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Election date set for mayor initiative

Federal Way residents will decide whether they prefer an elected strong mayor over a city manager during a special election on Feb. 19, 2008.

The City Council set the election date at its Tuesday meeting. The city must now approve the language for the ballot title, select pro and con committees, and authorize the committee’s statements to be placed on the voter’s pamphlet.

The February date was chosen, as opposed to March 11, because the presidential primary and possibly a Federal Way School District levy may be placed on the same ballot, making the price the city would contribute toward the ballot more affordable than the March 11 date, City Attorney Pat Richardson said.

Special elections costs must be split between the entities that have placed issues on the ballot, Richardson said. The city’s cost for the Feb. 19 special election will range from $77,000 to $111,000, including $8,900 to $14,000 for the voters pamphlet, she said.

King County estimates the cost for the special election would have been approximately $147,000 if the elected mayor issue were the only thing placed on the ballot, according to an Oct. 9 memorandum written by Richardson and forwarded to City Council members.

The cost is based on the number of registered voters in the city. The price includes authorizing the special election, publishing ballots, mailing absentee ballots and administrative costs at polling stations, according to the memorandum.

The City Council plans to approve the ballot title language on Nov. 20 at its regularly scheduled meeting. On this same day, the council will pick a total of six people, three per committee, to compose the pro and con statements to be placed on the ballot. Those who wish to serve on either committee must inform City Clerk Laura Hathaway no later than Nov. 13.

By law, in choosing the Feb. 19 election date, the City Council must receive pro and con statements by those committees no later than Dec. 31, 2007, and rebuttals no later than Jan. 3, 2008.

The petition

The special election was set into action when Federal Way resident Roy Parke and his organization Accountability Comes to Town circulated a petition for the strong mayor measure to be put on a ballot.

The petition, including the 3,200 signatures it bore, was submitted to Federal Way and King County Elections on July 30.

“I don’t feel that our current system has checks and balances in place,” Parke said.

King County Elections verified, on Sept. 20, that 2,207 of the petition’s signatures were from registered voters residing in Federal Way. The city was notified of the legality of the petition the same day. State law required 1,825 valid signatures, or 10 percent, be collected in order to place the measure on a ballot.

Law also dictated that the issue must be placed on a voters pamphlet 91 to 180 days after the city received notice of the legitimate signatures.

Form of government

Currently, Federal Way has a city council-city manager form of government.

The seven City Council members are elected by Federal Way voters. The council, as a whole, then chooses one of its council members to serve a two-year term as mayor, thus representing the council and leading its meetings.

The council also chooses a city manager. This person is generally qualified for the position and has experience managing budgets and staff. The council can fire the manager at any time if he or she is not performing the job adequately.

Before Federal Way residents would be able to vote for their mayor, the majority of voters would need to approve the ballot measure.

Meanwhile, the Federal Way City Council is scheduled to appoint a new mayor January 2008, City Clerk Laura Hathaway said.

If the public were to approve the measure for an elected mayor on Feb. 19, the mayor, whom the council is scheduled to appoint, will serve in that position until the next general election, Deputy City Attorney Aaron Walls said.

This election would take place 91 to 180 days after the ballot measure was approved, he said. The City Council’s appointed mayor would then be forced to step down and the public’s elected mayor would take office and serve in that position for four years.

In a city council-strong mayor form of government, the elected mayor is not required to be experienced in managing a budget or staff. This person would have ultimate say in how the city is conducted.

City Council member Jack Dovey is hesitant to endorse this form of government because he worries the mayor race could turn into a popularity contest and an inexperienced person could be elected. Dovey is also concerned that somebody may run for mayor with intentions to use the position to climb the political ladder, rather than serve Federal Way residents, he said.

“I don’t believe it’s the best decision, but if the public wants it, I’ll be the first person to champion for it,” Dovey said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Get involved

To express one’s interest in serving on a pro or con committee for the elected mayor ballot measure, contact City Clerk Laura Hathaway at (253) 835-2540.

To learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of an elected mayor, visit the Mirror’s Web site and read the Aug. 8 article titled “Push for elected mayor clears hurdle.”

Also download the Oct. 16 City Council packet, found at www.cityoffederalway.com/Page.aspx?page=154, and view the table on page 78.

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