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Elected mayor initiative rises from the ashes in Federal Way

Federal Way residents, for the second time in as many years, may soon be asked to vote on whether they prefer to elect their mayor.

On July 30, the city received a petition asking that a measure to change Federal Way's city manager/city council form of government to an elected mayor/city council governance be placed on an upcoming ballot. King County Elections is currently verifying the 2,090 signatures, including that of Mayor Jack Dovey, submitted in support of the citizen-led legislation.

Federal Way resident Roy Parke, and a group known as Accountability Comes to Town (ACT), submitted the initiative. Accountability is lacking from the city's current form of government, he said.

"The measure that I want is to instill checks and balances," Parke said. "It's something that the city needs."

Operating structure

Since incorporation in 1990, Federal Way has operated under a city manager/city council structure. The manager oversees staff, introduces new and amended ordinances and presents budgets. His or her employment status and decisions are dependent on the city council.

The seven council members are elected at large to serve four-year terms. The council hires the city manager. It must approve his or her actions by a majority vote before those actions are enacted.

Council members choose, from within their ranks, a mayor to serve a two-year term. The mayor's vote in matters is weighted equally to other members' votes. However, he or she represents the city publicly, manages city council meetings and has the ability to call for other meetings of the council.

Next steps

A total of 1,568 signatures (10 percent) from Federal Way residents who voted in the last general election are needed for the initiative to move forward, King County Elections spokeswoman Megan Coppersmith said. The county plans to verify the signatures by the Aug. 7, she said.

If enough valid signatures were collected, the item must be presented to voters within 180 days. Following the county's work, Federal Way City Council has until Aug. 11 to request the issue be placed on the general election ballot. There would be no accompanying fee if placed on the November ballot, city clerk Carol McNeilly said.

"We're already on the ballot so we can add an additional item," she said.

If the council does not pass a resolution to place the initiative on the upcoming ballot, it will appear on a special election ballot. All jurisdictions featuring legislation on that ballot would split the costs, McNeilly said.

Past efforts

ACT first attempted to have the city's form of government changed through a citizen's initiative in late 2007. Dovey, who was appointed mayor January 2008, said at that time he did not believe an elected mayor was in the city's best interest. He was not available for comment on why he now supports the measure.

A citizens group called Federal Way Works rose to combat the 2008 measure. Resident Barbara Reid chaired the group. Reid said she is disappointed another petition was circulated.

"I guess they feel if they keep knocking on the door, they'll have things go their way because (Federal Way Works) will get worn out," she said.

But the group will again make a stand against ACT, Reid said.

"I'll have to make a few phone calls to our group," she said. "Certainly, we will oppose this. We'll pull together some people and say 'What do you want to do?' How do you want to respond to this?'"

Costly affair

The city spent $104,586 to put the measure on last year's special ballot, McNeilly said. The costs were split between multiple organizations. Parke hopes the county and city are able to move swiftly to avoid placing the latest measure on another special ballot, he said.

"I really want to get this on this ballot," he said. "I don't want to have a special election. That costs the taxpayers a lot of money."

Parke said he feels confident his team will have success this time around.

"We're going to start this whole thing over again," Parke said. "This will get done because we will get our message out sooner."

Check it out

Watch The Mirror for more coverage on this topic. A public debate, featuring residents representing ACT and Federal Way Works, was held last year.

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