UPDATE (Tuesday, Feb. 3): So yes, it probably was. As I'd hoped.
Let's just get this out of the way: I sure hope it was, because I want Karen as my next county commissioner.
I'm not sure it was legal. On a totally separate project today I picked up a copy of The Washington State Constitution: A Reference Guide, which includes this passage:
The power of the governor to appoint has been held to extend only to vacancies in the Legislature and and not to vacancies in county elected offices (Munro v. Todd, 1966).Here is a copy of the Munro v. Todd decision, which seems to point in the same direction:
Thus, a board of county commissioners with one vacancy is a legally constituted body capable of carrying out its legal duties with full constitutional authority, by reason of Art. XI, § 6, to appoint a qualified person to fill a vacancy on the board.
There is no cessation of county government. If the legally constituted board fails to carry out its constitutional duty, it may create a political hiatus (as distinguished from a legal one) for which the two members may be answerable to their constituents; but it does not create a situation in which the legislature may delegate to the governor a duty that the constitution requires must be performed by the board of county commissioners.
Can the governor legally take the decision out of the hands of the county commissioners? A forty year old Supreme Court decision seems to say no.
Any lawyers out there? I'm emailing Hugh Spitzer, one of the co-authors of the 2002 book that I'm citing above. He's at the UW, hopefully I'll get an answer from him quickly.