Washougal voters will decide during the Nov. 5 General Election whether they want to see a change in the city’s form of government.
Last night, the Washougal City Council voted unanimously to put a proposition for adoption of the council/manager form of government on the ballot.
The city currently has a strong mayor/council form. Incumbent Sean Guard will face Earl Scott for the mayoral position, in the November election.
During public comments, Harvey Olson said he has been a Washougal resident for 12 years.
“During that time, three different elected mayors have been in office,” he said. “All three have had their own agendas — some good, some not so good.”
Councilwoman Jennifer McDaniel wanted to give voters a chance to decide the form of government issue, due to the increase in the city’s population and budget.
She said the city needs a professional CEO, after learning that seasonal workers — past and present — could owe retirement benefits.
Councilman Brent Boger prefers a council/manager system.
After he said the strong mayor system has not historically worked out well for Washougal, he referred to the utility rate increases from several years ago.
“The explanation I have often heard is that past city governments just ‘kicked the can down the road,’ Boger said. “Those past governments were strong mayor governments. A city manager system, in my opinion, is more likely to promote rational choices not based on politics and pointing the finger at each other.”
He said the potential change in the city’s form of government is not about the current mayor and administration.
“It is about the overall superiority of a particular system of government,” Boger said.
If the ballot issue is approved by voters, he suggested City Administrator David Scott serve as the city’s first manager.
Guard said the city has had professional management — previously with City Administrator Nabiel Shawa, and now with Scott.
Guard was surprised McDaniel brought up the operational item of retirement systems and seasonal employees.
“The issue goes back to the 1990s,” he said.
Guard said one-half of the mayors at a conference were not aware of the issue, and Washougal self-reported it to the Washington State Department of Retirement Systems.
He said McDaniel saw an opportunity to “take a dig” at him during the council meeting.
McDaniel said she did not take digs at the current administration, but “mayors should have known.”
“This is not recent history,” Guard said.
After the vote to put the council/manager issue on the ballot, Guard’s wife Ann said the council was showing “great disrespect” to the mayor.
“He goes to everything,” she said.
Ann Guard also referred to clean audits that have occurred during Guard’s term in office.
“I will fight this,” she said, regarding the ballot issue.
“The system works today,” Ann Guard said. “You have very good representation.”
According to the Municipal Research and Services Center, with a council-manager plan, council members appoint a city manager, and that person appoints and directs the department heads. A city manager can be removed by a majority vote of the council.
With a council-manager system, the mayor presides at council meetings and is head of the city for ceremonial purposes, but has no regular administrative duties.
Levy lid lift will not be decided in November
The issue of a levy lid lift will not be voted on in Washougal, during the General Election.
A resolution to forward a proposition for a six-year, 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation lift to support fire and emergency medical services died for lack of a second.
Councilman Paul Greenlee made a motion to pass and post the resolution.
After no one seconded the motion, Boger said he would need a compelling reason to vote for a tax.
Prior to the potential vote, Scott said the general and street funds of 2014 can fill the projected deficit without the lid lift.
“The lid lift would make the task easier,” he added.
Boger said maybe the levy lid lift issue could be put on a ballot later next year.
During council comments, Greenlee said he was disappointed the council did not give people a chance to vote on the levy lid lift.
The lift would have been expected to generate $129,000, which could be identified for fire and emergency medical services. The annual cost to the owner of a house valued at $250,000 would be $25.10.
Finance Director Jennifer Forsberg has said, with current assumptions, the city could face a $303,651 deficit in 2014.
Expense side solutions to offset the deficit included not contributing $60,000 to a fund used for purchasing items such as computer equipment and vehicles.
Forsberg has also mentioned there is approximately $203,000 in remaining funds from the “E” Street improvements. There were six funding sources for that project.