Opinion

Council's big mayoral transition | Bob Roegner

What do you do on the first and third Tuesday night of each month?

If the answer is that you watch "NCIS," than you need to broaden your horizons. Your Federal Way City Council holds its meetings at that time. Actually, you should attend the workshops that start at 5:30 p.m., and you could stay for part of the formal council meeting and still be home for "NCIS."

Have you missed anything? Yes! A whole lot of interesting policy debate on transitioning to a strong mayor form of government along with some subtle political maneuvering. With input from the city attorney’s office and the human resources department, the council has been struggling to define its future role along with that of its future mayor.

Everyone knows the government will be different and that the actual duties and responsibilities are spelled out in state law. But no one really knows how it will work when you add in personalities and style. Legally, the city council’s power won’t change much.

But the new mayor will be a whole new branch of government with authorities and influence the council hasn’t seen before. State law contemplates a “sharing” of power between the legislative authority and the chief executive. But the political reality: The mayor, if careful and thoughtful, will garner significantly more power and influence locally and regionally. The city council knows this and, like most councils, doesn’t want to be dominated.

The mayor will have the authority to hire and fire department heads independent from the council. And while none of the possible candidates for mayor has expressed any interest in actually firing anyone, the council took the unusual step of giving key department heads two-year contracts.

Any new mayor would want to work with the staff and make their own assessment of the talent level. After all, they will become the mayor’s cabinet. Also, giving contracts beyond the time frame that the mayor takes over is probably not legally enforceable. But it would provide the new mayor a significant political dilemma — if he/she does want to make changes.

Another debate is “who” will represent the city on regional boards. That’s the council’s role now, but a new mayor will want to play a major role in the important ones. Also, the mayor speaks for the city, not individual council members, although the mayor will need to take a collaborative approach if wishing to avoid unnecessary conflict with the council.

The debate has been informative. But there is a subtext. “Probable” mayoral candidates Mike Park and Jack Dovey, along with unlikely but “possible” candidates Linda Kochmar and Jeanne Burbidge, have fully participated in the discussions. We have a good idea where they stand on the transition issues. But the only announced candidate, Jim Ferrell, has recused himself from all transition discussions. So we don’t know what his view of what the mayor’s office really is.

Ferrell apparently feels it isn’t appropriate, as it might appear he is trying to create the job he wants. But isn’t that something we want to know? Since there are four others with possible interest participating, Ferrell’s silence causes awkwardness with his colleagues and deprives the public of the ability to compare his positions with the others.

So skip "NCIS" a few times. The council meetings are far more interesting.

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