Letters to the Editor

Letters to the editor: Jan. 30, 2008

Examine both sides of mayor issue

On Feb. 19, Federal Way citizens will be voting on a critical issue: Whether or not to change the city administration to a strong elected mayor or to continue the present city council/city manager form of government.

When we decided to attend the debate on this issue on Jan. 16 at Federal Way High School, we did so because we needed to learn more about this issue. We had no idea which way to vote. Now we do.

Currently, the elected city council hires a city manager after an extensive national search and review process. The manager must meet demanding qualifications in urban planning and administration. This is a non-political position. If the manager performs in an unsatisfactory manner, he can be dismissed by a majority vote of the city council.

This system of a professional city manager is working very well for our community. Yes, proponents of an elected mayor, in hindsight, can point to “mistakes” made. But who is to say that an elected mayor/city council would not have made the same decisions?

On the other hand, an elected mayor is a political position with strictly local candidates who may or may not have the same qualifications as a city manager. His/her election would be financed and supported by individuals or parties that have special interests that may not always be in accord with the best interests of the community. More importantly, the removal of a mayor for mismanagement is a lengthy, expensive process sometimes involving a recall election (i.e., the city of Spokane).

We are not writing on behalf of any committee or organization. We are moved to do so only because we feel this issue deserves careful consideration. Please examine both sides before you vote.

Jay and Pat Allison, Federal Way

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Let the voters decide on our government

Enough is enough. The issue is simple and clear, despite what you might have heard (and loudly) from the powers that be (and a few rather crusty folks at that).

Decide: Democracy or bureaucracy? Constitutional model or corporate model? You know the difference. And on Feb. 19 (sooner if you’re an absentee voter), you finally have a chance to vote yes for the right to elect your mayor.

Imagine having a mayor with direct accountability to the voters. Imagine having a mayor who is visible — not someone who simply presides, on a part-time basis, over a council meeting, taking advice from staff rather than engaging in open discussion with the citizens. And imagine having an advocate for the people.

Features of the strong mayor system (information provided by Wes Crago and the Strong Mayor Council):

• Legislative/executive branches; checks and balances built in.

• Clear leadership and oversight.

• More voter control as the mayor represents the voters.

• When the mayor is of the community, he is more effectively confronted and accessible. This leads to the accountability of the mayor, of the administrator, and ultimately of the community.

• Council and mayor challenge one another; mayor and administrator question each other, and the citizens directly confront the mayor.

What are the people saying?

Federal Way resident Clara McArthur: “Interesting that we have heard from some of the ‘status quo’ people privately. ‘We would support you, but…’ We do understand the politics here, and this is what we want to stop. …Our fine police dept. once declared publicly that they didn’t come to the Council about a specific issue—because they were afraid of retribution! That is unacceptable!…The city is all about hidden agenda—and a negative opinion of its citizens… In case everyone has forgotten, we paid $12.5 million for the land where Celebration Park sits — despite the fact that it was valued at $4 million! Now, why was that?...Then we have the Transit Center fiasco, where five people — council persons past and present — decided where it would go despite the outcry from the people…These are only a few examples. The problems are deep, they’re clear—and they’re systemic. We need a change.”

Former school board member Charlie Hoff put it this way: “It was interesting to see all of the ‘power brokers’ of Federal Way listed in one place (on the opposition Web site). It is clear that they are nervous about losing their levers. When I talk to people about this I indicate that I support the change just based upon who doesn’t! …The people that signed the letter supporting the current council are all ‘show-ups’ and not ‘doers.’…They ‘crusade’ for things like a performing arts center and wish to overlook some of the basic deficiencies that exist in the city/schools as any serious addressing of these issues as the likely solutions would either be unpopular, require their actual participation, or would involve admitting what is often quite obvious and unpleasant…Look for them at any celebratory occasion and don’t look for them when there is any heavy lifting.”

And from Federal Way resident Patrick Watson: “The council did a run-around the negative public vote on Celebration Park and the park was built. It was originally purported to be family friendly. Instead, it was developed as a sports park, usable only by paying a fee, and is totally unusable by families. No playgrounds, no picnic areas, no walking/running paths, etc. Then they built the new community center near the south end of the park. It is virtually inaccessible by the public; in fact, most people don’t even know where it’s located. Now they wonder why it’s losing money? When the council wants to do something with our tax dollars, they just tell the city manager to make it so. Again, no public input, no explanation. They frequently decide on things behind closed doors. The only people they pay attention to are the members of the Chamber of Commerce.”

Our judge once answered directly to the city manager. Now we have an elected judge. And the system works! It’s time to take the next step toward a constitutionally-based system of checks and balances only found in a strong mayor form of city government. Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t deserve to vote on this.

David McKenzie, Federal Way

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Change may backfire

Voters in Federal Way should know what they’re voting for next month when they are asked to vote on having a strong mayor.

We now have seven city council members who select one of their members to be mayor. That mayor chairs council meetings and performs ceremonial duties. He has a vote on the council just like any other member.

If the proposal passes, then the voters will elect a mayor who will also chair council meetings and handle ceremonial duties, but will not be a council member. The mayor will preside over all meetings of the city council, but will only have a vote in case of a tie in the votes of the council members, but cannot vote on any ordinance, grant or revocation of franchise or license, or any resolution for the payment of money.

The mayor will have the power to veto ordinances passed by the council and submitted to him, but such veto may be overridden by the vote of a majority of all council members plus one more vote, which means five of the seven council members. The mayor shall be the chief executive and administrative officer of the city, the duties now performed by our city manager. For more details, see RCW 35A.12.100.

The city has a very detailed job description for the city manager, which includes education and experience requirements that make a nationwide search for candidates necessary.

If this issue passes, the title of mayor will have been moved from a council member to a person who has no ability to vote on issues except in the limited manner described above, and he or she will replace a highly-qualified professional city manager without having to meet any of the job’s qualifications. There is no benefit to the citizens of Federal Way, and this change could cost the city about a quarter of a million additional dollars every year.

Vote no on the strong mayor-council form of government to keep effective city management.

Donald E. Dennis, Federal Way

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