BREMERTON — Darryl Riley has no qualms discussing his criminal past. He was prepared to be open about it when he recently applied to fill a vacant seat on Bremerton City Council.
"I think as long as I show I can do the job, then my background would be a huge asset," Riley said of applying for the seat vacated by Mayor Greg Wheeler. "Not only would it inspire people who are in prison now, but the children of people who are in prison. They'd see someone like me getting their life right, being of value to the city and its citizens."
But Riley, 52, wasn't allowed by the city's human resources department to disclose his felonies to the council as he and five other candidates vied for the District 4 seat. Tony Hillman, a 39-year-old accountant, was ultimately appointed.
Riley was advised by another city council member that could not apply for the position as a felon, citing the city's charter.
But the city's legal department, upon further review, ultimately advised he could.
The entire situation in early January has galvanized Riley further. He's biding his time now to run for the position in 2019.
"I believe I do have a servant's heart," said Riley, a barber who also runs a landscape maintenance business. "And I believe I would serve the council well."
Riley hopes to join those like Tarra Simmons, a Kitsap County resident with criminal convictions, in kick-starting a new life after prison. Simmons won a ruling from the state's Supreme Court in 2017 to be able to take the bar exam following her graduation from Seattle University's school of law.
Riley admits his past had its problems. He has convictions for drug and gun crimes, and even assault.
"I tore down a lot of relationships," he admits. "I hurt a lot of people."
When he was released following a 48-month stint in 2010, he undertook what he called a "paradigm shift."
Riley performed hundreds of hours of court-mandated community service. He started attending Sinclair Missionary Baptist Church. He got a job washing dishes. It gave him self-worth, he said.
These days, a workweek is six, if not seven, days with his two jobs. He says he's ready for public service, and his friends agree. He's coming up on two years of marriage to his wife, Joyce.
"His past was not pleasant. But he didn't try and deny his behavior," said Sam Rachal Jr., a friend and mentor Riley met through church. "I truly believe he's changed. He wants to help people and he wants to do the best that he can."
He set his sights on the city council this year.
As an African-American, he believes the council is lacking the diversity that would make it more reflective of the community.
"How can you know the voice of the people or the needs of the people if they don't have a seat at the table?" he questioned.
At a recent business networking luncheon, he spoke with Councilman Richard Huddy, now the council's vice president. After telling Huddy his interest in the appointment to Wheeler's seat — as well as that he had felony convictions — Huddy asked the city attorney's office its opinion on whether he could apply.
Huddy replied to Riley on his private email that because of a section of the Bremerton city charter that says "the position of an elected officer shall become vacant" if convicted of a felony, he couldn't apply. Huddy said he wanted to save Riley "the embarrassment."
Riley wasn't deterred. The city attorney's office ultimately found that the charter did not address past convictions.
State law says that felons, once they've served their time and are off probation, may once again register to vote. And once that happens, they can run for office, according to Kyle Joyce, Kitsap County's elections manager.
The county auditor's office ensures that candidates live in the districts they want to serve and, in the case of Bremerton, have lived there at least a year.
In this instance, it was not an election, but rather an appointment process to replace the seat vacated by Wheeler once he became mayor.
But the fact remains: "If you can vote for that office, you can run for that office," said Kylie Purves, assistant city attorney.
The end result "was an eye-opener for everyone," Council President Eric Younger said.
Wheeler said he wouldn't be surprised if people assume felons cannot attain higher office. But "any individual has a right to put their hat in the ring," he said.
"Nobody should have said otherwise," Wheeler said.