook or of any city code or state law. The only ongoing requirement according to Traxler is elected council members must maintain their status as a registered voter in Ferndale.

Registering as a voter in Ferndale requires, according to the Washington Office of the Secretary of State, declaring to be 18-years-old and providing a current residential address in Ferndale.

Traxler said in her report Bishop was automatically registered as a Bellingham voter “sometime in 2019” when she had her identification updated to reflect a legal name change done at the time her divorce was finalized. The change in voter registration was done without Bishop’s knowledge according to Traxler and Bishop later registered as a Ferndale voter after discovering the change. Traxler’s report does not say when the Bellingham voter status was discovered nor when the change to being registered as a Ferndale voter occurred.

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Given her current status as a Ferndale voter, Traxler concluded in her report that “it does not appear that there is legal basis (and Mr. Olson’s complaint does not cite to one) for disqualifying her from currently holding public office in Ferndale, because she complies with the state law requirements for eligibility to hold public office and, in my opinion, mandatory vacancies.”

A mandatory vacancy from a seat on the City Council would be automatically triggered by RCW 42.12.010 as a result of no longer being registered as a Ferndale voter. Since Bishop did not intentionally change to a Bellingham voter status and “Once Ms. Bishop realized the error, she stated that she immediately changed her voter registration status back to Ferndale,” Traxler did not believe the RCW would apply to this situation.

Traxler said Bishop told her she intends “to move back to Ferndale as soon as possible.”

Bishop said in an email to My Ferndale News, when asked about the complaint, “I lived in Ferndale for two years before running for office, which is technically the only requirement, aside maybe from being registered to vote in Ferndale, which I also am. I own a home and pay property taxes in Ferndale; my son goes to kindergarten in Ferndale public schools. We are a Ferndale family.”

Bishop was tasked last year with conducting an investigation into an employee grievance filed by Ferndale Police Chief Kevin Turner against Olson that led to an admonition of Olson in August.


3 Comments

  1. Aron Thompson Aron Thompson January 25, 2020

    Bishop is sure putting a fine point on the accusation that Ferndale has been subsumed as a bedroom community for Bellingham. Any time a politician says something happened “without their knowledge” my skepticism acts up.

  2. Loretta Sheldon Loretta Sheldon January 25, 2020

    Olsen is obviously trying to get back at her, the city attorney ruled it as not in violation of the law.

  3. Alice Paul Alice Paul January 26, 2020

    Nah, she knows better if she’s a councilmember to Register to Vote in Bellingham. If not, obviously not so bright and shouldn’t be making decisions on behalf of the citizens of Ferndale. Don’t go into politics if you can’t read or follow RCW codes. Simple. Not surprised.

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