Opinion

City manager is more accountable

By JACK DOVEY, LINDA KOCHMAR and ERIC FAISON, Federal Way City Council members

Less than 20 years ago, our community voted to become an incorporated city because the needs of Federal Way were not being met.

We were a dumping ground for failed land-use policies and rampant growth of apartment buildings. We were neglected as a community. We finally had enough and formed our own city, determined to overcome the years of neglect. We’ve spent the past 18 years recovering from those years of centralized power.

Federal Way voters chose to become a city with a council-manager form of government. This form was chosen as a means to stay away from the political divisiveness and political gamesmanship of a strong mayor form of government and to provide a forum where the city planning could be directed by its citizens.

The council-manager form of government assures that ordinary citizens can shape and influence policy, then have that policy carried out by a professional city manager. On the other hand, strong mayor forms of government are saddled with political infighting with more centralized power in one person, the mayor.

Council-manager forms of government grew out of a reaction to the corruption of the political machines developed out of strong mayor governments at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. The idea was to give more power back to the people by diffusing power, rather than giving more centralized power to one person.

It is ironic that the group proposing the strong mayor form of government is called “Accountability Comes to Town” when the exact opposite may occur if we centralize more power in just one person. The ultimate irony will take place if the newly elected mayor is a political opponent of the proponents of this measure. They will then have far less of a voice than they do now, and far less accountability. Accountability may actually leave town if this measure succeeds.

Most of the business of a city is just that, business. Whether it is keeping traffic signals operating, police cars maintained, employees compensated or just paying the bills on time, it is the nuts and bolts of city operation that is done best with a non-partisan politically neutral city manager, not a political partisan untrained in the day-to-day management of city government.

What if we elect a mayor that fails as a manager? We then need to wait four years to elect someone else. In the meantime, we are saddled with four years of chaos and the financial and structural destruction of our city. On the other hand, the city council can fire a city manager at any time if the manager is not doing the job of a competent administrator.

Right now, if you do not like the city manager, you only need to convince four council members to fire him/her at the next council meeting. They can then search the globe for a better manager.

On the other hand, if you do not like a strong mayor, you need to find someone more competent in the confines of this community who would give up their existing job to run against the incumbent, raise tens of thousands of dollars for a campaign, and then wait until the next election to convince 50 percent of our community’s 38,000 voters to elect your person and fire the incumbent.

What form of government will assure that we have the best administrator to run our city? Who do you really think is going to be more accountable to you and to your neighbor?

We hope that you can get through all of the rhetoric and sustain the common sense voters used 18 years ago when we chose the most accountable, efficient and fair form of government that has served, and will continue to serve, our community best.

Please vote no to an elected mayor and keep what works best for our community, a council-manager form of government.

The undersigned individuals are sending this letter as concerned citizens, and not on behalf of any political body.

Jack Dovey, Eric Faison and Linda Kochmar are members of the Federal Way City Council, with Dovey as mayor. Send comments to editor@fedwaymirror.com.

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