Westport councilor resigns after moving out of city

Darcia Davis moved to Grayland in December 2023

Darcia Davis, a recently-elected member of the Westport City Council, resigned Monday after moving to Grayland late last year.

Davis made the announcement at a city council meeting Monday evening, two weeks after the city’s attorney notified her of state laws requiring elected officials to live within the jurisdictions they serve.

“It’s with much thought, regret and sadness that I’m officially resigning from my city council position tonight,” Davis said. “In late December of ‘23, after the election happened, I temporarily relocated outside of the city limits due to personal reasons and was transparent about my relocation.”

The residency issue surfaced at a March 11 council meeting, when Davis told the council relocating to Grayland was “the best option for my son and I” after multiple attempts to rent or purchase a house in Westport were unsuccessful.

Despite state laws presented by the city attorney, Davis said she believes she is eligible to serve on the city council.

Wayne Hagen, the city’s contracted attorney, said at the March 11 meeting that state law requires that candidates for office be residents of given jurisdictions at least one-year prior to elections. Davis was an eligible candidate in November when 54% of Westport voters picked her for Position 5 on the council.

A separate statute, RCW 42.12.010, states that elected officials automatically vacate their seats if they are no longer a registered voter in their jurisdiction.

Hagen cited that law in an email to Davis on March 10.

“It has come to the attention of the city of Westport that you may be residing outside the city limits and therefore not eligible to remain a council member,” Hagen said. “I wanted to give you a heads up on this, so you aren’t blindsided. As you know I am the city attorney and am charged with representing Westport’s best interest. You are certainly entitled to consult with an attorney of your choosing and at your expense.”

In the email, Hagen stated that officials living outside of their jurisdictions have the option to resign voluntarily, and if they choose not to, an action can be “filed in the county superior court against any person who ‘unlawfully’ holds public office.” Any citizen may file that action, Hagen explained, but since many aren’t in the standing to do so, they can seek a court order directing county prosecutors to pursue the case.

It would then be up to a judge to decide if the candidate legally lives in the jurisdiction.

Hagen said on Tuesday that the matter had been forwarded to the county prosecutor, but since Davis resigned there is no longer a need to proceed.

Davis said she chose not to defend the case in court because of attorney fees and added stress. She said she felt “under interrogation in the investigation in the past two weeks.”

She told the council on Monday that residency requirements are a “gray area,” based on her own research through the Municipal Research and Services Center, which has an elected office eligibility test Davis said she passed.

In an interview, Davis said she believed when she moved that she would be able to legally retain her position on council, planned the move as a temporary one and didn’t change her voter registration outside of the city.

Davis owns a condo inside the Westport city limits that she leases as a short-term and long-term rental, she said.

According to Hagen, voter registration laws define “residence” as “a person’s permanent address where he or she physically resides and maintains his or her abode.”

Davis told Hagen March 11 that she would consult with Mayor Ed Welter about the issue, but did not respond further, and said Tuesday she never fully discussed with Hagen the terms of her move. She said Tuesday she received support from other council members and community members who encouraged her not to resign, but ultimately didn’t want to continue to focus on the legal issue rather than the council’s agenda.

“I put hours of thought into this, lost sleep a couple nights, and I feel like I’m making the right decision,” Davis told the council Monday. “I do hope the person who assumes my position on council loves their community as much as I do and is committed to making Westport a better place for all of us.”

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or clayton.franke@thedailyworld.com.