Chamber board: Vote no on changing city government | Tom Pierson

On Feb. 19, 2008, the ballot measure to change the form of government in the City of Federal Way from council-manager to mayor-council failed by over 10 percent of the vote.

Twenty months later, we are facing the same issue on the Nov. 3 ballot in Federal Way. The Federal Way Chamber of Commerce is taking the same position on this issue that we took in 2008. After sitting through city council hearings, meeting with both sides and asking business leaders, I think it is important to shed some light on our decision and offer some thoughts for your consideration on this very important issue that is ahead of us.

First, I would like to list some pros and cons that we developed starting with the council-manager form of government.

• Pros — Accountability: Accountable for performance of the city manager by the elected city council. Cost of government: With no change, there is no budget increase. Office term: Contact terms are flexible and set by the elected city council. Politics: Less politics in the daily operations of the city. Qualifications: There are set qualifications and experience requirements for the hiring of the city manager.

• Cons — Business representation: Change can be slower. Leadership: A hired city manager can manipulate a weak elected city council. Regional influence: Less influence on state and regional affairs.

Next, looking at the mayor-council form of government, we listed similar categories.

• Pros — Accountability: Accountability of the mayor directly to the voters. Business representation: Change can be quicker. Efficiencies: Potential for more efficiencies within the city business operations. Leadership: Fosters more leadership and a true spokesperson for Federal Way. Regional influence: Stronger representation and relationship building with other local governments.

• Cons — Cost of government: This adds a new branch and therefore costs will increase. Office term: Four years for elected mayor determined by the voters. Politics: There will be more politics to get items passed and could create decision gridlock. Qualifications: Mayor is elected on popularity, funding and political savviness.

Therefore, the recommendation by the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors is to adopt a position against the mayor-council ballot initiative.

If this initiative passes, there will be a tremendous change in the political power structure of the city. Political power will shift to the elected mayor, and the role and power of the city council will be diminished. This change could bring the potential of both great risks and great rewards for our business community. If a strong, intelligent, pro-business individual were elected as mayor, the business community and the city could enjoy great benefits. However, the wrong person taking the office of mayor could have very serious consequences for economic growth and the health of our business community. Interest groups could potentially buy the office and exert undue influence with the elected mayor. The possibility of corruption and favoritism in city government would increase.

This hypothetical scenario would be a very real possibility for our community and examples can be seen from our neighboring cities. Ultimately, we find this risk to be unacceptable. The potential risks outweigh the potential rewards.

The proponents for this ballot initiative say the current council-manager form of city government is not responsive enough; not accountable to the people. We disagree. There are seven elected members of the city council who are accountable to the people, and if they are not responsive to the people they represent, then they can and should be replaced by election. Moreover, if the city manager’s performance is not satisfactory, that person can be replaced much more easily than an elected mayor, which we would need to wait for the end of the term or see if there are grounds for a complicated recall election.

This is a healthy discussion for our community, and it has turned the spotlight on our city government and its effectiveness. There is always opportunity for improvement, and we look forward in having a discussion as to how we, as a city and community, can find ways to improve, ways we can grow more jobs and create a stronger economy. I encourage you to vote against this ballot measure and then get involved in the process for making Federal Way the best city in King County.