Opinion

Voters should elect their mayor

By JIM FERRELL, Federal Way City Council member

On Feb. 19, Federal Way citizens will be asked to decide a fundamental issue — should voters be given the opportunity to elect their mayor?

As a current member of the Federal Way City Council, and a former deputy mayor, I have struggled with whether to speak publicly on this issue. However, because this is of such vital importance to the future of this community, I could no longer remain on the sidelines and not express my views on this issue.

Ultimately, I believe the people of our city will be best served with a vote of “yes” to pass this initiative.

Having said this, I want to relay my deep respect for our city manager Neal Beets, our Mayor Jack Dovey, and all of my colleagues on the city council. This initiative is not about personalities — as we will all come and go at some point. This is about the best structure of government to serve the citizens of our city for decades to come.

This special ballot will define the type of government structure for our future, either changing to a strong mayor with direct accountability to the voters or a continuation of a city manager style of government. In the current system, four council members (a majority) select who serves as your mayor. As a practical matter, therefore, the mayor of our city, with a population of more than 87,000 residents is literally decided by four people. I don’t think that’s right and it is certainly not consistent with a representative democracy.

Last year, more than 3,000 residents of Federal Way signed a petition to change our current form of government, to allow all voters a voice in that process. This is not a novel concept. More than 80 percent of cities in our state have elected mayors, including the surrounding cities of Seattle, Kent, Renton, Auburn, Pacific and Milton. For the residents of these cities, they have the ultimate accountability for their leadership — the ability to elect.

As the third largest city in King County, don’t we deserve to have a say in a mayor who can fight for more funding for roads and crime prevention? Don’t we also deserve a mayor that speaks for us on a local and regional level — with your backing and with a vision for the future of our city? I say yes.

We need an elected representative that is directly accountable to, and selected by, the people. We also need a mayor at City Hall every day, with policy-making authority and a clear vision for the future of this city and the ability to pursue that vision.

This initiaitive is a natural progression for our growing city. Did you know that more than 17 of the largest 25 cities across this country have adopted the strong mayor form of government? Moreover, in cities with populations over 100,000 across the country, 9 of 12 have adopted the strong mayor form of government since 1990.

While I respect those behind the “no” campaign, I must put the issue of the cost of this initiative in its proper perspective. Our city’s operating budget is roughly $34 million. The cost of adding an elected mayor would be between $120,000 to $135,000 per year. This added cost would literally be a mere fraction of 1 percent of our current budget, a small cost for truly responsive and representative city government. This is a mere pittance, compared to the tens of millions of dollars that this city spends and invests every year. In the end, an elected mayor could save us a great deal of money with wise and responsible leadership.

As to qualifications, I must also respectfully disagree that we cannot find a qualified mayor amongst our 87,000 residents. We all believe in government that is “of, by and for...the people.” This belief is at the very heart of our democracy, that we select our leaders from our citizenry. At every level of government (federal, state and county) we elect our executives, who then in turn hire experienced staff to assist them in the execution of their policies.

Federal Way is filled with bright, energetic and talented individuals who care passionately about the future of this city. Over the years, I’ve been grateful to meet many of you at civic meetings, business openings and charity events. I feel passionately that every one of you deserves a vote in who leads our city — not just the seven of us who serve on the council.

In the end, this issue is about accountability and leadership, for the future of Federal Way. Each of the 3,000 voters who signed this petition asked that their voices be heard by City Hall.

I hope you will join them by voting yes on Feb. 19.

Jim Ferrell is a Federal Way City Council member. Send comments to editor@fedwaymirror.com.

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