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Debate targets elected mayor

Jim Burbidge and Jerry Vaughn, representing Federal Way Works, look over their notes before a debate Jan. 16. Federal Way Works opposes the proposal to change Federal Way
Jim Burbidge and Jerry Vaughn, representing Federal Way Works, look over their notes before a debate Jan. 16. Federal Way Works opposes the proposal to change Federal Way's form of government.
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/The Mirror

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

A mix of sarcasm, facts and ardent viewpoints marked a debate about the elected mayor issue that will appear on a special ballot Feb. 19.

Nearly 70 residents hoping to become more informed of their upcoming choices in the city’s form of government attended the debate held Jan. 16 at Federal Way High School’s Little Theater.

Representing Federal Way Works, a group of citizens who wish to see the current manager-council form of government remain intact, was Jim Burbidge, husband of city council member Jeanne Burbidge, and Jerry Vaughn, a Federal Way business owner.

Representing the push for an elected mayor-council form were Federal Way residents Frosty and Gayla Hardison.

Both sides answered questions from the audience and each other as well as from a panel consisting of Mirror editor Andy Hobbs and former Auburn mayor Bob Roegner.

The otherwise attentive and patient audience was stirred as the debate neared an end and the Hardisons were questioned on their relation to Accountability Comes to Town (ACT), the organization headed by Federal Way resident Roy Parke.

In July, ACT submitted enough signatures from a petition to initiate a special election on the strong mayor issue. Parke, who could not attend the debate due to a conflict with his job, asked the Hardisons to speak on behalf of ACT.

Gayla Hardison made it clear that she and her husband were not part of ACT, but were representing the need for an elected mayor in support of ACT.

“You don’t have to belong to a group to be able to stand up and make a case for or against someone,” she said via voicemail Jan. 17. “You just have to believe in the same beliefs that they do.”

Accountability:

Throughout the event, the Hardisons stuck by their claim that an elected mayor would result in more accountability in city government.

The panel asked them to explain this viewpoint, given that the current seven city council members are elected at large by Federal Way citizens.

An elected mayor would be more closely scrutinized by the public and be required to run on a platform, Frosty Hardison said.

“The citizens will be able to vote for a mayor that truly represents the citizens,” Gayla Hardison said.

The opposing side argued that more accountability is found when elected council members and a city manager — who by law must retain specific qualifications to operate a city — work together.

“We like a collaborative style of government,” Vaughn said.

To change or not to change:

The Hardisons questioned whether Vaughn and Burbidge preferred the current form of government simply because they were afraid of change.

“Everybody realizes change needs to occur,” Frosty Hardison said. “You are not going to get it by retaining the status quo.”

Federal Way would not benefit from a mayor who was more concerned with acting as a boss rather than serving the city, Burbidge said. He insisted he was not afraid of change, but of the possibility of an elected mayor that leads to bad government. Several large-scale businesses call Federal Way home, Vaughn noted.

“We are afraid of change that could lead to a mayor in the back pocket of a special interest group,” Burbidge said.

Making decisions:

While this scenerio would be dire, bad decision-making on the part of the city council is currently in effect, Gayla Hardison said.

Money is dedicated to projects that Federal Way citizens do not necessarily approve of, such as the community center, purchase of the former AMC Theater site, Han Woo-Ri festival and the proposed move of the Federal Way 320th Library, she said.

The couple claimed they counted 56 businesses last year that had vacated the city after the completion of the median separating the northbound and southbound lanes of Pacific Highway South. They chalked this up to bad decision making on the council’s behalf.

However, when pressed by their debate opponents for specific examples of these businesses, the couple was unable to name one.

Pacific Highway South is a state highway and so that construction was a state matter, not a city matter, Vaughn said.

“Let’s put facts out here instead of broad generalizations,” he said.

Burbidge also noted statistics that showed an increase in jobs and new businesses in Federal Way between 2002 and 2006.

Gayla Hardison concluded the debate with a reference to a popular credit card commercial: Cost of having an elected mayor — $130,000; having a truly representative form of government in Federal Way — priceless, she said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com.

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