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Mayor madness forces city into hot debate
By Bob Roegner, Inside Politics
For those who think you put the issue of Federal Ways form of city government behind you with the election on Feb. 19, think again.
There are still those in the community who arent necessarily happy with the form of government, even though they didnt want to go quite as far as implementing the strong mayor concept in the mayor-council form.
The most notable advocate for change is the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber opposed the Feb. 19 ballot measure, but also believes a separately elected mayor would give Federal Way more of a political face and voice.
Chambers of Commerce typically focus on business success and climate. The Federal Way Chamber is certainly a strong business advocate, but under CEO Tom Pierson and a string of outstanding chairs, the Chamber has broadened its vision to include good government ideas and discussions. Their Advancing Leadership program has helped train a new generation of community leaders, some of whom have run for public office.
Many Chambers have public spats with city government as a way to achieve a business or political goal. The Federal Way Chamber works in a much more sophisticated manner behind the scenes to try and find common ground to forge solutions.
As Pierson said, they didnt view the Feb. 19 vote as the end of the discussion, but the beginning. Their preference is to look to a government such as Tacomas where the mayor is separately elected by the public, but is still a member of the city council.
The Tacoma mayor has no more direct power than a mayor in a council-manager system, but rather a more consistent voice and presence. But the Tacoma system does give the mayor significant influence if that person is clever enough to know how to use it.
Tacoma, like a small number of cities, also has a combination of at large and district council seats. The Chamber didnt say much about this approach to council seats, and there are many in the community that understand political history enough to be rightfully concerned about implementing an old-fashioned ward system that requires politics and vote-trading to be successful. However, they do believe the structure of the mayors position is certainly worth discussing.
The biggest weakness in the Tacoma system is the reverse of what it offers. That is, the mayor has only a face and voice, and many citizens expect the mayor to deliver in ways that a strong mayor would.
It wasnt that long ago that Tacoma was debating a change in its own government because of a scandal involving the police chief. Changing your form of government is always the answer.
The appropriate way to address the issue, if it needs addressing at all, is for the city council to form a committee to look at various forms of government and, along with Federal Ways current perceived strengths and weaknesses, determine if there is a better way to do things.
For those of you who just slapped your head in frustration about the prospect of another government committee or study, relax, have another cup of coffee and think it through.
Putting an initiative on the ballot out of frustration to turn your government upside down is kind of backward to thoughtful debate, presentations of concept, structural comparisons and, of course, facts. The basic question is: How does Federal Ways city government function and where are there weaknesses? Would a structural change correct them? The middle of an emotionally charged election isnt necessarily the best place for reasoned debate. Although I must note many citizens learned a great deal about their government in the process.
If the structure is OK and on Feb. 19 we said it was; and if the officials are OK and we did elect them; and the staff must be OK because we re-elected their bosses; then if after all that youre still unhappy, theres only one place left to look the mirror. Because most everybody else has decided that while not perfect, Federal Way is still pretty good.
Maybe its time to move on from the governmental structure debate and get some of our problems solved. City government needs to take an honest look at how it delivers both its services and its message, and seek to identify its weaknesses then move to correct them. If not, ACT may surface again. After all, were only a few months from when candidates for city council will start thinking about running again.
Lastly, some pretty raw emotions surfaced in the election and a period of healing is probably a good idea.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn: email@example.com.