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Push for elected mayor clears hurdle

One Federal Way man is proving, through his efforts to change the city’s municipal structure, that actions speak louder than words.

Roy Parke has resided in Federal Way for more than 30 years, but he is not satisfied with how the city is governed. Residents do not have anyone to hold accountable for the city’s mistakes, he said.

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

Parke is the president of Accountability Comes to Town. The group collected roughly 3,200 signatures as part of a petition to allow Federal Way citizens to elect their own mayor. The group needed to collect about 2,100 legitimate signatures of people who reside in Federal Way and are registered to vote before the county and city would put the measure on a ballot, City Clerk Laura Hathaway said.

Over the past six months, ACT visited businesses, bus stops and went door-to-door collecting the signatures, Parke said. The group submitted the petition to King County Elections and the City of Federal Way on July 30.

Now, the group must wait for King County to verify the signatures before the measure will be presented to the city’s residents, Parke’s attorney Thomas Donovan said.

If placed upon the ballot and approved by voters, the measure would change the city’s government from a city council-manager form to a mayor-council status.

The council-manager type of government is sometimes referred to as a weak mayor form. In Federal Way, citizens elect seven city council members. These people, in turn, appoint from within the council a mayor to serve a two-year term. The council also chooses a city manager to implement the council’s decisions, City Attorney Pat Richardson said. This person handles the city’s daily operations, she said.

“The city manager is, for lack of a better word, the CEO for the city,” Richardson said.

Cities such as Tacoma, Olympia and Vancouver utilize this form of government.

Parke feels that a mayor-council form of government would better represent the people of Federal Way, he said. This structure is sometimes referred to as a strong mayor structure.

Federal Way residents would elect a mayor to serve a four-year term, Richardson said. The mayor would implement the city council’s decisions and would have ruling authority as to what happens in the city. Usually, a city administrator, who has past experience in operating a city, assists the mayor and acts like a city manager, said Stan Finkelstein, Seattle University School of Law adjunct faculty member.

A strong mayor would help ensure that residents would have someone to hold accountable if mistakes were made, Parke said.

“The mayor is the chief executive officer of the city (in this structure),” Parke said.

Seattle, Renton, Auburn and Kent utilize this form of government. A change in a city’s governing body is typically driven by a major controversy in the city, Finkelstein said.

Parke has had past problems with the Federal Way City Council, which he does not wish to elaborate on. However, he is confident that if the city had a mayor that was elected by his or her constituents, the problem would not have occurred. The current council does not represent the people of Federal Way, Parke said.

“I just feel that we need three branches of government, especially because of how big our city is getting,” Parke said.

King County Elections is reviewing ACT’s petition and has promised to address the issue by the end of September, Hathaway said. Once the signatures have been verified, an election would be held as soon as possible, she said.

The city would have 180 days after the signatures have been verified to vote on whether they want this form of governement, she said. Residents may have the opportunity to vote on the issue as soon as Feb. 19, Hathaway said.

The majority of voters would need to approve the measure before a race for mayor could occur, she said. The Federal Way City Council is scheduled to appoint a new mayor January 2008, Hathaway said. If voters approved a strong mayor form of government, the person appointed by the council would be forced to step down from the position after a new mayor was appointed through the general election process, Hathaway said.

Those residing in the proposed annexation area of east Federal Way would not receive the chance to vote for the city’s mayor because they would not be considered residents of the city until after the next general election, Hathaway said.

The question of what form of government is best for Federal Way is one that voters may soon have to ask themselves. Both the council-manager and mayor-council structures have their strengths and weaknesses, Finkelstein said.

“There is no one perfect form of government,” he said.

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

Learn more

To learn more about the petition process, view the Revised Code of Washington 35A.02.050 at http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=35A.02.050.

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