Council votes 6-1 to oppose elected mayor initiative

In a 6-to-1 vote, the city council chose Sept. 15 to oppose Proposition One — the ballot measure that would allow Federal Way residents to elect their own mayor.

The council is allowed, by law, to discuss upcoming ballot measures using city property only during a process in which it takes a formal position toward the measure. During a public hearing, city attorney Pat Richardson gave a presentation on the changes an elected mayor would bring. Representatives from each side of the issue were granted 10 minutes to explain their position. Twenty-one citizens spoke publicly.

Council member Jim Ferrell, who plans to run for the mayor position if residents approve the change in government, cast the dissenting vote.

“People are having a difficult time piercing the cloak, or the veil, of the system,” Ferrell said. “This has to do, ultimately, with the responsiveness.”

Keep a city manager

Jim Burbidge represented Federal Way Works, a group in favor of keeping the current council/manager form of government. The city council and city manager are accountable to the people, he said. Council members are placed in their positions through a public vote. Bringing aboard an elected mayor, who will likely need to hire a city administrator to assist in daily operations, would be costly — an additional $125,000 to $150,000 for each of the two positions — and unnecessary, Burbidge said.

An elected mayor would make Federal Way’s form of government more political in nature, he said. The mayor may feel pressured later to please special interest groups that contributed to the mayor’s campaign, Burbidge said.

An elected mayor would have the ability to veto the seven-member city council’s decisions. Burbidge said he worries the person elected to the position may not be fiscally conservative. He warned of the possibilities of electing a mayor who would hire friends for management positions.

“A strong mayor means a weak council,” resident Joanne Piquette said.

Resident Bob Stead, who served on the first city council, spoke against Proposition One.

The first council found it essential to have a city manager because that person has formal training and is a professional, he said. An elected mayor may be popular and even responsive, but that does not mean that person would be competent to run a city of Federal Way’s size, Stead said.

Elect a mayor

Roy Parke spoke for Accountability Comes to Town, a group in favor of changing the city’s form of government to allow residents to elect their mayor. Citizens need a representative that will truly listen to their wants and needs, he said. Parke compared the city council to a corporate board of directors who look out for their own interests. In the past, the council and manager moved forward with projects, including the transit center, community center and Celebration Park, when the public preferred otherwise, Parke said.

Parke said he is not a disgruntled resident looking to get back at the city council for a decision regarding his and a neighbor’s property. He said he is a resident looking for someone to stick up for the roughly 87,000 people living in Federal Way. He encouraged others to vote yes for an elected mayor and vote out long-serving council members who are up for re-election.

“Let’s not only make a change. Let’s make a sweeping change,” Parke said.

It is foolish to believe the council would vote any other way than to retain a city manager, resident David McKenzie said. The council, by choosing to take a position on Proposition One, is guilty of being too political, McKenzie said.

Council weighs in

Many of the city council members took offense to the presentations and public comments. They said each member works his or her hardest to be available to the public and act in the public’s best interest.

“We do have your concerns at heart,” council member Linda Kochmar said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be sitting here. I’d make more money at McDonald’s.”

Council member Dini Duclos said she has personally resided in cities that have managers and cities that have elected mayors. Just because a mayor is elected does not mean he or she will respond to the wishes of the public, she said. When an elected mayor and city council butt heads, the result can tear a community apart, Duclos said. Under the council/manager form of government, neither party can veto the other’s decisions and they must work together to solve problems.

There is a need for leadership within the council, but hiring an elected mayor will not fill the void, deputy mayor Eric Faison said.

“I encourage residents to look very carefully at this,” Faison said. “It’s not something that should be done casually.”