Mayor election: Council debates dates and costs

Election results are not yet certified, but the Federal Way City Council is already looking to set a date for residents to choose their mayor.

Proposition 1, the citizens initiative to change Federal Way's form of government from a city manager/city council setup to an elected mayor/city council form, is passing with a 51.43 percent "yes" vote. Anticipating the measure will succeed, the council on Tuesday discussed a timeline for setting an election date and completing needed administrative changes. Following tense discussions among council members, the group voted 5-2 to postpone choosing an election date until Dec. 1.

Date debate:

Contrary to popular belief, Federal Way is not required to hold its mayoral election within the next 180 days, city attorney Pat Richardson said in a special council meeting. The city and King County interpret RCW 35a.02.050 to state that because the election will take place in an even-numbered year, it will be conducted on one of three state-chosen dates: April 27, Aug. 17 or Nov. 2. If more than two candidates file for the position, a primary election will precede the general election on Feb. 9, April 20 or Aug. 17, respectively.

A November election will offer the most cost savings for the city. An April or August vote will require up to two special elections. An election is considered special when its date does not fall on the same date as a national election day (Aug. 17 and Nov. 2, 2010).

Special elections tend to cost more because fewer jurisdictions place items on the ballot. In 2008, Federal Way spent $90,000 to put items on the regularly scheduled general election ballot, Richardson said. In comparison, the city paid $140,000 to place the elected mayor issue on a February special election ballot that same year, she said.

Despite the cost savings to hold the election Nov. 2, council member Jim Ferrell, who plans to run for mayor and campaigned for the change in government, said he is in favor of an earlier election date. Ferrell said he was under the impression the vote had to take place within six months. He asked the council to wait to select an election date until Richardson could confirm her findings regarding the RCW with the secretary of state.

"I'm concerned about the interplay of the statute," Ferrell said.

Other council members felt Ferrell was trying to push them into selecting an April mayoral election. Council member Dini Duclos said she does not want to hurry through setting the date and preparing government operations for an elected mayor.

"I don't want to rush into something because someone may be eager to be elected mayor," Duclos said.

Tension between council members continued to mount in the regularly scheduled council meeting. There, Mayor Jack Dovey disregarded Ferrell's request to postpone selecting a date and made a motion to establish Nov. 2 for the mayoral election. Council member Mike Park seconded the motion.

"I'm very concerned about waiting almost an entire year," Ferrell said in response.

Council members Linda Kochmar, Jeanne Burbidge and deputy mayor Eric Faison said they wanted to wait for Richardson to address Ferrell's concerns before choosing a date.

"It hasn't even been certified yet," Faison said. "There's no reason to rush to a decision tonight."

Much to do

Pressure to pick an election date is building. The city council must make several administrative changes prior to the mayor taking office, Richardson said. An ordinance formally notifying the state of Federal Way's change in government is needed. Council must determine which city staff positions will become appointive. Once a mayor is elected, he or she will have the authority to select personnel for these positions.

A deputy mayor within the council's ranks is needed. The council will decide a term length, and possibly term limits, for the deputy mayor position. It will also make a decision regarding the future mayor's salary. Currently, the Independent Salary Commission, a citizen volunteer group, sets the salary of the mayor. The council may choose to keep this setup or set the salary itself, Richardson said.

"The (city) code does not distinguish between the elected mayor and current mayor," Richardson said.

If the council wishes to hold the mayoral election in April, King County will hold a filing period Dec. 9, 10 and 11. This means the city council must pass a resolution on Dec. 1 to set the election for April 27.

Check it out

The city council is scheduled to choose a mayoral election date at its next council meeting at 7 p.m. Dec. 1 at City Hall, 33325 8th Ave. S.

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