Opinion

Mayor vs. city manager: Final thoughts

By Bob Roegner, Inside Politics

Strong mayor or city manager? Which is the best form of government for Federal Way’s future?

An old political story had a reporter asking a candidate, who was running against a longtime incumbent, what the issues were. He responded, “There aren’t any issues. He has the job and I want it!” While admittedly over-simplistic, it is the “perception” of who has power and who wants it, or at least wants to share in it, that is driving this debate.

One group, Federal Way Works, believes that the council-manager form of government disperses power among seven elected council members who must be responsive to community needs to stay in office, while separating their political role from the daily operation of city government under the manager’s prevue.

They believe that city government, while not perfect, is inclusive of broad citizen input and has achieved a lot of good for the community. Their view is that if citizens feel things should be different, then they should run for office — while allowing a trained professional to take care of city business unencumbered, to the extent possible, by political influence. They point to successful community projects as examples of government success.

Accountability Comes to Town (ACT), much like our candidate above, feels disaffected and left out. ACT supporters want to gain or share political power in the community.

They believe a popularly elected mayor would do things differently and would presumably listen to them more than the current city council. In their estimation, centralizing authority in a mayor would change things at City Hall.

In most cases, the city council probably did listen to the issues presented by ACT leaders and simply may not have arrived at the same conclusion. One ACT leader did run unsuccessfully for the city council. The follow up, strangely, seems to be an attempt to change the form of government.

The political reality is a popularly elected mayor wouldn’t, or at least shouldn’t, listen to this group’s concerns anymore than he/she would listen to the concerns of the other 85,000 people who live here. That is, unless the second part of ACT’s game plan is to support the election of its own candidate for mayor. True or not, many in the community believe that is their plan.

Changing your form of government is a monumental step for a community to take and should be considered in a thoughtful, reasoned and factual manner. It should take into account all options and their respective strengths and weaknesses. For Federal Way’s future, it is important that people feel listened to and feel part of the process.

But that shouldn’t translate to winning or getting your way.

Our democracy is based on the common good and majority principals. It’s why we have seven council members and not six. There has to be a final decision.

Change should be made as part of an organized community-wide dialogue. It shouldn’t be done through a political campaign over a few short weeks. An initiative with 2,200 signatures, some “yes” and “no” signs, a few letters to the editor and a couple of public forums does not constitute thoughtful and reasoned discourse. Federal Way’s future is too important to be decided in this manner.

Every community has a vision of its future and how it should be managed to get there. Other communities in our area have established their approach after several decades. Federal Way is still creating its history, its identity and its future.

I may lose my membership in the “former strong mayor club,” but the argument to change forms of government is neither compelling, timely nor consistent with the sense of community I have found here.

I recommend you vote no on the change of government. And if you really want to vote yes on something, then vote for the school district’s levy proposal. It’s on the same ballot.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn, can be reached at bjroegner@comcast.net.

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