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Tacoma's form of government sparks interest in Federal Way

By AILEEN CHARLESTON, The Mirror

During last Wednesday’s elected mayor debate, the subject of Tacoma’s form of government was brought up by audience members and debaters.

In Federal Way, some residents are trying to explore the possibility of having an elected mayor to replace the city manager, while others are satisfied with the current council-manager form of government.

Across the state and country, cities like Tacoma operate under a council-manager form of government, but with an elected mayor as part of its structure.

In Tacoma, the mayor and eight council members are elected to serve four-year terms. The city’s mayor automatically becomes a member and presiding officer of the council by being able to participate with the same rights as any other active member of the board. The council then appoints a city manager who is chosen under a series of academic and leadership qualifications. The city manager is in charge of the regular day-to-day business responsibilities of the city.

Under this structure, both the mayor and the elected council are in charge of exploring the vision of their city’s residents and the policy-making functions, while the city manager is responsible of turning these visions into realities.

“To have both a separately elected mayor and city manager has been very successful among many different types of cities,” said Eric Anderson, current city manager of Tacoma.

The most recent Municipal Form of Government Survey in 2006, given by the ICMA (International City/County Management Association), shows that from the communities that responded nationally, 67 percent had their mayors directly elected by their voters, while 30 percent had their city council directly appoint the mayor.

Tacoma’s government structure is seen as a good example by Merle Pfeifer, chairman of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Pfeifer believes the positive wave of changes that have helped Tacoma succeed over the past years have been due to a good administration, and represents a “possibility that should be looked at.”

While Federal Way residents are still debating over the city’s actual form of government, Auburn resident Deborah Myers trusts that there should be “a way that the two sides could come together.”

Some believe that in the midst of trying to solve the debate affecting the city’s current administration, Federal Way would strongly benefit from adopting a government structure like Tacoma’s, where there would still be a qualified and trained city manager running the city’s operations, but residents would also be able to take direct part in the city’s decision making by being able to appoint who they want to see as mayor.

Contact Aileen Charleston: acharleston@fedwaymirror.com.

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