Petition seeks term limits for Federal Way elected leaders

A petition is in circulation to impose term limits on Federal Way's city council members and mayor.

A petition is in circulation to impose term limits on Federal Way’s city council members and mayor.

The petition was started by resident Roy Parke. His effort to adopt term limits for Federal Way’s leaders began in July. More than 900 signatures have been gathered. To be placed on a ballot as a citizen initiative, 6,044 (15 percent) of registered Federal Way voters must sign the petition within a 90-day time frame, city spokeswoman Linda Farmer said.

Parke, a truck driver who spends much of his time on the road, has for years expressed the opinion that Federal Way needs fresh leaders. He was behind the 2009 measure that will allow residents to elect their mayor for the first time this November. Term limits mark the next needed step, he said.

“This is what’s better for the City of Federal Way,” Parke said.

Term limits

Term limits will reduce the influence of special interest groups, reduce spending and bureaucracy, permit the people to decide what is best for Federal Way, encourage participation and fresh ideas from citizens, and encourage competitiveness in elections, Parke said. Everything Parke has done is “to make this city, our government, more accountable to the people,” he said.

The petition has the potential to noticeably change city government. Neither city council members nor the mayor are held to term limits. Parke is proposing limiting the mayor to two, four-year terms. Currently, Federal Way’s mayor is chosen by the council members from within its ranks for a two-year term.

The term limits would apply to an elected mayor. Starting after the November election, the mayor position will be filled by a person elected by the public to serve a three-year term. As it stands now, there is no limit to how many terms an elected mayor may serve.

Parke proposes three, four-year terms for city council members. Currently, council members are elected, or appointed by the city manager in emergencies, to four-year terms.

Long-serving incumbents

The majority of today’s city council members and mayor have made decisions on Federal Way’s behalf for roughly a decade. Council member Mike Park has served on the council continuously since 1995. His term expires December 2011. Jeanne Burbidge has held a seat since 1997. Her term expires in 2013. Jim Ferrell was elected in 2003; his term expires 2011. Jack Dovey got his start on the council in 1995, when he was appointed to the position. He was elected to the council in 1996, then appointed again in 2003, followed by another election to the council that same year. He has served continuously since 2003; his term expires in 2011. Mayor Linda Kochmar was elected in 1997, and has served since that time. Kochmar will resume a city council role when an elected mayor takes office, approximately two weeks after the general election results are certified. Her term expires in 2013.

The incumbents have discouraged new candidates and fresh ideas, Parke said.

“We haven’t had change,” he said.

A mayor’s perspective

Kochmar doesn’t see the council’s long history as a bad thing. She said she does not support term limits for council members, who serve part time, but has not formed an opinion regarding term limits for an elected mayor, who will serve full time. Council members dedicate a lot of their time to serving the city. It takes considerable time to reach a point where they are recognized regionally by their peers and able to serve effectively, Kochmar said.

“I think you’d naturally term limit somebody by simply not electing them,” she said.

Taking it to the voters

If Parke succeeds in gathering enough signatures, the measure will be placed on the Feb. 8 special election ballot. Each jurisdiction’s cost for the election depends on the number of resolutions placed on the ballot, said Kim van Ekstrom, King County Elections spokeswoman. The Federal Way City Council will pass a resolution to place the measure on the ballot following King County’s verification of the petition’s signatures. The deadline to file resolutions is in late December, van Ekstrom said.

Parke said he didn’t realize it would cost the city to position the item on a special ballot.

“This is not trying to bring any costs onto the people,” he said.