Mirror editorial: Vote against switching city's form of government

The Mirror recommends voting against the adoption of a mayor-council form of government in Federal Way.

Under the proposed change, an elected mayor would replace the city manager and ultimately take on that position’s duties.

This scenario doesn’t guarantee disaster, but it certainly adds a wild card to responsible city management. Anyone could run for the mayor position regardless of experience or competence; all that person needs to do is get elected.

Residents should maintain the form of government that’s practical for Federal Way’s needs.

The current setup involves seven city council members elected at-large. The council hires a professional city manager to conduct Federal Way’s multimillion-dollar business operations. The mayor, appointed from within the council, is largely a ceremonial position.

The present system legally ensures that money is handled by a non-partisan city manager trained specifically to do so. If the city manager fails to meet job standards, then the city council can vote to fire this employee at any time.

Federal Way’s current city manager was hired among a field of applicants from across the nation. The interview process involved public input.

Citizens who disagree with Federal Way’s financial direction can address any or all of the seven city council members in public or private. The city council leads the city manager, and likewise, the voters of Federal Way serve as boss for the city council by deciding who stays in office.

These seven elected city council members each have an equal vote and share equal power. Even with an elected mayor, voters must still speak up and rally support in order to push public officials into action.

With these criteria already in place, no compelling arguments have been made on behalf of an elected mayor system that justify an overhaul of Federal Way’s government.

Should a high-profile (and high-paying) job like an elected mayor open up in Federal Way, worthy candidates will surely step forward. Some unworthy candidates will also seek the powerful post.

Voters deserve an opportunity to decide which form of government they prefer in Federal Way. Voters must also consider what they will gain through such a potentially expensive change. In this case, expensive refers not to a mayor’s six-figure salary, but to the decisions of a mayor who lacks adequate knowledge in city management.

An elected mayor could choose to employ a city administrator (similar to the city manager), but is not required to do so. It would be a smart choice to seek the help of someone certified to manage a city.

With risk often comes reward, and a qualified candidate could very well enter office as an elected mayor and run Federal Way wisely.

But gambling with the city’s well-being is not a wise move. If voters want to elect their mayor, then this proposal demands revision.

The proposal presents an enticing offer of choosing the city’s figurehead, but also lacks foresight on unintended consequences, both financial and structural.

Proponents of the mayor-council form of government should return to the drawing board and craft a more foolproof plan. One idea to surface involves a hybrid system with both an elected mayor and a city manager, similar to Tacoma’s government.

For now, Federal Way should stick with the government structure chosen at the city’s incorporation.

The Mirror recommends voting against adopting the mayor-council form of government on Feb. 19.

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