Opinion

Strong mayor: Yakima follows Federal Way's lead | Andy Hobbs

The strong mayor movement is spreading in Washington. Yakima voters will soon decide whether their city follows in Federal Way's footsteps.

Judging by comments in the city's daily newspaper, Yakima faces a stormy political ride, much like Federal Way's drama in 2008 and 2009.

In a 4-3 vote last week, the Yakima City Council agreed to create a ballot measure that asks voters to choose between two forms of government. Yakima, with a population of about 85,000, has been governed by a council-city manager system since 1959. Until now, so has Federal Way and its 88,500 people.

Some points raised in Yakima will sound familiar in Federal Way. One supporter cited a lack of focused leadership under the current city manager system, according to the Yakima Herald. The Nov. 1 article quotes one critic's concern that "Yakima can't afford a strong mayor," while a former mayor asks the Yakima City Council, "why do you want to give your power away to someone who wants to run the city all by himself?" Yakima council members are clashing on the details and wording of this proposed ballot measure.

We cannot fully understand how this issue affects Yakima without first walking in its citizens' shoes. However, Federal Way can serve as an example, where voters just picked State Rep. Skip Priest as the first elected mayor. The veteran legislator, armed with a history of local leadership, will take office after election results are certified Nov. 23.

Just one year ago, Federal Way was immersed in a divisive debate over the merits of a strong mayor system — a debate whose outcome turned city government on its head. The window of perception has shifted: Some residents may harbor leftover skepticism, but overall, Federal Way accepts that the strong mayor concept is here to stay. Today, the fear of uncertainty barely trickles through the veins of Federal Way's establishment.

Federal Way City Councilman Jim Ferrell, a candidate for mayor, spearheaded last year's effort to install the new form of government. The overall effort has contributed to a deeper public understanding of local government by adding another dimension to civic engagement. More people were asking themselves how they want to be governed.

Four capable mayor candidates from within Federal Way's borders stepped forward to run in the August primary, shining a public spotlight on the city's most pressing problems. This vigorous public dialogue led to arguments, understanding and progress — regardless of who won the race and whether the issue even passed in the first place.

With that in mind, please wish Yakima the best of luck.

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