Chris Stearns was a member of the Auburn City Council when Monday’s meeting began, and when it ended, he wasn’t.
Moments before, the Auburn City Council had accepted the 47th Legislative District representative’s voluntary resignation, clearing the way for the Democrat to take up his duties at the State Capitol in Olympia come January.
“I’m surprised you didn’t want to make the motion yourself,” Mayor Nancy Backus lightheartedly commented to Stearns after the vote,
“I was going to oppose it,” Stearns responded with a laugh.
“I just want to say thank you to every one of you, and to every one I had the chance to work with for the last three years,” Stearns added. “It’s been an incredible learning experience. It’s been wonderful. It’s been challenging. It’s the honor of a lifetime to serve the city of Auburn and the people of Auburn. Thank you for the honor of letting me serve with you.”
“I just have to say that our loss is our state’s gain,” said Councilmember Larry Brown. “And I’m just thankful I live in the 47th District,” where he will continue to be served by the freshman legislator who won the seat in November’s general election.
“He’s a man of great integrity, and does his work, and I just to appreciate him as a colleague and as a friend,” Brown said of Stearns.
Stearns, elected in 2019 to the Auburn City Council, was the first Native American voted to the council, running on a campaign fighting for equity, justice and public safety. As a member of the Navajo tribe, Stearns made it a point to serve on multiple committees and task forces, including the National League of Cities’ Indigenous Municipal Officials, and the Washington State Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force.
Stearns also acted as the co-chair of the WRIA-9 Watershed Ecosystem Forum, the King County Affordable Housing Committee, the King County Flood Control District’s Advisory Committee in addition to other representation on behalf of the City of Auburn.
“The lasting impact Chris Stearns has had on the City of Auburn cannot be understated,” said Mayor Nancy Backus. “During his time on city council, Chris served on multiple committees and task forces, overseeing everything from flood control to a state response to missing and murdered indigenous women and people. He will truly be missed, but I am looking forward to continuing to work with him in his new role as Representative Stearns of the 47th Legislative District!”
Prior to serving in elected office, Stearns spent over three decades working as an attorney, government leader and public policy advocate fighting for justice and human rights.
While working in Washington, D.C., Stearns was appointed by President Bill Clinton as the first Director of Indian Affairs for the U.S. Department of Energy where he helped Secretary Bill Richardson create a national Indian energy portfolio. Prior to that, Chris served as Democratic Counsel for the Committee on Natural Resources in the U.S. House of Representatives where he oversaw national legislation on Native American issues such as tribal self-determination, health care, and gambling.
Chris graduated from the Lawrenceville School, received his B.A. with Honors in History from Williams College, and got his law degree from Cornell Law School.
On Nov. 8, Washington’s 47th District voters elected Stearns to the State House of Representatives, where he will begin a two-year term beginning in January.
The Auburn City Council will conduct a special meeting to interview candidates for the now vacant City Council seat and then to vote on the selection of a new councilmember at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 23 at City Hall. The regularly scheduled study session will follow the special meeting. These meetings will be held virtually and in person at Auburn City Hall.
The city will fill the position through an appointment process set forth by Washington state law. To be considered, applicants must complete an application for appointment and send it to the City Clerk at Auburn City Hall, 25 West Main Street, Auburn, Washington, 98001, no later than 5 p.m. Jan 3, 2023.
The newly appointed councilmember will hold that seat until the end of term, and if desired can run for election at that time to remain in office. For this city council seat, that term expires on Dec. 31, 2023.