Sources: Union Pressured Council to Name Triplett Sims' Replacement

Kurt Triplett, King County Executive
It's official, Kurt Triplett was promoted to interim King County executive. He replaces Ron Sims until voters pick a new guy for the job. According to several sources up at the court house, Triplett spent the weeks since Sims was first nominated to a federal post lobbying council members and other elected officials to support him as the new county CEO. He automatically ascended to the post for a couple of weeks as the acting interim Exec, but was hoping to get the job through the end of this year.

But Triplett has not spent his tenure as Sims' chief of staff making friends. When the council expressed distrust in the Executive's budget numbers, calling for a separate economic forecasting office answering to both branches of King County government, their frustration was aimed at Triplett as much as Sims. Triplett also made it very clear in late 2007 that Sims (and himself by association) believed the Sheriff should be an appointed position--an unsubtle shot at political adversary Sue Rahr. He also ran into trouble with activists over the King County animal shelter.

So it wasn't surprising when the panel convened by the council to recommend Sims' replacement voted 10 - 5 to name former Seattle mayor Charles Royer to the post rather than Triplett. What is surprising, to county outsiders anyway, is the council's vote today to name Triplett to the position instead. Three council members, Republicans Jane Hague and Kathy Lambert and Democrat Bob Ferguson, actually supported Royer in a preliminary vote, but after Royer was knocked out, the council approved Triplett unanimously.

The official argument for Triplett is that in these tough financial times, it's good to have an Executive who already knows the inner workings of the budget process and can minimize the damage in what's likely to be another year of deep cuts. And undoubtedly that's part of the motivation. "[Triplett] will draw on his 17 years of experience and leadership in County government to inform the difficult choices before the Executive's office in the next six months," council member Larry Gossett said in a press release.

But according to county sources, in the five days between the panel's vote and the council's, the Executive Office labor liaison, Kathy Oglesby, made it very clear to the council members that if they didn't appoint Triplett, they would not have union support the next time they seek re-election. Triplett and Oglesby deny ever applying such pressure.

About 12,500 of the county's 14,000 employees are unionized. Their package includes required cost of living raises tied to inflation and no personal contribution to a notoriously top-end health care plan. County council members have called for non-union members to start contributing to their health care costs to alleviate the budget pressures, but as the numbers show, that's probably not going to save the kids' dental program.

But 12,500 is a lot of votes--especially if your name is Larry Phillips or Dow Constantine--and whoever replaced Sims is going to be dealing with a lot of union contracts and decisions about employment in 2010 with another $100 million or so deficit projected over the next two years. The unions want it to be someone who will keep those contracts as is and the council members don't want to lose those votes.

According to Triplett spokesperson Carolyn Duncan, both Oglesby and Triplett say they never put pressure on the council members to approve Triplett for union support. According to Duncan, Oglesby says: "I haven't had any conversations with anybody like that."

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