Elected mayor initiative: Prop. 1 passing at 51 percent

Proposition 1, an initiative to change Federal Way's form of government, is passing with 51.35 percent of the vote.

Federal Way City Council member Jim Ferrell gets a hug from his friend and campaign manager Steve McNey on Nov. 3 at Marista's coffee.

Proposition 1, an initiative to change Federal Way’s form of government, is passing with 51.30 percent of the vote.

The proposal to replace the city manager with an elected mayor became one of Federal Way’s most contested issues. As of Nov. 12, Prop. 1 was passing with 8,106 votes compared to 7,694 votes against it. Ballots are still being counted, and King County Elections will post results daily. This year’s election, the first held entirely by mail in King County, will be officially certified by Nov. 24.

About 55 percent of voters rejected the same initiative in 2008. Afterward, Federal Way resident and Accountability Comes to Town (ACT) president Roy Parke led another signature drive for this year’s ballot. On Tuesday during an election night gathering at Marista’s coffee shop, Parke was elated at the preliminary results.

“I’m just glad it’s over,” said Parke, adding that if Prop. 1 ends up failing, he will try again.

Unlike in 2008, ACT’s effort was more organized this time around. Federal Way City Council member Jim Ferrell stepped forward to lead the effort and announced he would run for mayor if the initiative passed. Ferrell hired political consultant Steve McNey from Florida to manage ACT’s campaign, which raised more than $25,000 from donors inside and outside Federal Way. The campaign sent nearly 28,000 pieces of mail, a strategy that helped shape the public debate, McNey said. For the past six weeks, Ferrell and crew waved signs every morning at various Federal Way intersections and “doorbelled” in 37 precincts, he said.

Ferrell and McNey predicted the measure would pass at 52 percent. Both noted how the campaign’s message stirred up grass-roots support for the proposal.

“We made it real,” Ferrell said. “We made it matter.”

Twin Lakes resident Suzie Shattock attended ACT’s gathering on election night, which was also her birthday.

“I’ve lived all over the United States and this is the first time I’ve never elected my mayor,” she said, recalling the Vietnam War-era fight for 18-year-olds to have voting rights. “Voting is a very important thing to me … not being able to vote for the mayor (in Federal Way)? Excuse me?”

Before the results were posted, city council candidate Mike Peterson said he thought Prop. 1 would pass. Throughout his campaign for council, Peterson said he rarely heard negative opinions about an elected mayor in Federal Way.

“There were a lot of people that were really fed up,” Peterson said. “We should be deciding who our leadership should be.”

The initiative will become effective immediately if it passes. A date for an election for mayoral candidates, and whether there will be a primary election, has not yet been determined. State law requires an election within six months. The Federal Way Revised Code currently states that the Salary Commission sets the compensation for the mayor and council members, said city attorney Pat Richardson. Neal Beets, the last Federal Way city manager, earned a salary of $152,028.


For the second time, Federal Way Works led the campaign to oppose Proposition 1. During an election night gathering at the Scoreboard Pub, residents acknowledged the preliminary results did not sound promising for their side.

“At this point, I feel like we did the best we could,” said Jerry Vaughn, co-chairman. He said Prop. 1’s apparent victory follows a nationwide trend of repudiating the status quo.

“There are a lot of long-term issues that seem to be more prevalent in strong mayor cities, but ultimately time will tell,” Vaughn said of Prop. 1’s likely passage. “That’s why they call it democracy. It’s not always pretty, but that’s the way it works.”

Jim Burbidge, who represented Federal Way Works at an Oct. 13 debate over Prop. 1, hopes competent candidates come forward to run for mayor. Though Prop. 1 will likely pass, he noted that ballots are still being counted.

“It’s not over until it’s over,” said Burbidge, husband of city council member Jeanne Burbidge. “It’s a mistake, but I can live with it.”

Barbara Reid, also of Federal Way Works, said a possible silver lining is that Prop. 1 could draw out the city’s best and most passionate leaders.

“Tomorrow’s another day, onward and upward,” she said. “We’ll get through whatever changes are coming our way.”

The differences: City manager vs. elected mayor

Proposition One — a measure that asks residents if they wish to switch from a city council/manager to city council/elected mayor system — is leading with 53 percent of the vote, based on Tuesday’s preliminary election results.

This is how Federal Way’s operating structure will change:

• A mayor, rather than city manager, will have executive authority.

• A mayor will be elected by the citizens. The city manager is currently hired by the city council.

• Only a recall election could remove an unwanted mayor. A majority city council vote now gets rid of a city manager.

• An elected mayor will be chosen for a four-year term. A city manager does not have a term limit.

• An elected mayor could select and fire the city’s management staff without council input. Currently, a city manager also does this without needed confirmation from the council.

• The power to veto a majority vote by the city council will be awarded to an elected mayor. A city manager has no power to override the council’s majority vote.

• An elected mayor could propose policies. A city manager can only recommend policies to the council.

• An elected mayor has the power to implement policies. A city manager also has this power after the policies are approved by the city council.

Under the current system, every two years the seven elected council members choose a mayor from within their ranks. This person is the face of the city, but does not have the executive authority to make lone decisions regarding the city and its residents. The tenure of the council members and the council’s role as the legislative authority will not change with the passage of Proposition One.

The elected mayor issue last appeared on a special ballot in February 2008. It cost the city upwards of $100,000 to place the issue on that ballot. The public voted to keep the council/manager form of government. It will not cost the city to place Proposition One on the general election ballot.

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