Elected mayor debate and a man who had it both ways | Andy Hobbs

The public is caught in a crossfire over the proposed change to Federal Way’s form of government.

For more action, be sure to attend a debate between Accountability Comes to Town (ACT), which is pushing for an elected mayor, and Federal Way Still Works, which supports the current city manager system.

In addition to questions from the audience, the debate’s participants will get to quiz each other directly. The fireworks start at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 12 at Federal Way High School.

For an opinion outside the local fishbowl, I spoke with Cary Bozeman, CEO for the Port of Bremerton. He served six years as mayor under Bellevue’s council-manager system, then logged eight years as a strong mayor in Bremerton.

Bozeman makes no bones about preferring the elected mayor system. In Bremerton, he led economic development efforts that revitalized the city’s downtown and parks. The strong mayor position gave Bozeman the authority “to create movement” and turn his vision for Bremerton into reality, he said.

“That’s what leaders do: They bring a vision, they bring a plan,” he said. “They’re able to bring people together around that plan.”

However, Bozeman said the council-manager system is a good fit for Bellevue, and he wouldn’t have done anything different during his 16 years on that city council. Bozeman said Bellevue has prospered because of good council leadership.

On that note, a professionally-trained city manager is a safer choice because a city knows what it’s getting, unlike voting for a strong mayor, which Bozeman called a crapshoot.

“In all honesty, cities are usually better run under the council-manager form of government,” he said. “Every once in a while, if you get a good mayor, they can be pretty transformational in creating new initiatives. It’s more of a risk, but the payoff can be greater.”

In the bigger picture, there is no perfect formula. Each city faces its own wants and needs. When comparing his experiences under both systems of government, Bozeman said success ultimately boiled down to strong leadership.

“Leaders inspire people. Leaders build things that managers would never do,” he said. “That’s assuming you can elect someone that’s a leader.”

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